Woman being ejected from sofa
Photo: Levi Brown
Terane Weatherly's church buddies kept trying to coax her to join them at the gym, but she always turned them down because of her size.

"A gym is very intimidating when you've never been into physical fitness," says the 48-year-old insurance associate from Connecticut, who weighed 285 pounds in 2005. Then one day at work, Terane had a seizure and was rushed to the emergency room—but she was too heavy to fit into a closed MRI machine.

Although the episode convinced Terane to start exercising, she still hadn't found her lasting motivation. The real turning point wouldn't come until several months later, when she ran across a picture of herself. "I thought I was looking real good that day, but when I saw the photo, I felt horrible," she says. "I said to myself that I'd better take this seriously. I joined a weight loss program with my sister and committed to hitting the gym twice a week." She also started walking three miles every weekend, and doing the little things that add up, like taking the stairs and parking at the farthest end of the lot. Terane had finally decided to start her new life as an active person.

So many people can relate to Terane's initial resistance to physical activity. Although the reasons may be different—I don't have time; I'm too tired—the result is the same: a sedentary lifestyle. But while exercise aversion is rampant, the simple truth is this: As human beings, we were meant to move. When we don't, we increase our risk of virtually every known ailment, from diabetes to coronary heart disease to osteoporosis to stroke. And it's not just that a lack of exercise promotes disease; a commitment to exercise can actually prevent it. We now know, for instance, that exercise strengthens the immune system and may help guard against cancers associated with body fat, including cancers of the esophagus, pancreas, colon, kidney, and breast. Exercise also boosts metabolism, helps you sleep, improves your mood, and gives you more energy.

All this should be enough to get anyone in their right mind to the gym, but lots of otherwise sane men and women don't even own a pair of workout shoes. The number one reason is that many people simply hate exercise. But if you're one of those people, let me state it plainly: You need to do it. Even if you don't care about all the health benefits, if you want to lose weight and keep it off, there's no way around it. You have to exercise. People who have long-term weight management success are physically active.

The challenge is to get past your resistance to activity. It's time to think about the reasons you might be reluctant to exercise, as well as ways to motivate yourself and overcome obstacles. You may never learn to love exercise (though a lot of former exercise haters do), but you will learn to love what it does for you.

That's certainly true for Terane, who now maintains her weight at about 140 pounds. She's setting a great example for her three kids and has more energy to devote to her passion: volunteering for her church, which includes helping at homeless shelters, attending conferences, "and basically anything my pastors need me to do that I now have enough strength, energy, and determination for."

Terane's story shows that what motivates someone to transform herself can be as big as a health scare or as small as a photograph. Whatever your turning point, the new perspective it provides will help you look at your life, your weight, and your priorities in a totally different light—and when that revelation hits you, you'll know it.
*****
Until you have a reason to be physically active—a reason that matters, and matters deeply—then you are not going to stick with exercise. The importance of a significant motivating factor is something I've seen again and again among my clients. And the research backs me up. One study from Portugal divided overweight women into two groups. Both received standard advice on diet and exercise, but one group was also encouraged to develop a personal, emotional incentive for staying active. After a year, the group that had incorporated the psychological component had lost an average of 12 pounds of body fat, compared to just under three pounds for the other volunteers. What I find especially interesting about this research is that it shows that inner motivation can be acquired.

With this in mind, I'm offering you ten reasons to exercise. Some you'll read and think, "Yeah, I guess so." That's not the reaction I'm going for. I want you to find the one that inspires you to say, "That is what I care about!" Then you'll know you're on the right track.

Next: 10 reasons to exercise (pick at least one)

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