fitness · motivation · You Ask

You Ask, Fit Feminists Answer: I hate exercise but it’s good for me. What should I do?

I shared Yoni Freedhoff’s How to be Healthy, in Just 48 Words on our Facebook page. A reader question for “You ask, Fit Feminists Answer.”

Seven of those words are “Exercise as often as you can enjoy.”

Here’s his extended riff on exercise: “Though commonly only considered in the name of weight (where it’s often less helpful than feels fair), the overall health benefits of exercise are difficult to overstate. Exercise increases life span and treats or prevents many, if not most, chronic noncommunicable diseases. My exercise mantra is simple: Some is good, more is better, everything counts. It’s also most likely better to do a small amount of exercise consistently than a large amount of exercise temporarily.”

A page follower messaged me to say that if she followed this advice she’d never exercise. She hates it.

She said she hears the arguments and see that exercise is a good thing for her physical health, her mental health etc and so wants to do it, but actually hates it. She’s just doing it for instrumental benefits and takes no joy at all in it. All the advice we offer is about finding a thing you love but what she loves are movies and books and good meals. To repeat: She hates exercising.

I figured all of the blogging team have something to say on this one. I’ve had a go at it before— see here and here.

Christine: First, I commend anyone who is willing to put aside their hatred of exercise and do it for the health benefits.

If you learning to love exercise is not an option, then I wonder what you could do to make it a little less hateful?

Could you read on an exercise bike? Do strength training while watching movies? Walk to the coffee shop?

I’m thinking of the exercise as a side thing you do while you are doing something you do enjoy.

The main thing, I think, is to not be hard on yourself about hating exercise. Then, find ways to make it a little less annoying to get moving.

Marjorie: I agree with Christine Hennebury about connecting it to something you DO like may be the key in this situation. There has to be some positive reward in the near to immediate timescale or I just can’t imagine making it stick as a habit.

I would add that it sounds like the activities they like are more solitary, so it may make sense to focus on solitary activities. Don’t force yourself into a group fitness class if you don’t want to be around other people. I value my “me time” so much at the end of the day, and going to the gym gives me a blessed hour in my own head before I need to be home and interact with my husband.

So, in addition to Christine’s suggestions, I would add the exercise can be shutting yourself into a room at home to do a workout video. Or maybe better yet, doing one solo in a side room at the gym (you can find videos for free online to stream on your phone) might give the introvert time you need.


While I hear people all the time say they don’t enjoy exercise, I find it hard to believe there isn’t something out there that they might enjoy. I think it’s fair that they don’t enjoy what is traditionally considered exercise (gym-based, running, etc), but given the importance in movement for health, I think it’s worth trying different things, until hopefully something sticks.
Do they like group activities? Perhaps they can find a group walk, or a group dance class? Have they tried pool aerobics?

I like Christine’s suggestions for incorporating exercise in other activities you enjoy – walking to a movie, doing push ups while watching a movie at home, reading a book on a stationary bike. Make it a reward system – 15 minutes on a stationary bike – I get to watch a double-header! Etc.


Some advice I’ve gathered from others:
-get a dog & walk it every day. Companionship, the dog needs you and it can be intriguing to see the world from their point of view. Daily walking/rolling is enough exercise to get health benefits. If it gets too easy add a weighted backpack or go faster (warning: this could lead to running!) or go longer.

The “off like a bandaid” approach. Short, high intensity training to get max return on your effort while minimizing the minutes you hate about your life. Stair intervals of walking up, rundown, run up, run down then 2 at a time up, run down. Repeat until exhaustion
Instantly gets your cardio up.

Go strengths based approach. What do you love? Cooking? Then volunteer at a community meal chopping, lugging ingredients and slinging grub. It’s movement. It counts!
Ditto on community clean up days and other volunteering.

One friend loves hunting so they use that activity to ground their routine and work up to the walking distance.

Connect to a cause. There are walks, runs, bicycle tours that raise funds for charity. Look at your chosen community and see if there is an event you can participate in that honours someone you know. Or train with that friend to support their endeavors.

