My whole life, I've loathed exercise. From faking cramps to get out of running the mile in middle school, to faking cramps to get out of hiking with friends last week, I can't stand for any of it. I've never felt that exercise rush; even when I forced myself to run for a year straight after college, I never experienced a runner's high. I've literally passed out in hot yoga from the ratio of oxygen to farts in the air, and my high school GPA was burdened by my shitty gym grades (I just stopped showing up after partner line-dancing week).
However, I might not be totally responsible for my laziness. As it turns out, there could be a genetic component to my (lack of) physical capability. Conversely, there are people who really do enjoy running, and that helps ease the desire I often have to smack the smile right off their gel pack-slurping smug faces. Praise the lord, and pass the remote control.
In yet another occasion to blame dear old mom and dad for one more thing that's wrong with us, it turns out my pathological avoidance of physical activity might be genetic. According to researchers from Iowa State University, working out might not be a matter of will power for some people, it could be that your physical capacity for exertion is extremely low. On the flip side, you might be a person who finds pushing through the pain almost pleasurable. In which case, you are very lucky, and also, screw you.
The factors that could be affecting your aerobic abilities are lung capacity, oxygen transport, and the rate at which oxygen is used in the muscle cells. However, according to Panteleimon Ekkekakis, a professor of kinesiology at Iowa State who has been studying the psychophysiology of exercise, exactly how much is a still a subject of debate, but estimates vary from ten to fifty percent.
Researchers say the idea revolves around your "ventilatory threshold":
Normally when people breathe, they expel an amount of carbon dioxide that is equal to the amount of oxygen taken in. But beyond the ventilatory threshold, the release of carbon dioxide begins to exceed the body's intake of oxygen. This excess release of carbon dioxide is a sign that the muscles have become more acidic, which the body finds stressful.
For most individuals, the ventilatory threshold is around 50% to 60% of the way to their maximum capacity, though there is tremendous individual variation. For elite athletes, the threshold may be as high as 80%, while sedentary people may hit it at 35%.
Top athletes do train hard, but they also have a genetic advantage. They enjoy the burn, and the physical sensations of exertion or fatigue are read as physical cues of a good workout. The exact opposite thing is true for others; fatigue feels uncomfortable and/or painful, and trying on clothes can be akin to a real workout. What? It's tiring, there's so much lifting and squirming involved!
And I'm not the only one who feels this way:
In continuing studies of obese, sedentary but otherwise healthy middle-aged women, Dr. Ekkekakis found that some individuals reach their ventilatory threshold after just one minute at a slow pace on a treadmill. Some women's thresholds are so low that they would reach their maximum capacity simply by doing the dishes or cooking, says Dr. Ekkekakis.
This means that though many weight-loss interventions suggest walking as the primary form of physical activity, it is probably too hard for many people.
How people interpret some of the physical sensations of exertion or fatigue, such as buildup of lactic acid in muscle or increases in body temperature, can also influence whether they stick with an exercise routine. Some people tend to read such physical cues as a sign of a good workout or progress, whereas many sedentary people just find them uncomfortable or painful, say researchers.
I've noticed this is true, even with my svelte sister. She used to play pick-up soccer with coworkers and always had to tag out just a few minutes into the game. On the other hand, there are plenty of people larger or fatter than I who regularly do things like run marathons and hike Half Dome.
One of the issues for people with a low ventilatory threshold is that they might unknowingly push themselves too hard, and then give up quickly. If your physical limit is lower than walking, even a stroll can feel intimidating. Although there are some suggested ways to increase your ventilatory threshold and maximum capacity, they require regular adherence to a routine. In cases like this, researchers suggested lower impact exercise like swimming or biking.
Researchers also found several other psychological factors and cognitive tricks that can help boost your motivation to move. Listening to fast-paced music, exercising in nature or simulated green spaces, feeling competent and confident, giving yourself control or choice, and, for many, fostering social relationships.
The major point seems to be, you have to enjoy it to keep doing it. If you don't, you'll have to weasel your way out of your Bally's Total Fitness contract by lying that you were cast in the touring company of Cats, and unfortunately, most of the locations you're traveling to don't have Bally's. Or, even worse, eat the gym membership money.
For some people enjoyment might come from the same stuff they loved as a kid, for others, it's something entirely different. Only you know what's right for you.
For me, the only thing that works is walking to an upbeat tempo or dancing. The best shape I've ever been in coincided with the most drinking I've ever done in my life. I'd go out 3-4 nights a week, and drink and dance for hours. Now that I'm older and live further from da club, I get most of my movement in by walking my two big-ass, fast-ass dogs. Although I really do miss the dancing. Perhaps it's time to crank some Whitney and groove to the beat? Well, right after this episode of Dance Moms.
Hard-Wired to Hate Exercise? [Wall Street Journal]
Image by Devin Rochford, source images via Shutterstock.