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Why Your Parent is not Excited About Exercise

You have begged, you have pleaded, you have nagged, and maybe just happened to come across articles or NPR stories but nothing is getting through. They may even have friends that have gotten back on the workout train and you wish that your parent, friend or loved one would do the same.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. I don’t know you or who you are worried about…but below are some reasons why you are not getting through or they are not ready to do it.

The gym atmosphere is too much

You may feel comfortable walking into your gym, figuring out what the plan is and getting to work. Even if group classes are your thing you feel comfortable. Even if you don’t know all of the equipment you are able to get a solid workout in. Perhaps you don’t realize how loud the music is there…or you just have your own earphones in. Does your parent have a hearing aid or have difficulty hearing? Such an environment can be overwhelming. Maybe the music is too much. (I usually tune it out when I am at a gym because usually I don’t dig it myself). It can be a sensory overload.

If there are machines everywhere, music playing and people that look like they know what they are doing it can be too much for someone not too familiar with it. Also to be honest they may not see anybody like them at the gym. If it is full of youngins slinging heavy weight around, doing burpees, taking selfies grunting and watching movies on the treadmill.

And look…they don’t have to “work out” at a gym.

The gym is intimidating 

These days often when you walk into a stereotypical gym people are walking around wearing tight clothes and at least seem to look like they know what they are doing. Machines have changed over the years. Some look like it is pretty straightforward to use. Others look like some contortionist designed them. Both may have instructions but maybe they are not that clear for them.  Imagine walking up to a machine not knowing what to do and someone else is behind them waiting for them to figure it out and finish their set. If there is open floor space…they are not sure what they can do in that area.  Of course, there are many facilities that are not like what I described. But if you have not set foot in a gym in over a decade thinking about the pressure of knowing what they were to do.

So you say dumbbells have not really changed much over the years. True. But if someone has not picked up a dumbbell in years they may have a fear of hurting themselves if they do it wrong.

Did I mention yet that the gym is not the only place and way to exercise? Just checking.

Conventional exercise seems very boring

Chest press. Dumbbell rows. Squats. Deadlifts. The list goes on. The staples of what can be seen as conventional exercise could seem like some yummy meat and potatoes to you. For them all that and more makes them swear that they don’t, can’t do or won’t do exercise. There is no appeal to them. From a vantage point, all of that is for the gym and there is no connection to everyday life. They have grown out of chasing six-packs, great glutes or legs that tell the world that you work out. A full life of things like careers, family, life experience gives them the insight that some things are more important than others. (Much of that insight we can all learn from).

Honestly, I don’t blame them at all on this one. Especially if exercise is framed in an aesthetic way they may be over that. They may not care about getting stronger or more flexible. There is not a connection made of how getting stronger can help them move better and more confident in everyday life. For instance, that weird word…deadlift. Nope, they don’t need to do that. I can best give the framework for this by what I saw a trainer did that was awesome. His client claimed that she didn’t need to do deadlifts and didn’t see the purpose for them. He said, “okay…can you pick that piece of paper up please?” She did. He said, “you just did a deadlift.” It was, of course, funny but helped to turn the lightbulb on that some movement with a fancy name is something that she does every time she picks up things (especially heavy things!) up off the floor.

They have injury or pain

Living with things like chronic back pain, arthritis, knee issues or a nagging shoulder issue can seem like more than enough. Telling them to exercise on top of that can have them look at you like you have three heads. They don’t understand that they could move better and with less pain. It can be hard to conceive. With pain and having everyday movements being uncomfortable can come frustration and even depression sometimes. They may not talk to you about it, show it or express it but be understanding that this may be present.

Watch or notice how they lead their daily life. Do they avoid doing certain tasks or movements because of pain? If so you can’t expect them to be excited about doing a conventional squat if there knees or back hurts just thinking about it.

Because of all of this and more when it comes to pain exercise can seem counterintuitive to what they think they need. Maybe they think cortisone shots or other was to address it are good enough. They need to be led down a path that can show them they can move better, easier and with less discomfort. Even if it is small steps it can add up.

