How to overcome resistance to daily exercise

Moving our bodies isn’t just about commitment or health, but honoring the way God made us.

Over the past couple of decades, I’ve learned that regular activity is not only a key to being physically and psychologically healthy, but also more socially and spiritually engaged..  As a married father of 8, a child psychologist, and someone who has demands coming from all fronts, daily exercise is indispensable. As I often tell people when asked if I have races coming up, I am first and foremost training for life.  

Having been blessed by 40,000+ motorless miles on the road, an Ironman, multiple ultramarathons, and a number of other endurance opportunities, many people might wrongly believe that I go about daily exercise with little or no resistance. But actually, just like anyone else, I regularly feel the pull to just relax and even be lazy (which sometimes is indeed important for health and sanity). Finding the right balance of physical exercise, or any type of work, along with rest, is always a work in progress.  

Exercise honors the One who made us

Yet I regard my daily exercise as a covenant with God, and not simply a commitment or desire to be healthy. It’s a covenant because God created our bodies in His image and likeness, and a healthy lifestyle — including regular activity — honors this design. 

Furthermore, while commitments are bound by obligation — which often leaves us begrudging what “we should do” — covenants are bound by love, which leaves us desiring unity with Him.

Overcoming the barriers

Still, even with this mindset, barriers do exist, and any attempt to develop a healthy lifestyle must encounter and address them. Many times, there is one more level of resistance that undermines our ability to move as God intends and that’s the intrapersonal level, or what we might call that pesky internal voice, which can keep us from the activity we need.

I thought it may be helpful to take you “along for the ride” when it comes to how I deal with barriers of the internal kind in my own life. As you will notice in the examples below, I am constantly using self-talk, prayer, observation, interaction and other methods to address various types of resistance that come up. Resistance to daily exercise comes in many forms such as loneliness, boredom, injury, fears, strain of activity, and the like. 

Here are some brief examples of how I address these issues prior and during activity. Note:  my self-talk is in italics.

Wednesday afternoon, 5:15 PM

[I take off on my bike from work. I commute this way most days as part of a 13 mile round- trip.] What a beautiful afternoon day— hmm, there is a decent headwind.  Thanks, God, for the tailwind this morning and yesterday afternoon, and the dry road. [Tuesday was a rainy ride.] The fall colors are beautiful — love the bright oranges & reds.17 little segments to get home, into the wind. [I mentally like to break my rides into segments, which changeover each turn.] Oh, people I haven’t seen before walking through Oak Hill Cemetery — what a nice night for a walk! [I wave at them as I pass by.] Thanks, God, for the new pavement laid down over the potholes (on a bridge about a mile from my house.) I love this last big hill even though it’s hard; it feels good to breathe deeply. [I arrive home.] Thanks, God, for a safe ride.

Thursday morning, 4:37 AM

[Alarm goes off for an early swim and run. Outside temperature is 39.] Thanks, Lord, for a good nights’ sleep. Cool morning for a swim, but after a few laps, I know it will warm up. [Arrive at the swim facility.] Great to see other cars this morning – the high school kids for the local swim team are out. Impressed they are willing to get up this early. [Walk in doors, and see my “friend” at the front desk.]  Appreciate the smile and brief chats – it’s fun to see him. [Arrive at pool deck, and see familiar local family training, and catch up for a few minutes before I hop in, while their daughter swims next to me.] Wow, she is moving fast – cool that someone can actually swim at that speed. Feel a little tight this morning — will dedicate this to Dad. [My father has had two hip surgeries and a triple bypass in the past two years.] It will work out as always…time for breathing drills. Don’t like the feeling of less oxygen, but as always, Bob, these are for you. [Bob is a dear friend who passed away years ago from a rare form of lung cancer.] Neat that the new aquatic center is busy and I love being part of this early movement before the sun rises. Thanks, God, for the good swim.

In the end, like many aspects of our lives, it is critical that we engage the various voices and deterrents to what we know is good and life-giving. The reality is that while most of us know regular activity is important, this understanding alone isn’t enough to sustain daily exercise. As is stated in Psalms 119:32: “I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding.” So we must, too.  

An expanded version of this article can be found here.