Chores for your friends & neighbours. Shoveling snow sucks. But meeting a neighbour & helping them out is awesome. Ditto bringing in wood or groceries for them.

Dancing with friends and family.


Susan: It doesn’t need to be sweaty, especially at the beginning. It doesn’t need to be in a gym. Walking is the easiest best thing that is good for body and mind. I actually agree that a dog is the best way to get yourself to walk and also has other benefits but even if there is no dog, put the boots on (cleats if it’s icy) bundle up and walk for an hour. Remember to swing your arms. Listen to an audio book. Easy, not too sweaty, excellent start.

Sam: I do a lot of exercise I don’t enjoy and so I’ve stopped with the “find the thing you love mantra” mostly. I don’t love knee physio or toe physio. But I do want to travel and walk up hills in new cities. I hate the idea of not being able to hike in the future. So lots of the exercise I do now is tied to being able to do things I love in the future. Exercise for the sake of living longer means more books and more movies in your life. It’s okay to exercise for instrumental reasons.

Having said that, I’d then figure out what is necessary–strength training for bone health, cardio for heart health, something for flexibility and mobility– and then regular, everyday exercise. I’d make a plan and then find ways to minimize misery in the execution of that plan. Music!

Catherine: I agree with what all the bloggers said. Here’s a thought: get a cheap fitbit (my fake-o knockoff one cost $30) and start noting your step counts (or use your phone). You may find that doing a little here and there will add up to more than you thought you did. You may find it interesting to set a few goals from time to time– like 4000 steps a day– and see what that feels like. Recent studies show benefits for women who do 4000 steps a day (vs less than 2500). Maybe add in a few stairs here and there, or go out of your way to take slightly longer routes to places you go. If you find yourself doing 4000-7000, yay for you! That’s great. There’s nothing magic about 10000 steps a day. You’ll find where you settle in and what works for you. Yes, there will be some higher and lower count days. That’s life, and you’re doing it.

Cate: All of these ideas, especially attaching movement to something you already like to do, are great. (E.g., go to the gym and watch a favourite tv show while walking on a treadmill; listen to your favourite podcast while going for a walk). Another thought I have comes from people I’ve known who hate exercise who say things like “I went to yoga and they told me how to BREATHE. I know how to BREATHE.” I recommend trying a little dose of beginner’s mind and curiosity — like you are exploring a new country or something, rather than taking on something you already know you don’t like. Like, what could you discover by breathing differently? What does that actually feel like? What could you find by taking the subway or driving to a neighbourhood you’ve never been in and going for a walk there? Can you be an anthropologist and watch people doing an activity with curiosity, like you’ve never seen such a thing before, and see what you observe? I find treating it like an adventure, not a task, can open up some new things.

Tracy: Something really simple that I think is helpful (and encouraged by the 220 in 2020 style groups): don’t call it “exercise”. Call it “movement” and just add a little of it every day, even if it’s walking your dog or walking to some place you would normally drive. Maybe you’ll start to love it or find something that you want to do more of and maybe you won’t, but to me “exercise” right away has baggage that lots of us need to lose.

I’ve also found it helpful to make a game of adding stuff. Like if I ran 20 minutes last week can I do 25 this week? But maybe that’s more advanced of a motivation strategy than someone who thinks they hate every activity can use to keep at it.

Okay readers, what do you recommend?

I searched Unsplash for “sad face” and got this image of a sad looking pug in a blanket. I couldn’t not share him. Enjoy.

body image · Fit Feminists Answer · fitness · You Ask

Is my menopausal belly something to worry about?

We love it when we get questions from blog readers.  This one came in last week:

There’s a general recommendation that women keep their waist circumference to 35 inches or less, because of associations with metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance. It seems at mid age this becomes more of a concern.  What’s Fit is a Feminist Issue’s perspective on this?

