The most common excuses to avoid exercise (and how to beat them)
Improving your health with physical activity and a balanced diet is a great idea, but we often make excuses to stick to our old ways. Here are 20 reasons to ignore those excuses.
We all make plans to lead better lives, vowing to start that diet or join the gym. But all too often, it doesn't last and we slip back into our old ways. Committing to long-term lifestyle change can be challenging, and it’s often easy to make excuses at the end of a long day or when the weather is bad.
However, excuses rarely stand up to scrutiny, and not being physically active can have serious consequences for our health. We’ve tackled the most common excuses and suggested ways to ditch them.
1. I’m too tired to exercise
Physical activity at any age can improve your health
Studies show being active gives you more energy. A University of Georgia study, for example, claimed exercising three times a week at low and moderate intensities made people feel less lethargic.
Physical activity helps you make more energy and can increase the number of mitochondria in your cells. Mitochondria turn glucose and fat into ATP, the chemical your body uses as energy.
2. A biscuit a day won’t hurt
Biscuits range in calorie content depending on their size, ingredients, toppings and fillings. But whether it’s a 28-calorie party ring, or an 84-calorie chocolate digestive, per 100g, most biscuits are high in sugar and saturated fat. When biscuits come in large packets it’s also easy to tell yourself you’ll just eat one, while actually consuming two, three, four or more.
If you find it difficult to resist a packet of biscuits once they are open, then not having them at home or keeping them in a place that is difficult to get to (at the back of a high cupboard) can help to remove temptation.
3. I’m not putting on weight, so I don’t need to exercise
Visceral fat is found between your organs, so you may not know it’s there, but a lack of physical activity and a diet high in saturated fat can encourage its growth. Visceral fat has been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, so where your fat is may be more important than how much of it there is.
Physical activity also has benefits beyond weight loss. It can make you stronger, more flexible and help you cope with stress. Physical activity changes skeletal muscles, helping them rid your body of a chemical created when you’re stressed that in high quantities can cause depression.
4. I’m thinner than most of my friends; I can’t be overweight
It’s impossible to tell if you’re overweight by comparing yourself to those around you, especially as many of us are unsure what an overweight body looks like.
It’s also important to remember that weight is not the sole factor governing your risk of heart disease. Mark Harrison weighed only 9.5 stone when he had a heart attack.
5. I am active every day, so it doesn’t matter if I eat unhealthily
Bad habits, such as drinking in excess or eating unhealthily, have a negative impact on your coronary arteries, even if you are physically active.
6. I don’t have anyone to exercise with
Lifestyle factors have a big influence on health
Ask friends or family if they want to do activities with you. Set a regular time to take a walk or attend a class together to keep one another motivated.
Activities can also be a great way to make new friends. Websites such as Meet Up allow you to find others interested in both a specific activity and meeting new people.
Team sports, walking groups and class-based activities are also a good option.
7. Getting active is too expensive
Run, jog or walk in your neighbourhood or a nearby park. Or try tricep dips on a park bench: face away from the bench; place hands, with arms straight, on the bench on either side of you, feet flat on floor and bum off the bench. Bend arms and lower yourself down. Pause, then push back up.
In your home, use the stairs for step-ups, practise yoga in your front room, or use household items such as tins of beans as small weights.
Although zero activity may seem like the cheap option, our collective lack of physical activity costs the NHS an estimated £900m per year. The Department of Health also predicted the cost of elevated BMI, covering treatment of obesity and related conditions, may rise to £6.4bn this year.
8. I don’t have time
Make activity part of your daily routine. The journey to work or to the shops is a great opportunity to walk or cycle. If you’ve got a long trip, get off the bus or train a stop early and walk. You could also replace lift or escalator journeys with the stairs, and if you have to sit down most of the day, make an effort to stand up and walk around regularly.
9. I’ve had a heart attack/surgery
Regular activity can aid your recovery and confidence. Cardiac rehabilitation can help you get active again after a heart event and has been shown to increase the proportion of patients reaching the 150-minute goal. You’ll also learn about different types of physical activity.
