A teenage girl is participating in a weight loss camp. As she is doing relay races, she begins to experience fear and stops exercising, breaking down in tears. The coach encourages her to keep going. It is the only way to break through and get the weight loss results she desires. This fear grows into a full blown panic attack. This is a true story of what happened on the popular reality TV show, Shaq's Big Challenge. What the coaches didn't realize is that this young girl has a very real condition called exercise resistance.
Exercise resistance was first coined in 1996 by Registered Dietitian and Exercise Physiologist, Francie White. Francie defines it as a conscious or unconscious block against becoming regularly active. This block leads to an inactive lifestyle for both children and adults. Is this just plain laziness or is there something more to it?
Working in the health field, I can assure you it is very real. Many people struggle with this condition usually resulting from past embarrassment or shame around physical activity. For example, the kids who are always picked last for the team, being teased for not being a good player, or perhaps embarrassment among young girls in the locker room if they matured earlier than others. When we experience emotional pain from something consistently, especially starting at a young age, we will avoid it at all cost.
It is also common to see this condition with dieters. When strict exercise regimes are prescribed, people can become resistant when they don't enjoy it. This type of exercise becomes something they have to do to get the desired result, instead of being something that is enjoyable. In some cases, the child who was picked on for not being good at sports grows up and begins dieting as an adult. This just reinforces the negative experience even more! Soon it is hard to imagine any sort of physical activity as being enjoyable. In my line of work, I have seen staggering amounts of people who fall into this category.
For some, it manifests itself as not being able to be consistent with physical activity or not starting at all. It can also show up in a more serious way with feelings of fear and panic attacks similar to what happened to the young girl in the television show. If you are beginning to recognize some exercise resistance patterns in your own life or see it in your children, there are some helpful strategies to overcome this issue. 1
. Explore the history of what may have created this block
. What feelings come up for you when you think about exercise? When did this begin? Early childhood, teen years?