Kitty inspecting her waistline


Here’s how I read this question:   we’ve all heard that carrying more of your weight in your middle (“apple shaped”) is a bigger risk for heart disease, diabetes and other metabolic issues than carrying your weight in your hips, bum and thigh (“pear shaped”).  This belief has been around for a while — I’m old, and I remember learning this in high school.  So I think the questions are — Is there evidence behind this recommendation?   When we hit menopause, we tend to accumulate more fat in our middles — so are we at bigger risk for cardiovascular disease at menopause?  Is there a specific guideline?   Is there anything we can to do manage our fat distribution with an eye to preventing heart disease?

Turns out, this is a super not easy question to answer. 

Screenshot 2019-10-18 15.28.46

I went down a few rabbit holes here, but I’ll try to break it down.

(But first, a quick note about gender terminology.  When I write about menstruation, menopause, vaginas, etc, I try to be conscious of recognizing that there are a lot of vagina and uterus-having people who don’t identify as female, and to de-gender my discussion as much as possible.  I’m finding this hard to do in looking at this research, because it’s strongly correlated to hormones that are categorized as male and female.  It’s also taken decades for science to begin to study gender differences around issues of cardiovascular disease at all, and I have yet to see one define what how they ascribe gender to their participants.  Given all of that, I’m going to sometimes use “women” and “female” here, because it’s what the research refers to, knowing that I am generally referring here to people assigned female at birth (AFAB), who are not taking testosterone and who are experiencing a naturally occurring menopause at mid-life).  

Why does where your body stores fat matter?

  1.  The apple/pear thing is technically called Gynoid-Android fat distribution patterns
    Screenshot 2019-10-18 15.54.47
    Lizzo is a great example of a pear shaped body
    Gynoid — or pear — is, as you would discern from the name, more typically associated with women, with the belly-prominent fat storage (Android/apple) more associated with men.
  2. Gynoid fat distribution is controlled by female reproductive hormones, and android fat storage by testosterone.  
  3. Gynoid and android fat patterns aren’t just about where they show up on the body but where they show up in relation to your organs.  Android fat storage can compress and restrict blood flow to your vital organs and can be a risk factor for both insulin resistance and heart disease.


How does menopause affect fat storage?

As a general rule, as AFAB people reach menopause, they tend to gain weight.  A large percentage of this weight tends to shift to an “android” pattern, because hormonal changes make it harder to store fat around their hips and butt.  In other words, even if you didn’t have much of a belly before menopause, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll develop one after.  On average, people accumulate abdominal fat after menopause twice as fast as before.

Does post-menopausal waist size correlate to cardiovascular and metabolic risk?

I waded through a sea of science to try to get an answer to this, and the bottom line seems to be:  maybe.  probably.  sure.  What is true is that women tend to develop cardiovascular disease on average 7 – 10 years later than men — but it’s the highest cause of death in women over the age of 65 years.  Estrogen seems to have a regulating effect on several metabolic factors, which lessens at menopause.  So menopause is associated with a greater risk for heart disease and metabolic syndromes.  And women with diabetes are at greater risk for heart disease than men with diabetes.

But it is not entirely clear whether this risk is generally due to aging and changing hormones, or fat distribution patterns.  

Do I have to worry that my middle aged belly is going to cause heart disease or diabetes?

I am not a doctor (except of patterns of words), but from what I can tell, the size of your tummy is a bit of a red herring — except that visible changes in your metabolism are a reminder that cardiovascular risk increases as we age, and women’s profile for that risk is different than men’s. 

Historically, women don’t tend to know their own risk of heart disease, and clinicians tend to under-recognize symptoms and risks in women.  So it’s important to be aware that risk rises at menopause and pay attention to things like blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.  They’re imperfect but important indicators of changes in your body.

What about hormone replacement therapy?

HRT in post-menopausal woman does help protect against intra-abdominal fat accumulation — but there is no evidence at this point that it reduces menopausal cardiovascular risk.  So it might make you feel better in different ways, but it doesn’t change your risk. 

So what do I do?

As we preach often on this blog, weight is not the issue to focus on.  If you want to lower your risk for heart disease as you reach menopause, the biggest “bang for your buck” seems to be:


Until I did the reading for this post, I didn’t really know how much risk of heart disease changes at menopause.  What was news to you?




Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and jumps around in Toronto.













fitness · You Ask

You Ask, Fit Feminists Answer: What books would you recommend about getting older and standing up for oneself?

We have a thing here that we do from time to time, and that’s “you ask, fit feminists answer.” It goes like this — you ask, we answer (as best we can). In this case I’m turning to you, our wonderful community, to help answer. Please chime in!

Dear readers,

Please help a fellow reader out. She writes, “I’m having a really deep issue when it comes to strength (in all forms) and my relationships.

So firstly, short version, I’d like to request from any of you if there are books I should be reading about getting older, standing up for myself, and not hurting men’s egos? I have absolutely no skill in making these two things mutually agreeable. When I do stand up for myself, I give no flying rats about how it sounds or whom I hurt, because my strength has to be on my terms. Has anyone had this issue?

Long version, I am fairly recently divorced, having left an extremely controlling marriage where I was unable to make the most basic decisions for myself without it needing to be a “group” decision. Much of my identity formation as a woman of this generation (43), and as a mother trying to raise a strong girl who takes no b.s., is to be able to call b.s. when I see it. I am also extremely reactive to my boyfriend trying to 1. Make decisions for us, and 2. Not letting me finish my thoughts when we argue.

My fitness journey all fits into this because when I am running, stepping, or lifting, I am in the most pure take-no-b.s.-even-from-myself mode, but I can’t seem to translate this into my roles as mother/girlfriend without hurting people’s feelings.

Is there a book out there (or podcast, or guru) that deals with trying to soothe the savage bitch? I thought the way forward was to embrace her, but no one else around me wants to :(”

Looking forward to your responses.

Image description: Graffiti cat on garage door. Photo from Unsplash

You Ask

A reader asks about dealing with sweat

Here’s the question:

Hi there!
Is there any information, that you’re aware of, about natural deodorants standing up to high intensity exercise and sweating? Not sure if my hormones are changing, as, it appears, anything can and will happen to our bodies after 40, but good old Tom’s ain’t up for the challenge, these days.

Raindrops. Photo by Ben Maguire on Unsplash.

What do you suggest? Help a reader out!
fitness · You Ask

You Ask, Fit Feminists Answer: How do I learn to use clipless pedals?

This is the third in a new series where we answer readers’ questions. If you have questions send them our way, using the “contact us” form on the left hand side of the blog. I’ll forward them to the appropriate blogger. We’re not experts by any means but we do have a wealth of real world experience with many, many physical activities.

How do you learn to ride with clipless pedals? What’s your advice for someone switching from toe clips to clipless pedals and who is scared of falling? How did you learn? What worked? What didn’t?

Catherine: For me it was a three-fold process: I had to get comfortable clipping in and out, and then I did a little trial and error with different brand pedals. Finally, I learned how to set my pedals so that I could adjust the tension for easier clipping out (or more tightness when clipped in– these are useful under different conditions). Oh, and I did fall over a few times. It was mainly embarrassing, not painful or dangerous. It happens, and then it stops happening. Now I really enjoy the feeling of being clipped in, as it makes me pay more attention to my pedal stroke and I feel more one with the bike. Give it a try!

Tracy: I wrote a whole post about the painful way and the easy way (the easy way is: Ask Sam to teach you!):, p.s. the absolute key for me was learning to pedal with one foot and not to hurry. Once I had that, I could take my time and not panic. Note that after my first failed attempt to try it on my own I donned my armoured motorcycle jacket for my next attempt. Having the protection helped me not worry about falling. And in the end I didn’t fall anyway.

Kim: Like Tracy, I advocate the one foot approach. First, straddle your bike and practice clipping and unclipping with your dominant foot. Get the feel for the peddle: clipping in becomes muscle memory that way. Then roll along gently, getting purchase on the other pedal but not applying pressure; slow and steady is best. Don’t try to clip it in yet. When you feel comfortable, look down so you can see the peddle and clip. Push it right side up if needed with your foot, and feel around for the clip. Work on manoeuvring in, then out again. Repeat for a while. You will fall but you won’t hurt yourself if you are prepared! Long sleeves. Helmet. Move slowly, but not at a crawl.

