What happens when “Just Do It!” isn’t enough?

I was visiting a good friend the other day.  We’ve known each other for years -- our sons went to elementary school together. I remember a time when the two of them weren’t talking, and we were upset. I think the logic was “if we can be friends, so can they,” and they defied our logic! Kids.

We’ve talked on many occasions about health, nutrition and exercise. Being a nutritionist, I’m a big talker in these areas, and as a teacher (I teach nutrition to business students), I want to make sure everyone agrees with me.

After offering all my sage wisdom on how to increase activity (you know, start with something you like, anything, and just do it), she looked at me and said “but what if you can’t find anything that’s enjoyable?  What if your body just doesn’t like activity? What’s your advice then?”

My first reaction was “absolutely nothing, I’m afraid,” figuring she was simply doomed to high blood pressure and inflexibility (literally and figuratively), and hoping she had paid up her life insurance.

But then I began to think about this conundrum. I’m certain she’s not the only person out there who can’t figure out what do to for activity. We’re all bombarded with information about the health benefits of exercise, and here’s someone who’s heard that advice, and even wants to implement it, but the “find something you love and just do it” message just doesn’t work. My friend doesn’t smoke, she tries to eat well; she has the occasional drink. She is a wonderful friend who listens and has helped me out tremendously in the past. Surely she deserves more than to be written off as someone who has “chosen” to be unhealthy.

The question then, is what can I do for folks like her? The reality is that if she does want to be active, she has taken the first step (asking how to do it), which is great. However, she is just not interested in activity -- any activity: not fitness classes, not walking, not biking or tennis or swimming.

What she needs to do, I decided, is work on her attitude. If “find something you love” doesn’t work for her, then perhaps she needs to think more seriously about what type of changes she is willing to make to become more active. Instead of getting started physically, she needs to take a step back and get started mentally. The question is, how?

While I may teach to business students, I have learned a bit about business from them. One concept I’ve begun to understand is “cost/benefit analysis.” The idea is that you figure out the cost of an action and weigh it against the benefit of that action. If the benefit outweighs the cost, then you’ve made a good decision.

Perhaps I should talk to my friend about this. Maybe I could talk about the cost of walking (putting on her sneakers, dragging herself out of the house, walking to the end of the block and back) versus the benefit of walking (getting outside in the fresh air, stretching some muscles, finding out that 5 minutes isn’t really a long time and maybe walking longer next time). This is pretty “user friendly” information -- and maybe then she would be able to take that first step -- literally.  I wouldn’t have to go into the long term benefits of burning calories, losing weight, reducing heart disease risk, because she knows this, and all this does it make her feel more like staying home. Instead of torturing her with an insistence that there must be something she will enjoy, perhaps I should accept that not all bodies are lucky enough to find activity enjoyable (mind you, I think she probably will enjoy activity more as she engages in it more!) and move on to more helpful advice, such as “get active whether you enjoy it or not, because it really will improve your life.”

I think I’ll try that. Hopefully it will work for her. Will it work for you?

Become At Peace with Food: Stop Dieting and Lose Weight

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