What’s love got to do with it?


I’ve got a friend who is exercising entirely for instrumental reasons, on medical advice. She’s exercising for health only, loathes every minute of it, and wants to strangle those of us who preach “do what you love.” And it’s even worse when we say if you don’t love it, don’t do it.

Her problem is that she doesn’t love any of it. But she has medical advice in favour of doing it anyway.

Yoga? Weights? Running? Zumba? Hiking? She’s tried it all and hated it all.

She loves books, good movies, the company of friends, fine food, good wine. She leads a rich full busy life, with a rewarding career and loving family.

So, she says, I keep reading your blog and it really annoys me. You have no advice for someone like me.

And she’s right. We don’t. This is the blog of two people who care very much about fitness and who love our chosen physical activities. We’ve set goals of being the fittest we’ve ever been by the age of fifty. But we don’t think all people in their late forties need to get on board with us.

You don’t need to share our passion. Your thing needn’t be my thing and that’s okay too.

Indeed, I wondered why people who don’t care about fitness read the blog at all, close friends, families, stalkers, lurkers aside. I have a friend who is an avid fly fisher and who reads fishing blogs. I’ve never looked. Don’t care. Fishing isn’t my thing. I appreciate his passion even if I don’t share it.

Why can’t my friend feel that way about our fitness blog? It’s written for people who share our interests, feminism and fitness. There are people who read and hate our feminism too. And again, when they send hateful email I’m puzzled. “After reading twenty of your posts I could feel my IQ dropping.” Then why did you keep reading after one? After five? No one is forcing you to read our blog.

I also am puzzled by the person who sent an email they intended to be hateful calling me a “fat lesbian.” If you read the blog, you’d know those aren’t things I think are bad. As insults they fail to hit their target.

But I’m digressing. Back to the friend who hates physical activity.

I think the reason she feels compelled is that fitness is the sort of thing we’re all supposed to care about. It’s different from fly fishing that way. The heath imperative tells us to take care of our bodies and that movement is good for us.


So what options does my friend have?

1. Resist healthism and the health imperative. I’ve written about healthism here. Musicians do things that hurt their bodies, choosing music over exercise, and risking serious overuse injuries. Some people smoke, others drink and they’re rational choices too. You can choose a pleasurable life of books and music over the added health that comes with physical activity. That’s a rational choice maybe if you really hate exercise. Decide for yourself if it’s worth it.

2. If you care about your health but hate physical activity, then treat it like medicine. No one expects you to enjoy your flu shot. I sometimes eat vegetables I don’t enjoy because they’re good for me. I get that it can feel doubly coercive to both be told your have to do something and told you have to love it. You don’t have to do it and you don’t have to love it. But you can do it without loving it too. If I were just exercising for its benefits, I’d go for high intensity interval training. It’s short, time efficient and brutally effective. See Gretchen Reynolds’ column on minimalist workouts.

3. Realize you’re not alone. It’s okay to hate it and do it anyway. You’ve got lots of company. See Bruce Willis below.

4. Build physical activity into your life so that it’s invisible. Walk to work, take the stairs, carry laundry and groceries, work on the garden.  Read In praise of everyday movement. For some people that does count as exercise. In an article on why people hate exercise, in a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal, it’s noted that often people do too much when first starting out.”Researchers at Iowa State University found that people’s physical capacity could be much lower than many realize, so many people push beyond their limits without realizing it. For example, for sedentary people, just cooking dinner could count as exercise and they need to build up to even walking, the researchers found.” Read the rest of “Wired to hate exercise?” here. It’s a great article.

So do it if you want, having weighed the costs and benefits. Or don’t. Up to you. And you don’t have to like it.


7 thoughts on “What’s love got to do with it?

  1. I love this post. Another thing I thought of for your friend who seems to hate everything is that perhaps she hasn’t found something she likes *yet*. But if she is disposed to disliking physical activity in all of its forms then you’ve done a great job laying out the options.

    And I can imagine finding the blog annoying if you hate physical activity. That’s all we talk about (well, that and eating), and there is a lot of social pressure to maintain an active lifestyle. Maybe she reads the blogs in the hopes that one day she’ll stumble upon something that helps her!

    To Sam’s friend: I hope today is that day!

  2. Very thought-provoking post. Actually, a flummox-provoking post… 🙂 I was just sitting here, racking my brain about how to respond to someone who says she hates all exercise. As a person who thrives on movement– it makes my body and mind feel good in immediate and lasting ways– it’s hard to imagine that it doesn’t produce benefits for everyone. And I know that previous sentence also sneaks in value judgments, and it is hard not to adopt a normative position. With respect to eating, somehow (to me) it seems much easier to embrace a multiplicity of preferences and behaviors (although I have to work to avoid getting on my moral high horse about fast food…) than with exercise. Or so it feels that way. What do other people think about this?

    1. Yes, me too. I keep wanting to point out the benefits of exercise, how good it makes you feel, etc. Then I move into trying to find something the person will enjoy. But in some cases, I now think, it’s okay to treat it as medicinal. Just do it, hate it, and get it over worth. There’s more pressure if you think you need to love it too. Or don’t do it and live with the cost. That’s okay too.

    2. I think most people have this experience.
      Added to that is the pressure to exercise a “right” way: perfect form, perfect amount of time, perfect intensity, etc. It’s too much like work.
      I don’t enjoy physical movement either. As a very clumsy person (often confusing right/left), it is not something I ever excelled at, nor find relaxing.

  3. I think I might understand your friend, although I like exercising now. I think what she might be railing against is actually 2 things: (1) the fact that she has to exercise for health reasons now; and (2) the fact that people will judge her badly if she stops exercising for health reasons now. The fact that you promote doing it for many reasons apart from aesthetics reasons, and doing what you like to do as opposed to what others tell you to do, is telling her in her mind that she is a failure if she stops exercising and that she is a failure if she doesn’t come to enjoy it. It’s easier for her to interpret you this way, and tell you to “f*&! off”, than to truly accept the unfortunate truth of the need to exercise for health reasons and to find a way to integrate it into her life in a way that works for her. We all have to do things we don’t want to on some level. Most of our best accomplishments in life come from working harder on things than we actually want to at any given time. The effort required to reach certain goals, should we choose to make goals (I’m not really a goal-setter; that doesn’t work for me), or to simply strive to excel in a way whereby we somehow transcend what we are cappable of, is immense. I think your friend is simply resisting integrating exercise into her life in a way whereby she finds a way, by hook or by crook, to make it part of herself. In this way, she’s still in between denial and acceptance, i.e. she’s at the anger stage.

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