Embracing the Dark Side

Discerning the positive aspects of sadness, bereavement, and other negative feelings.

Hate to Exercise?

What does the effort in exercise mean about you?

Exercise can be hard, physically uncomfortable work. This is, of course, painfully true if you are just starting an exercise program after years of being sedentary. But it is at least as true if you are among the craziest of exercise enthusiasts, the kind who run marathons and lift very heavy weights. So why do some people love their exercise and others hate it? One answer may lie in the meanings that the enthusiastic exerciser and the reluctant one assign to the difficulty and discomfort of exercise.

People who hate exercise are more likely to assign negative meanings to the effort and struggle involved. For example, people who experience shortness of breath on a new, aerobically challenging walking or jogging program may think, "huffing and puffing means I'm out of shape." Evaluating oneself as "out of shape" may engender feelings shame and defeat that derail further engagement in exercise.

People who exercise regularly and enjoy it are likely to assign positive meanings to the effort and struggle that they experience during exercise, and the soreness they may feel later. They may view these physical sensations as signs that they "got a good workout" and therefore feel proud of themselves.

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If you have begun exercise programs but not stuck with them because you hate exercise and the physical discomfort that comes along with it, what can you do? Ultimately, the answer is to keep exercising whether you want to or not. And at first, you probably won't want to because many of the rewards of exercise—increased metabolism, improved muscle tone, and loss of fat - are delayed rather than immediate. It may take weeks to see changes, and you will probably start out having to force yourself to exercise. But as you experience the benefits of exercise, you are likely to begin to feel good about the effort that exercise takes—or at least more willing to tolerate it.


Jenna Baddeley is working on a Ph.D. in social/personality and clinical psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.


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