They have suffered a fall

This is a huge one. Maybe they have not even told you that they have. Either way, a fall can in their minds signal that they are getting old. It can make them think that they should stay away from anything having to do with getting down to the floor. They will have a fear of injury or further injury from a fall. They may not get that they can improve their balance. The double-edged sword is that especially if they have a fear of falling they are at a higher risk of another fall.

They are low on energy because of their eating habits, medication or other things

Of course, I am not a nutritionist. Speaking specifically about what they should be eating is out of my lane. However, I think we all can agree that if you are not eating enough of what your body needs it will not function at its most optimal capacity. Or if you are not eating enough to give the body the fuel it needs to begin with that can be enough. If there is a habit of not enough water, protein and what keeps our body working well someone could be coasting through the day.  If someone is dragging because of that going to exercise can seem like quite a feat that they don’t want to endure.

Medication can affect things like energy levels and balance.

They feel invisible

I have had many people tell me that they feel invisible as they are older. They are barely looked at when they sit down for dinner. Others treat them like they are fragile and always need a helping hand. There is little acknowledgment for them because of their age or how slow they may be moving or just because they have grey hair. That sucks. If you felt that way, how open would you be sauntering into a big box gym and asking for a year membership?

This feeling can even be from how they see fitness in general. How many stock photos or of older adults performing an exercise? How often do you see someone who does not look like they live in the gym perform a movement?  Think about all of those “over the hill” cards. Some people think that things just fall apart at some age, falls happen and we lose strength. These same people probably only want your loved one or parent to do gentle exercises. Be careful is at the top of their minds. This does not help. This way of thinking that getting old means we can’t do what we physically want to do is not good. Ageism rears its ugly head in many aspects of society. If they don’t see themselves in the gym, in workout videos or photos how do they feel welcomed and inspired to do what younger people seem to be so good at? How can they feel as if they have the potential to move be

They claim that they don’t need it

I have had someone give me a disclaimer when I first met her that she does not exercise, so good luck. I just tuned out that challenge and asked her, “so what do you do during the day?” Her answer, oh I do gardening at least three hours a day. She had a HUGE garden. I whispered to her “guess what…that is exercise.” Of course, that didn’t make the lightbulb go off, but she was intrigued. I had to prove to her by matching up things she does outside to what I was asking her to do.

Even if whom you are worried about does not do something as physical as gardening they do enjoy doing what they enjoy doing. All of that including what they have to do (clothe, bathe, eat, get out of bed, pick things up) all involve foundational movements that many exercises echo for a reason.

Moving better does not have to be a solo venture. They may more so enjoy group classes (water or land). Also, they may scoff at the idea of investing in a personal trainer but it can be a game-changer ( I know I am biased but it is true).

So Damien what is the answer to all of this?

(I don’t have all of the answers…& I could be wrong about your parent or friend but feel free to share this post with them to start some dialogue)

  • Practice some empathy. Even if they have not expressed any of these suggestions I have they could fall into these categories.
  • See what allies they have where they live. Especially big cities county services may have some useful resources. There may even be some exercise classes geared specifically for them.
  • Seek out qualified professionals that work with their demographic.  These fitness professionals bring to the table the experience and talents to meet your parent where they are at. Set up a meet and greet and a session. Some can even travel to clients.
  • Help them look for gyms that have either a demographic or have a good sense of community that welcomes all to exercise on their own or in a group setting.  Maybe a smaller boutique gym is more their speed. Are there any they could check out?
  • Above all encourage being active. They may allergic to exercise in its conventional sense…but they enjoy tennis, water exercise classes, walking or other active things.
  • Don’t forget about mind/body avenues like Yoga, Tai Chi, and Feldenkrais.
  • Lastly, these are grown people. As much as we may want people we care about to do things that we think is good for them…they make their own decisions. Remember…encourage movement. What I think or you think they should be doing may not be what they need. But if they are finding ways to move outside of usual life, cheer them on to do more of it.

And P.S. If you are not practicing what you are preaching…stop making excuses of your own, invest in your health and start finding ways to move better in life!

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