I Don’t Exercise

Yeah, it’s true. I don’t really exercise. Not in any way that most people would define as exercise. This may surprise a lot of people because I am often told that I believe everyone should exercise regularly.

I always find it amusing when people tell me what I believe…

Now I don’t lie in bed all day (although I am perfectly happy to do that). I have stairs in my house. I go up and down the stairs in my office building once or twice a day. Throughout the day I’m moving weights around to set up exercises for patients. My wife gave me one of those watches that tells me that I walk 2-3 miles every day on average. Every now and then I’ll go on a hike. During the summer I like to swim. Scratch that – I LOVE to swim. I also really enjoy exploring cities on foot. About once a week I work on improving my skills with a samurai sword (don’t ask). But I don’t “exercise”.

Occasionally I’ll lift some weights. It’s probably better described as “screwing around in a weight room”. It can be as frequent as three times a week (very rare) but I often go almost a year without a true “workout”. Even when I lift, it is more out of professional curiosity, playing around with force vectors and whatnot. One time a few months ago I deadlifted 300 pounds just to see if I could do it since I never had tried before. I haven’t done it since then. I also can’t remember the last time I went for a run. God I hate running…

But Erik, don’t you recommend exercises for your patients?

Yes. It is my top recommendation.

Well then you’re a hypocrite…

When a physician prescribes for a patient to take a daily dose of antibiotics, are they a hypocrite if they themselves do not take a daily dose of antibiotics as well? Of course not. I recommend targeted progressive loading (exercise) to patients when they have a load tolerance issue. If someone doesn’t have a load tolerance issue, I don’t recommend that they take time out of their day for targeted progressive loading. Why would I? I would also say that, as a physical therapist, if someone doesn’t have a load tolerance issue, then I’m probably not the person best suited to be treating them.

I do believe that people need to be physically conditioned for the life they lead. High level athletes for example push their bodies to their physical limits. They need to be regularly training so that they are conditioned for that. But I don’t.

But exercise is good for us!

Not inherently.


Look, this is all relative. Most chronic disease is rooted in obesity. Obesity is first and foremost a thermodynamics problem (calories in against calories out). Many people think that this means we all need to exercise more. No, it means you have to stay in balance. Jogging for 30 minutes burns about as many calories as eating a slice of pie. I’d rather just skip the slice of pie instead of going for a run, thank you very much.

We also get to the problem of how much exercise is enough. If my job requires manual labor, do I still need to exercise? If so, how much? Does the person who walks a factory floor all day have to supplement his routine so he matches the amount of work a landscaper does all day shoveling dirt? Is the landscaper going to live longer because of how much physical work he does? (The answer is probably no because he is likely at a lower socio-economic level which is a better predictor of living a shorter life.)

But don’t people who exercise regularly live longer?

I mean, kinda. It’s really hard to tease that out for sure. You see, people who exercise regularly tend to be the same people who don’t overeat. They also tend to be generally more disciplined in their lives and belong to higher socio-economic demographics, among other confounders which correlate to longevity. Even then, it’s probably not DECADES longer.

Also, society is more supportive of people who like to exercise.


Society has this weird tendency to judge certain behaviors as better than others in ways that are really arbitrary. For example, extroversion is almost always encouraged – Go out and be social! Collaborate as part of a team! – whereas introversion is discouraged.

Another example is sleep habits. “Athletes are not getting enough sleep. We need to make sure they go to bed earlier!” Um, if you really care about sleep volume you could just change their schedule so they can start sleeping in later. “But that is being lazy!!!” Whatever.

People who exercise regularly are seen as “good” and those that don’t are in the Box of Shame.

Ok, but you actually DO exercise – All of that hiking and swimming and climbing stairs is still exercise!

But health benefits is not WHY I do those things. I do those things because I enjoy them. Even how much I choose to take the stairs is out of personal preference. I mean, elevators involve waiting for the dumb thing to arrive, being in close proximity to other humans who may actually engage in (*cringe*) chitchat, having to stop at floors that aren’t mine, and someone probably farted (it was me). Let’s just say I don’t take the stairs for my physical health.

I choose these things for my mental health. And yes, I do believe that, as humans, we tend to choose physical activities for our mental distractions. But these include things like gardening, walking around a shopping mall, woodworking, playing catch with the kids. Even video games can be physical (I’m told that my dancing around a room after winning a game can be “very tiring”). But I don’t believe it is the calorie burning, strength building part of it that does the most good (admittedly I think it does SOME good).

I think the important component here is recreation. Just because YOU get mental well-being from those activities doesn’t mean everyone else does. We shouldn’t be shaming people into things like weight-lifting and going for a run three times a week. We should be encouraging people to go out and have fun with their lives. Whatever that may be.

And maybe not eat pie three times a day.