The Obstacle Meter – 27: Exercise

27: Exercise

I tend to not get enough exercise in on a weekly basis.

Exercise is a very important part of a healthy lifestyle. But, keep in mind, that research shows that exercise alone will more than likely not lead to a meaningful weight loss (<5% of your initial body weight).  People love to ask me whether diet or exercise is more important to weight loss and if one is more important what type of percentage would I give to each.  Although I do not like doing this (because they are both super important) if someone put a gun to my head, I would say 80-85% diet and 15-20% exercise.  I hesitate to say that as it minimizes the role of exercise but as the saying goes, –you cannot out exercise a bad diet–.

For health, it is recommended that you exercise at a moderate to vigorous exercise on all or most days of the week for at least 30 minutes at a time.  What does this mean?  In layman terms, exercise at an intensity that makes you slightly short of breath for 30 minutes/day for 5 days of the week to total 150 minutes of exercise for the week.

If you are looking to lose weight it is recommended you exercise for at least 250 minutes/week with a goal of closer to 300 minutes/week to maximize the number of calories you burn.

If weightlifting is your thing, performing a full body workout with 2-3 sets per body part, 2-3 times/week is recommended.

Regardless of the recommendation, if you are not exercising very frequently or your intensity is low, your focus should be on becoming consistent with your routine.  Do not try to get in 300 minutes of exercise your very first week.  You should ease your way into it and slowly progress each week (in small 5-10% increases).  If you are already exercising 300 minutes/week, congratulations.  Unless you are training for something specific or just really enjoy exercising you may want to try focusing more on your diet instead.

Health — 150 minutes/week

Weight Loss – 250 – 300 minutes/week

Interestingly, the health and weight loss recommendations are in minutes/week of aerobic-based activities, partially due to the fact that you do not need any equipment (walking/running only requires shoes).  The weight training recommendations are not necessarily for health or weight loss.  Weight training is very good for your bones and muscles but tends to burn fewer calories than aerobic exercise and in many cases does not provide the cardiovascular benefits that aerobic exercise does (although it depends on the intensity of the exercise).  I would not, however, shy away from weight training.  Saying that weight training is not good for you is like saying that exercise is not good for weight loss.  From a pure statistics/math perspective, maybe cardio is better for the number of calories burned but again I hate even bringing this point up.  Try to mix and match the two for best results.

Ok, now that we have established how much exercise is recommended for you to get, let us help you figure out why you are not getting as much exercise as you would like to.


  • Make the Time for It.  Everyone has the time; you just need to make the time for it. What is something that you can cut from your to do list or reduce the amount of time you spend doing it?  What other leisure activities can you reduce to make time for exercise?
  • Walk while you talk on the phone or with loved ones.  With the advent of cell phones, we are not tied to a land line.  Get out and walk around the block or a park.  Plug in your ear buds and away you go.
  • Park at the far end of the parking lot.
  • Stand at your desk.
  • Be more helpful: offer to help people carry, lift, deliver or move things.
  • Write exercise into your schedule. You can make time for it.
  • Exercise does not need to be a traditional work-out.  Incorporate more activity throughout the day such as taking the stairs or walking during your work breaks or lunch.
  • Exercise does not need to be all at once. Three 15-minute bouts of exercise are as effective as one continuous 45-minute bout.
  • Make weekend activities active. Choose a hike or bike ride over a movie.  My wife and I like to get a Saturday morning hike in so that no matter how we spend the rest of our day we have banked some physical activity and we can feel good about the rest of the day doing nothing if we so choose.


Ask yourself the following question.  How much exercise am I willing to do today?  If the answer is something low but more than zero, like 10 minutes, pledge to yourself that you will do 10 minutes of exercise.  Oftentimes, once you are into it you will tell yourself that hey, I might as well do 10 more minutes and 10 more minutes and before you know it, you willed yourself through your workout.

Start with light weights and/or a low intensity:  Oftentimes you will find that once you get into your workout groove you will want to challenge yourself a little bit more.

Do a partial workout: research shows that performing one set per body part to failure can be nearly as effective as 3 sets for strength gains.  You might have to put calorie burning on hold for the day.  That is okay.  The important thing is that you did something.  Now when you come back to the gym in two days, you will still be ready for a full workout.  If you did not do anything (did not even do a partial workout) for 4-5 days, you may need to start back in a little lighter and now you have lost some of the momentum that you have built up.  Missing exercise sessions can quickly turn into a pattern, which can turn into a habit, which can turn into you not exercising at all.  This happens much easier than what one might think and oftentimes happens without you even being aware that it is happening.

