I'm a ParticipACTION employee and I still struggle to be active

Some days I feel guilty about not being more active. 

As a ParticipACTION employee, I’m supposed to be a champion of physical activity. I’m supposed to make it look easy and get my friends and family to follow suit. I’m supposed to motivate people to get moving.

Yet, some days, I can’t even motivate myself.

Unlike many of my coworkers, I haven’t been active my entire life. I played some soccer growing up and wrestled during high school, but I was never super competitive or athletic.

Since then, I’ve had an on-again off-again relationship with exercise. I was inactive for a few years before falling in love with gardening. After moving to Toronto two and a half years ago, I managed to transition from zero activity, to light bodyweight workouts at home, to going to the gym a few times a week.

But being consistent is a constant struggle. Despite knowing all the benefits of being active—the boosted mood, the better sleep, the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment—I can still easily go a week without exercise.

WHY STAYING ACTIVE IS SO HARD

Here at ParticipACTION we’ve done the research. We know most people struggle to be active because of a few key challenges—things I find easy to relate to.

For starters, we’ve become accustomed to everything in life being quick and easy. We’ve created a culture of convenience where movement is unnecessary. It’s no longer a natural and vital part of life. We can literally survive without moving a muscle.

Cost is another big challenge, as are busy schedules and addictive technology. Being afraid of getting hurt is a common concern. Feeling intimidated is a familiar source of hesitation.

For me, it’s a combination of all of the above. I’m busy with work and trying to pursue a career in writing. I also definitely spend too much time watching Netflix and scrolling through social media.

Though it wasn’t long ago that I was going to the gym regularly, it’s shocking how quickly the feeling of intimidation can creep back up. When I skip a few days, I get more and more nervous about returning. I start thinking I’m going to look stupid, clumsy, and out-of-place.

Not wanting to get hurt is a major reason I don’t try a lot of things, like skiing or snowboarding. I don’t want a broken arm. And the convenience factor is huge. I’d like to go to the gym after work, but around 6 PM it’s absolutely packed and impossible to find space. I used to go at 5 or 6 AM, but it’s hard to get to bed early enough to make it a sustainable routine.

IS IT ALL JUST EXCUSES?

To be honest, I’m not 100% sure.

On my worst days, I feel guilty about not being more disciplined. I’m surrounded by active people that go to spin class at lunch and train for marathons and Ironmans. I work with trainers and physical activity experts on a daily basis. If I can’t get motivated to be active regularly, who can?

Yet somehow, I’m never short on excuses. “I forgot my gym stuff.” “Not today, but maybe next week.” If only I had more time or energy. If only I played on my phone less and went to bed earlier. If only it wasn’t so cold and snowy.

On my best days, I tell myself I could be doing worse. I still regularly take the stairs whenever possible. I do push-ups, squats, and a couple minutes of yoga most mornings. I’m not afraid of a good half-hour walk. I convince myself it makes sense to prioritize my career right now and that before I know it, I’ll be back in a good routine.

EXCUSES, CHALLENGES, AND THE STRUGGLE

Whether you call them excuses or challenges, the fact remains that the struggle to get active and stay active is real for many, if not most, people. It’s hard and time-consuming and exhausting.

Lately, I’ve become fascinated by this struggle. I constantly find myself asking: why is it so hard to get active and stay active, and how can we make it easier?

On this blog in the past I’ve shared my best tips on how to stay motivated to work out and on the benefits of hanging out with active people. I’d like to think that I’ve helped some people get moving.

But now, more than ever, I’m determined to dig deeper and to find better, longer-lasting solutions to the most pressing challenges people face. How to find enough time, energy, and money to stay active. How to avoid feeling intimidated and getting hurt. How to regularly choose activity over convenience.

If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears. Feel free to message us on Facebook any time.

THREE THINGS I KNOW FOR CERTAIN

When I first sat down to write this post, I intended to write about overcoming the most common challenges people face when trying to get active. I could have shared some solutions from people who are active all the time, or ones that are backed by scientific research. But that felt disingenuous to me because I wasn’t putting any of them to good use in my personal life.

Now, that’s not to say that tips don’t exist. They certainly do and some are definitely helpful. But it’s also important to acknowledge that everyone is different. The same solutions don’t always work for all people, all the time. If it was easy to overcome challenges, they wouldn’t exist and we’d all be more active and less sedentary.

So instead, I’m going to share three things that I know for sure:

1. We all struggle. Excuses and challenges take on many forms, variations, and combinations. For some people, they loom so large that they lead to inactivity and despair, while others have found ways to persevere or find new opportunities. Because we have more in common than we tend to realize, we should focus on sharing our successes and helping each other overcome the same hurdles. Sharing these successful strategies is definitely something I hope to do more of on this blog.  

2. We all need to feel empowered. I’m most active when I feel confident, motivated, athletic, and in control. But I don’t feel like that all the time. Some days I feel clumsy and defeated. Part of the solution is figuring out how to stay positive and build momentum, and that might include implementing new strategies, changing my habits or perspectives, or altering my environment. Participating in the 150 Play List has definitely helped. 

3. We can make choosing physical activity easier. Whether I’m struggling with real challenges or just full of excuses, it doesn’t really matter–getting active can be hard. Part of the solution is taking personal responsibility, developing better habits, and committing to getting active. But part of the solution could be to make getting active easier. I’m interested in figuring out how this can be achieved in my own life and in the lives of other Canadians.

We all struggle, we all need to feel empowered, and we could all benefit from physical activity becoming an easier choice. In future weeks, I hope to make progress on all three fronts—tips for overcoming familiar excuses and common challenges, thoughts on empowerment, and practical suggestions for how we can make physical activity easier for everyone.