Making Health a Priority: But I'm too exhausted to exercise

By Kiley Owen, PA-C

exhausted and uninspired young woman at office laptopI hear this a lot. Between work, family, and various activities, many people feel too exhausted to fit another thing (such as exercise) into their overbooked schedule.

Of course, it's important to let go of unnecessary activities (TV is often a culprit) and get good sleep. Beyond that, the best advice I've heard comes from Dr. Harry Lodge, MD, in Younger Next Year (a great book I've mentioned on the blog before). Harry speaks on the challenge of exercising while still working at full speed:

"It may seem exhausting to fit exercise into your crazy work schedule, but that's looking at it backwards. We are not tired at the end of the day because we get too much exercise. We are tired because we do not get enough exercise.

We are mentally, emotionally and physically drained from being sedentary.

"Walking through the door exhausted each night is not living; it is merely surviving large stretches of the only life we're likely to have.

"Besides, study after study shows that the productivity gains at work outweigh the time spent exercising, and that we function better at home —with more satisfaction and on less sleep—when we're fit.

"If you put any value at all on your quality of life, the time you spend exercising becomes a bargain... The reality is that your life is so full in these years that you can't afford not to exercise. The only real issue is that it's tough to keep up the motivation to exercise when life is crowded with obligations and stress.

"So rely on structure more than motivation. Carve out the time to exercise, make it 'protected time' and guard it fiercely against intrusion."

Make It Your Job

Harry and co-author Chris Crowley (Harry's patient) recommend treating exercise like a job. You don't wake up and think about whether or not you will go to work each day. Work is a given. It's non-negotiable (unless something serious has happened). Whether you feel like it or not, you show up and do the work because your livelihood is at risk if you don't. Other obligations are therefore scheduled around it.

Exercise should be prioritized in the same way, for the same reason. Our livelihood is at risk if we don't. Just as work offers us security in the form of money, exercise also offers us security, in the form of better health and quality of life.

A Different Outlook

Instead of thinking of exercise as something that will drain you, think of it instead as an activity that will revitalize you, improve your energy level, and give you a greater sense of well-being. 

A Quick Experiment

illustration of clock with one minute in green for goTry this one-minute challenge. Take one minute right now to do some form of exercise, right where you are. It can be jumping jacks, push-ups, triceps dipslunges, etc.

Go ahead... It's only 60 seconds. I'll be here when you get back. :)

How do you feel after the minute is up?

  • Your heart rate and breathing rate went up, delivering more oxygenated blood to the muscles you were using.
  • How do those muscles feel? Kinda nice to use them for activity they were designed to do?
  • Do you feel a little more awake and alert? Perhaps more clear-headed?
  • A bit less stressed? A bit more alive?

Considering Your Unique Situation

I encourage you to consider your own situation, thinking about where you could carve out "protected time" in your schedule for exercise. Maybe first thing in the morning before jumping in the shower? Perhaps going for a brisk walk or taking some stairs during your lunch break? Is there a gym near your home or work? Could exercise be incorporated into a family activity in the evening time?   

Consider how this important "job" can pay dividends for years to come in the form of improved mood, energy level, productivity, and quality of life.

Kiley Owen is a physician assistant, blogger and preventive health enthusiast. This post—along with helpful links to other resources—originally appeared on her blog, makinghealthapriority.com.