Consistency is king, even if you are not up for completing a full workout, give yourself permission for at least doing part of the workout.


Anything! Just get moving.  I will tell you a little secret.  Most people at the gym do not know what they are doing.  They certainly act like they know what they are doing, but they do not know what they are doing.  So please try not to be worried about them.  Machines are a great way to get started if you feel like you are not sure where to start since they are designed to only operate in the motion that your muscles are intended to move.  After becoming comfortable with the machines, you can perform some of these same motions with free weights before moving on to even more complex movement patterns.

Exercise can be anything from going on a walk to gardening:  Our ancestors did not exercise, they hunted, gathered, farmed, and survived.  I will bet you a lot of money that your ancestors were really fit despite doing exactly zero programmed exercise.  I am not saying you should go out and become a bricklayer or hunt for your own food but know that every physical activity you do counts.

Workout videos: even if you do not know what to do, do not have a gym membership, and it is not safe to go outside if you have a home/apartment you can more than likely perform an exercise video.  For the past several years exercise videos were becoming a little cliche and 1990s like; however, more recently there has been a huge resurgence of internet-based classes that you can take from the comfort of your own home.

Work with a trainer: some trainers are boneheads, most are at least serviceable, some are great, and others are phenomenal!  Having never tried hiring a trainer myself I am not entirely sure what to tell you to look for other than to ask for recommendations from their previous clients or perhaps to ask them, if I were to work with someone other than you in this gym, who would you suggest?  I think most trainers know their general pecking order and would be able to recommend who the best trainer is to work with.


There has to be some type of physically challenging activity that you enjoy.  Anything from beer league softball to gardening can count as exercise (the academics will call it physical activity, but we can call it exercise).  Exercise does not have to be of a certain type, and it does not have to be intense for you to get a benefit from it.  When I see people in the park grimacing with pain while they are running, I think to myself, you are crazy.  Although I used to do that same thing to myself (and I enjoyed it at the time) I have absolutely no intention of working that hard.  And guess what, I am still fit enough to carry out the activities I enjoy.  You do not have to kill yourself to gain a benefit, nor do you have to do a specific exercise at a specific intensity to get fit, burn calories, and feel good about yourself.

  • Clean the house. Cleaning the house can double your metabolic rate and you will have a clean house after you are finished.
  • Join a non-competitive, no-pressure sports team. Again, beer league softball.  But try not to drink too much beer.
  • Watch tv, listen to music, or read while on an exercise machine.
  • Exercise with friends.


  • Do workout videos.
  • Get a gym membership.
  • Walk around the mall.
  • Walk/run the stairs.
  • Get a pull up bar or small weights.
  • Do bodyweight exercises.  You can become pretty ripped just doing push-ups, sit-ups, squats, and pull ups.


  • Take turns with other parents watching the kids while you exercise.
  • Join a health club with a daycare.
  • Involve kids in the exercise: go on walks together, kick the soccer ball around, play tag.
  • Do an exercise video while the kids are napping.
  • Carry the baby around.

One final note:  all physical activity counts but it also does not count when it comes to burning calories.  You can park your car further away in the lot or you can take the stairs, but each activity will burn relatively few calories in the grand scheme of things.  While these activities count and are encouraged, you cannot rely on these little activities to add up to be all of your exercise.  Burning calories takes time and at least a little bit of effort. 

I hesitate to say that burning calories is hard, but it is hard.  The example I like to use to illustrate this point is that an Ironman triathlete (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2 mile run) burns approximately 13,000 calories to complete this event in 10+ hours of continuous intense exercise.  On the other hand, Joey Chestnut, the 4th of July hot dog eating champion can eat 20,000 calories in 12 minutes.  It is far easier to overeat than it is to burn off those calories and the reason why the saying — you cannot out exercise a bad diet– is so true. 

And finally, I guess this is also part of the reason why I say that losing weight is 80-85% diet and 15-20% exercise.  This is why, yes, everything counts but I wouldn’t count on it to get the job done or to burn a lot of calories.  This is why in our world today, a dedicated time to exercise is so important.  People who are active enough to not have to exercise are now the exception rather than the rule.