Peter Francis column - Bin the excuses and feel the health benefits

In this week’s health and fitness column, Peter Francis looks at the challenges people face when they take up a new activity.

In this week’s health and fitness column, Peter Francis looks at the challenges people face when they take up a new activity.

Behaviour Change the Key

In previous columns we have discussed the benefits of physical exercise, been made aware of the consequences of inactivity, highlighted recommendations, expertise and facilities yet 39% of us are overweight and 19% of us are obese.

Why? We have failed to address the barriers to exercise. People point to time constraints, weather, facilities, old injuries, being self conscious or cost as reasons for non-compliance with a regular exercise routine.

In reality the majority of these are perceived barriers rather than real blockades to exercise. Collectively they are a list of excuses which summarize one of the cornerstones of human nature “resistance to change”. To change the behaviour of adults in relation to any aspect of their daily lives is incredibly difficult.

This is perhaps why we encourage our children to adopt good habits early in life such as wearing seatbelts and brushing teeth. Children are malleable and find adapting to change quite easy. As adults however simply getting us to sit in a different seat at home or have our coffee at a different time can be an ordeal, not to mention togging off for an hour’s physical exercise.

Barriers to Exercise

Today I put forward behaviour change as the key to a healthier better conditioned nation. Positive initiatives such as reduced gym memberships and the bike to work scheme has done little to increase the physical activity levels of the nation.

This is quite simply because you still have to enter the gym to exercise and the bike doesn’t cycle itself. I have faced this predicament myself when attempting to organise a new running group for the Great Limerick Run last year.

Everyone was very quick to sign up, pay €40 online and ask for my assistance the week before Christmas. However when it was back to work in January the excuses for intermittent participation came thick and fast. “I have to collect the kids,” “I need to finish this report”, “I haven’t got time today but I’ll be back on track next week”.

I was fortunate to work closely with this group and as they began to enjoy it they began to take ownership of training days and times themselves - ie behaviour change had occurred. Instead of “I haven’t got time today” I began to hear “my evening is jammed tomorrow can we run at 7:30am or lunch-time?”.

The perceived barriers became just that “perceived” not real. This process took an estimated four to six weeks.

Anticipation and Organization

So what changed? As when attempting to achieve any desired outcome in life organization and anticipation have a large role to play. The runners as individuals and a group began to anticipate the challenges they would face to complete the weekly training I had prescribed.

Let’s take that 7:30am run and estimate what is required. First off there was a group to meet with, other people were dependent on you. The night before you needed to pack a training bag with shower gear so you could go straight to work. Breakfast would have to be at your desk or in a nearby café. If there are children involved you had to arrange your other half or a relation to drop them to crèche or school.


In addition to organization and anticipation variety plays a large role in not becoming bored, stale or injured during your new regime. If you’re aiming for five days why not walk, swim, cycle on three days and do a class such as circuit training, yoga or pilates on the other two days.

It cannot be overstated that regardless of your choices you must anticipate the barriers to completing those sessions and eliminate them or choose alternatives. For example there is no point in putting Wednesday yoga into your schedule if normally you work late on Wednesdays, perhaps you need to walk early that morning instead.

You don’t like it or you’re not good at it?

Whatever new regime you attempt to adopt, give it a chance! Sometimes we can confuse not being good at something or being unfit as not liking it.

People often say to me “I never get this runners high they talk about - I suffer until it’s over”, in most cases the runners high comes when you are fit enough to run comfortably for 40 minutes and hold a conversation. This takes time.

Recently I learned to swim and faced the same challenge. I wasn’t good at it nor water fit, I found it hard to breath and couldn’t turn my head to both sides as my instructor directed me to. For several sessions after I felt like I was a child being dragged by an imaginary voice kicking and screaming into the pool.

Eventually it clicked and I now use 60 minutes, sometimes more, of swimming every week as part of my training regime - ie I began to like it when I was able to do it.

This week’s article aims to get you in the right frame of mind for exercise. Next week I will focus on the exercise available to us when moving from light to dark as winter closes in.

>>> To remind yourself of the incredible benefits of exercise read our article “Exercise is Medicine” from July 21 available at


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