The programme usually recommends starting with gentle walks on flat terrain, gradually building up to more intense activities.
10. I have good genes
So-called good genes are not an excuse to pick up bad eating habits or avoid physical activity. Lifestyle factors have a big influence on your health, so even if there’s no history of heart disease in your family, you may still be at risk. Read how Jerome Carson, a professor from Bolton, recently discovered this the hard way, when he was diagnosed with a heart condition.
11. I don’t have time to make a healthy lunch
A healthy lunch doesn’t have to be complicated. A reduced-fat cheese (or reduced-fat hummus) and salad sandwich on wholemeal bread is a balanced choice and will take no more than a couple of minutes to assemble. Check out our recipe finder for more ideas.
12. I can’t afford to make healthy meals
Eating healthily doesn’t need to be expensive, especially when you cook it yourself. Our senior dietitian Victoria Taylor has written a guide to eating well on a budget and offers some recipe suggestions for a nutritionally balanced week of meals for two people on a joint budget of £50.
13. My job is stressful. I need time to relax and watch TV in the evenings
It’s fine to relax and watch your favourite programme when you get in from work, but try to get up and walk about during each ad break. You could even do some jumping jacks, punches and high knees. And remember, regular exercise can actually help to reduce stress levels.
14. I’ve been smoking all my life, why should I stop now?
Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director for Health and Wellbeing for Public Health England, says: “Much of the harm caused by smoking doesn’t become obvious until middle age, but the invisible damage can start shockingly early, even by the late teens. The earlier a smoker quits the better, but quitting at any age can help reverse at least some of the damage.”
15. I only smoke a couple of cigarettes a day
Regular exercise can actually help to reduce stress levels
Smoking between one and four cigarettes a day can triple your risk of dying from heart disease. A 2010 study showed that light and intermittent smoking (intermittent covering those who do not smoke every day) carry nearly the same risk for cardiovascular disease as heavy, daily smoking.
16. I’ve never liked sport
Moderate-intensity activity doesn’t necessarily mean traditional sport. As well as brisk walks and riding a bike, you could try ballroom dancing, gardening, housework, walking a dog or painting a room.
Look up active hobbies in your area at or visit your local sports centre or community centre and check the noticeboards.
17. I’ll just wait until after that wedding/birthday party/Easter to change my diet
Eating healthily is often seen as a major change, which can mean it gets pushed it back until after dates or special occasions when you think you will be overindulging. But making changes to your diet don’t need to be a dramatic plan, just some small changes that can be started at any time and kept up. Consistency is the key to success.
Changes could include swapping from whole milk to semi-skimmed, from butter to an oil or spread based on unsaturated fats like olive or sunflower, and substituting fatty, salty or sugary snacks like crisps, chocolate and biscuits for healthier ones like fruit. Sticking to small changes like these can add up over time, making you healthier and helping you lose excess weight.
18. I’m too old to start being active
Taking up physical activity at any age can improve your health. Those who exercise regularly have a 30 per cent lower risk of early death, around 68 per cent lower risk of hip fracture, 30 per cent lower risk of dementia and a 30 per cent lower risk of falls.
To reap these benefits, a minimum 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity is recommended per week. You don't have to do anything too challenging - everyday tasks such as mowing a lawn, shopping and housework all count.
19. It doesn’t matter if I skip my exercise class this week. I’ll go twice next week instead
You’ve got a better chance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle if you build physical activity into your routine. Arranging to do a class or activity on the same day each week will help ensure it becomes a habit, meaning you’re less likely to view it as an inconvenience.
Trying to do double to make up for a missed class is a promise you’re less likely to fulfil than simply sticking to a weekly routine.
20. I smoke roll-ups, surely those are healthier than manufactured cigarettes?
Figures from Public Health England show that 49 per cent of people who only smoke roll-up cigarettes believe that these are less harmful to them than manufactured ‘straight’ cigarettes.
Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England said: “Significant numbers of smokers are now using roll-ups without realising that gram for gram of tobacco they are just as unsafe as ordinary cigarettes.”