How to start exercising when you hate exercise

Have you got a mortifying childhood memory that’s haunted you your whole life? Here’s one of mine (oh, I have many).

I must have been nine or ten years old, and I was a year younger than everyone else in my class. Because only the senior grades in my primary school participated in Sports Day, that meant that I had to compete in ALL of the races, because there were only me and like four other kids in that age group (why, oh merciless overlords of Primary School, was this the system?).

A dog doing yoga

The problem was, I was TERRIBLE at sports. Especially at running. Reading, maths, memorising every poem from T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats? Those things were my forte. Running was something I could do for approximately thirty seconds before wanting to cough up a lung.

The worst of all the dumb races that I had to participate in was the dreaded 1500m. That is an insanely long distance for an overweight, unfit nine year old! But I had no choice. The 1500m translated into doing four or five laps of the field. We all started running, and the other three kids tore away from me immediately. I ran my hardest, weak and in pain, but I couldn’t keep up. The other three kids lapped me. And then they lapped me again. And then the other three kids finished the race, and I still had two whole laps to do. I remember it so clearly: the whole school, watching me for what felt like an eternity, as I wheezed and panted and hobbled my way around and around that damn field.

So yeah. Exercise and I, we haven’t had the best relationship. And for years, I managed to convince myself that this was fine, and that exercise was a stupid hobby for dumb jocks, anyway. And all the cool people smoke cigarettes and laze around making art until they die young and beautiful..

Reality caught up with me eventually. THANKS, reality.

Over the past few years, I’ve been working on reforming my relationship with my body, and especially with exercise. But you’ve got to understand, if you’ve never been fit before in your life, this is hard. I don’t think fit people understand how impossibly difficult exercise can be, when you’ve never done it before.

But that’s no reason not to try.

So, take a listen to the latest podcast episode, where I’ll share what I’ve learned about the absolute basics of getting fit, and why it matters so much.

And if you want more concrete tips about getting started, I did a writeup for Daily Maverick.

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