The Problem With Exercise... What Really Stands In Our Way?

The SBS insight show did the rounds this week, and me being me and sitting quaintly in my own circle of awareness – the exercise crowd were abuzz with anticipation of this coming program. The exercise crowd I speak of were most notably the tertiary qualified ones, with some exception of the exceptional non-tertiary fitness professionals I've met out there… Most of the general non-tertiary fitness types I’m harshly generalizing at were probably watching channel V or some other banal content or something, not that there's anything wrong with that...

Anyways, the show. It was basically a showcase of exercise from a health and wellness, disease management, injury management point of view - basically a revelatory echo chamber of people telling how amazing and fantastic exercise is with its host of powerful positive effects on basically every health problem we know of and unlimited potential to upend health problems in the future. These types of things aren’t exactly new, but every time they come around, exercise is talked about like its some big secret that’s only just being figured out by doctors and the lay-person.

Why is it such a big secret? Why is it all so surprising to people? The overwhelming positive effects, I mean? Well, the thing with exercising – and I’ll tout this till the day I die – is that all of it is beneficial to you, provided that it’s safe and dosed appropriately for that person. Eg, High Intensity Exercise is very good for people, but you wouldn’t tell 60 year old Joe Average with osteoarthritis in both knees and a questionable ticker to go hit the stairs at the local stadium for a solid 45 minute hitout? Probably not safe – i.e. this mode of doing it would cause more problems than benefit. But that doesn’t mean that HIIT is never an option – it would just need to be appropriately tailored, monitored, measured and administered for him in a way that IS ultimately beneficial.

I digress.

Any exercise can work if appropriate, okay. And it seems that there is some common sense around the idea that exercising is logically a good thing for our health, I mean, ask anybody – ANYBODY – some key things they should do to be healthy, most people would say exercise. The idea is not lost on anyone if we honestly think about it. So, 2 things now… any exercise will do, we know it works. This idea simplified is not an uncommon sentiment. So why is the whole thing with exercise still such a surprise?

Why are there still TV shows dedicated to a bunch of testimonials about exercise and the stream of only positivity?

Why is it still seen as a ‘Nobel Prize-like’ discovery every year?

Why is action not following the press?

Why do not more people do it?

What stands in our way?

This is as multi-factorial as things get, as you could never point to a single thing for why more people don’t consistently adopt this fundamental habit (although – time poorness has a serious crack at being that singular reason). I won’t delve into ALL of the reasons, but maybe this piece will end-up as a multi-part ‘Rocky-like’ chronology of ideas focusing on the why’s of non-adherence. I don’t know, it’s a tough gig when nobody reads your stuff… one thing at a time, but right now I’ll just highlight…


Culture stands in our way. The fitness culture. The health & wellness culture. The athlete culture. The aesthetics culture. The exclusivity culture.

A righteous culture. An arrogant culture. A culture so thoroughly propagated, toxic and inherently linked to a barbell, a dumbbell, a yoga class and the idea of being on a diet that it basically shunned the 90% populous that actually needs these things more than anybody. People know about exercise and many have a half-baked idea about where they could start – they do. And when I say start, I mean just getting the ball rolling, any ball – not some 5 star PT program that will be perfect from the start. No, most folks know they need to go for a walk every day, or start at a gym and use the Swiss-balls or something. To re-hash this; something/anything works!

So why don’t the people who need it go for it, unfettered and free, to try and get started? Because believe it or not, those people usually aren’t that interested in fitness, sports and such – they realize the role of it within their health, but they’re not in love with it. That might change over time, but right now, most of them aren’t that way inclined. And they may never be. They’re just wanting to do the right thing for themselves. It’s amazing how surprising this notion is to exercise people and how untolerated it is BY exercise people.

People fundamentally don’t like hanging out with people they don’t like, or don’t vibe with. It’s the reason we gravitate to like-minded people, hang out with our friends for fun and can be the difference between sticking at a job or leaving it. That connection is powerful. Now, take that into an exercise context. With the default setting of aforementioned traits (righteousness, arrogance, aesthetics, exclusivity, judgement) does it really surprise that any of the 90% of Joe Average’s out there don’t want to step foot into a gym, join ‘Boot-Camp’ or just have any part of this - therefore don’t start, therefore don’t participate, therefore don’t benefit and therefore all this exercise is medicine stuff is STILL such a big surprise?

It takes a strong person to foresee themselves absolutely not fitting into a culture and going in to try to anyways. To probably walk in and being first impression judged if they don’t “fit the bill” or forced to do things they’re utterly incompetent at because it fills the personal trainers appeasement of having a self-gratifying and condescending “I told you so” moment with new client/member. This is standard gym/fitness culture. It takes a strong strong person to identify this and still walk into that fire anyways.

90% of Joe Averages out there are the former or have been the former, but not all of them are the latter.

This is the cultural line you apparently need to toe in order to “better yourself”. Something like this is not THE ONLY issue, but it’s a big undercurrent of one as to why so many miss out, why so many don’t start and where exercise could always be the second class citizen of health care, even as powerful as it is. Just like any large organization who wants to optimize by having everyone participate, to feel involved, to feel welcome and to feel accepted then it is ultimately the culture that will drive this. If employees fear (note - FEAR) their bosses, or their superior more appropriate looking, acting, more accepted and generally better treated “peers” who fit in better, then what sort of place is that? It’s a toxic workplace, the “other” people leave and it becomes a homogeneous environment of the like-minded.

What is standing in our way?

The undercurrent of a hierarchical culture of exercising, health and fitness as an elitist concept with those who are “fit” (think strong, lean, attractive, wealthy, young, “well-adjusted” types) and those who just “aren’t” being the dominating force.

A problem culture.

An elitist culture.