Cate: Also ride someplace without a lot of traffic or stoplights while you practice so your stopping / starting is not filled with pressure. And make sure the bike isn’t too big or the seat set too high — my biggest crash was putting my own pedals that I was comfortable with on a rented bike and when I tried it out the seat was too high and I couldn’t easily unclip.

Sarah: As a notorious klutz and someone who usually takes much longer than the average person to learn new physical movements (dance? yoga? disaster!), I was really intimidated by “clipless” pedals – even the name seemed counterintuitive. So when I bought my sister’s old road bike during a knee-imposed hiatus from jogging, I knew I had to learn how to clip in and out before venturing onto Toronto’s busy streets. So, off I went to my apartment building’s parking garage.

First the DON’T. There is only one:

1) Don’t clip and unclip a couple of times on the flat, decide you’ve got the hang of it, and then try to bike up the super-steep parking garage ramp in high gear (more disaster!). Fortunately the only thing I hurt was my pride.

There a lots of DOs. They are more fun :

1) Figure out what kind of pedals you have and get the correct style of cleats installed on your bike shoes. Your local bike shop or knowledgeable friends should help with this! Look at your cleats : if they are a small metal thing (SPD), you clip in by stomping (on the correct side) of the pedal, if they are a larger plastic thing with a little tongue at the front (one of the “road bike” systems), that tongue hooks under the loop at the front of the pedal before you stomp down. Either way you twist your foot to the side to unclip.

2) Loosen the tension on the clipping mechanism on the pedals all the way, to make it as easy as possible to clip in and out. You can always tighten them later if you find that you are inadvertently popping out.

3) Find a flat paved space with few obstacles or traffic for your early attempts at clipping in and out.

4) While standing still, clip one foot onto a pedal. When I stop on my bike, my right foot is usually on the ground, so I clip in my left foot.

5) Practice pedalling with just one foot to get used to the push-pull motion that will get you moving and keep you moving.

6) Once you’ve mastered starting, keep rolling, and practice clipping your second foot in and out, in and out.

7) Next, practice starting, clipping in, peddling, coasting, unclipping, and then slowing to a stop. Over and over until it feels kinda automatic. Don’t forget to always lean toward your unclipped foot.

8) You’re ready to venture out onto the streets. Remember that any time you’re reaching for your brake to slow down, whether it’s for a stop sign or a squirrel running across the road, unclip. Even if you end up not stopping and just clip back in, it’s a good habit to get into.

9) Finally, go find some hills of increasing steepness. First, marvel at how that push-pull clipped in action powers you easily up challenging hills. Now, practice stopping on the hill. We naturally tend to turn across steep hills when we stop, to avoid the feeling of rolling backwards. We also tend to lean uphill. So it’s important to practice turning away from your unclipped foot so that it will be on the uphill side when you stop.

weight lifting · You Ask

You Ask, Fit Feminists Answer: Where does a beginning weight lifter start?

This is the second in a new series where we answer readers’ questions.

Dear FFI, could you recommend a good beginners guide to weight training at home? A book or a web resource. I’d like to start gently and can’t go to the gym. Thanks in advance!

Sam says, “I like Stumptuous. Here’s her advice on setting up a home gym. And not quite a how-to book and with apologies for the title, I also like The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess (2008). Also have a look at NerdFitnessfor their Strength Training 101.

Tracy likes Nia Shanks. She says, “I would recommend Nia Shanks, Lift Like a Girl. The website is pretty good. The Beautiful Badass workouts have modifications and variations for home training. She’s not perfect in staying away from weight loss/diet talk, but she’s better than most. And if you purchase the PDF of Beautiful Badass you gain access to youtube videos that aren’t otherwise searchable.”

What do you think? What do you recommend? Suggest away in the comments.

So if you have questions send them our way, using the “contact us” form on the left hand side of the blog. I’ll forward them to the appropriate blogger. We’re not experts by any means but we do have a wealth of real world experience with many, many physical activities.