How to Keep Your Body Moving When Your Mind Says "Veg"

Six reasons why and five ways to motivate yourself.

Posted Nov 13, 2020

iStock/KatarzynaBialasiewicz
Source: iStock/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

“What do you do at the end of your day to reduce stress?”

I always ask that question when I speak to patients, nurses, physicians, or Zoom workshop groups. Before the pandemic, most people told me that they exercised the stress out: they ran, biked, stretched, danced, boxed, played with their dog, or went to the gym.

Post-pandemic, however, I hear them say:

"I watch something mindless on television." Reruns seem to be the favorites: sitcoms like Friends or Seinfeld, game shows and reality TV from years ago, and pre-COVID films from when both the world and the movie endings were predictable. 

“But what about burning off the tension?” I ask.

“I know I should, but my mind just wants to veg,” is the typical guilty answer.

Well, stop feeling guilty. It’s understandable. If you’re working from home, you’ve been sedentary all day, and now you have to get up, work out, change clothes, shower afterward, and maybe not even leave your living room.

If you’ve been a first responder or directly involved with the fight against COVID-19, you’re probably arriving home too emotionally and physically exhausted to dancercise to an upbeat YouTube fitness class.

If you’re going through fertility treatment, already have children who are home full-time, or are separated from your family, the familiarity of those game shows, sitcoms, or reality shows can help you momentarily forget about the new normal. Besides, if you’ve gained a pound (or a dozen), your workout probably doesn’t feel the same and your body may look different. 

Here are six reasons why you should move anyway:

  1. Physical activity helps you burn off the day’s adrenaline.
  2. Physical activity helps to replenish your feel-good hormones, like serotonin.
  3. Physical activity divides the day and night into two experiences instead of one long, endless morning-to-night-work-and-worry-session.
  4. Physical activity restores a part of your "old normal" daily life. And since we’re built for daily life, losing it can cause irritability, anxiety, and lethargy.  
  5. Physical activity restores your sense of control when the rest of our world seems out of control. You can count pounds you’ve lost or laps you’ve run, even if the laps are in your hall!
  6. Physical activity is repetitious and rhythmic, both of which lull anxiety like a baby being rocked.

Here are five ways to do it when you don’t want to:

  1. Avoid boring and repetitive exercise that feels like boot camp or torture. You are not training for the Olympics; you are burning off tension and signaling to your body that it needs to do more than sit at a computer. Put on music faster than your heartbeat, and dance around the bedroom for twenty minutes. Dick Van Dyke is 94 (Google him!) and still dances for fun every day! A few fun, free workout apps to help jumpstart you:
    • Nike Training Club App - they offer stretching, guided runs, short strength workouts, fitness plans, yoga, etc. for free and for every level.
    • Aaptiv - (free trial) short and simple exercises from 5-30 minutes.
    • Zombies, Run! - a hilarious and fun way to get you to pick up the pace. This app creates a game out of your exercise. As you run, you can listen to audio (or your own music if you want) about a make-believe zombie apocalypse story where you need to outrun zombies and collect supplies to build your safe zone.
  2. Add incentives. Bribe yourself. Eventually, you won’t have to. To get yourself started again, give yourself a treat or create a point system that works toward a guilty pleasure — like a much longer shower or a binge-watching night. Soon, your own endorphins will be enough of a reward.
  3. Secondary gains work too. That means your exercise could be painting a table, wallpapering a bathroom, or reorganizing a closet. Those activities count as exercise, even if they're not in a gym!
  4. Get an exercise buddy. This will increase your chances of working out when your inner couch potato rejects the idea. A buddy will create accountability and motivate you to keep up. Talk together (in-person or virtually) during the exercise and congratulate each other when you are done. 
  5. Find little opportunities to move so that you don’t have to take big time-outs to exercise. For example, you could:
    • Walk around the room while using the phone
    • Stand during a FaceTime meeting
    • Choose the grocery store that’s just a little bit further than usual
    • Get up during commercials to jog in place or stretch
    • Take the stairs (if it’s a COVID-safe situation)
    • Contract and release your muscles while you’re waiting for the microwave timer
    • Remind your body what movement was like before we were confined by COVID. When our movement is suddenly stopped, both the body and brain react with fatigue, and then we are even more likely to “veg.”
  • Nike Training Club App - they offer stretching, guided runs, short strength workouts, fitness plans, yoga, etc. for free and for every level.
  • Aaptiv - (free trial) short and simple exercises from 5-30 minutes.
  • Zombies, Run! - a hilarious and fun way to get you to pick up the pace. This app creates a game out of your exercise. As you run, you can listen to audio (or your own music if you want) about a make-believe zombie apocalypse story where you need to outrun zombies and collect supplies to build your safe zone.
  • Walk around the room while using the phone
  • Stand during a FaceTime meeting
  • Choose the grocery store that’s just a little bit further than usual
  • Get up during commercials to jog in place or stretch
  • Take the stairs (if it’s a COVID-safe situation)
  • Contract and release your muscles while you’re waiting for the microwave timer
  • Remind your body what movement was like before we were confined by COVID. When our movement is suddenly stopped, both the body and brain react with fatigue, and then we are even more likely to “veg.”

Lastly, if you see exercise, dancing, stretching, and rhythmic movement as a luxury right now, it’s a luxury you deserve. Particularly if you’re experiencing the pandemic alongside other laborious journeys like infertility treatment, taking care of a parent, or raising a child. These journeys are consuming, so you are probably running at least an hour short of time every day. But, like that glass of wine in the evening, or that crossword puzzle over lunch, give yourself time for daily movement anyway. Exercise is necessary for brain oxygenation, mood-lifting hormones, muscle strengthening, coordination, flexibility, balance, your mind-body connection, and of course, your weight.

This is a reminder to take care of yourself even half as well as you take care of everyone else!