Should I Exercise Today? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

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I was talking with my doctor yesterday about a problem I have with my foot. It’s been going on for months, but as I told her, there have been periods where it was much better — when I was doing yoga 5 days a week pretty consistently. Unfortunately, there are a lot of times I can’t exercise, and many that I don’t just because “I just don’t feel like it.” Have you ever found yourself saying something similar?

We know exercise is good for us, but sometimes it’s just hard to make ourselves do it.

There’s a difference in not wanting to exercise and needing to take time off from it though. There are definitely times we need to take recovery days. Each person is different, and each of us needs to listen to our bodies. Nobody knows us better than we know ourselves, and if we know we need to take a recovery day, we should allow ourselves to take it without feeling bad about it.

Sometimes, though, it can be hard to tell if we really shouldn’t exercise or if we just don’t want to. So how do we figure that out? Asking ourselves a few questions about our real motivations for not exercising might help. Here are some that have been helpful for me:

5 Questions To Ask Yourself When Considering Whether to Skip Exercise

1. Am I in too much pain to exercise?

For those of us who live with chronic pain, we need to determine if, at our current pain level, we’re able to exercise. After living with chronic pain for a while, we can usually tell when it’s okay to do some exercise and when it’s not.

2. Am I my “normal” tired, or am I feeling that bone-crushing fatigue that accompanies illness or a pain flare?

You probably know what I’m talking about. There are times we’re just tired from a long day at work, or not feeling much like doing anything. Then there’s that bone-crushing fatigue we feel when we’re sick or when we’re having a flare. When we’re feeling fatigued, our bodies may be telling us we need to rest. ‘Pushing through’ might not be our best move here.

3. Do I feel unable, or am I just unwilling to exercise?

It’s easy to think we’re not able to exercise when we’re not feeling great, but sometimes it can just be that we’ve gotten so used to not exercising that we really don’t want to. As we talked about in Let’s Get Personal, my pain from fibromyalgia kept me from exercising, but not exercising made my pain worse. When I started to move more, I didn’t really feel like I wanted to, but I knew I was okay to do it. The truth was, I had just been unwilling to do it; mostly out of fear I’d feel worse.

4. Am I running a fever?

Obviously, if we’re running a fever, we don’t need to exercise. If we’re running a fever, that means our body is fighting something. We don’t need to add more physical stress to it.

5. Do I have musculoskeletal issues that could be made worse by exercising?

As I mentioned earlier, I have an ongoing problem with my foot. The first thing my doctor did was get an x-ray to make sure there was nothing going on with the bones in my feet and determine I wouldn’t make it worse by exercising. She then gave me some exercises to strengthen and stretch the small muscles in my feet. If there’s potential for causing further injury, we definitely need to skip our workout and see our doctor.

Answering these questions honestly can usually help us determine whether or not we should exercise on that particular day. It can help us decide whether we should take a recovery day or if we’re just making excuses not to exercise.

View of river through the trees, with an old, disintegrating dock, with quote: "No one can listen to your body for you....To grow and heal, you have to take responsibility for listening to it yourself." ~Jon Kabat-Zinn

Is It Time for a Change?

If you find you’re just making excuses, maybe you’re just not enjoying your exercise program anymore. Maybe it’s time to change it up a little. Perhaps, as we talked about in Do We Need to Change How We View Exercise, we need to forget about the ‘shoulds’ surrounding it and enjoy how movement makes us feel.

We need to learn to listen to our bodies and take breaks from exercise if we need to. We also need to recognize when we’re making excuses not to do it.

Do you ever find yourself in this position of trying to decide whether you should exercise or not? How do you tell if you need to take a break or you’re just making excuses not to exercise? Please share!



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Blue sneakers, gray towel, bottle of water, and a set of dumbbells with text overlay: Should I Exercise Today? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

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  1. Learning to listen to our bodies is important. I remember, before being diagnosed with ME, that I felt worse after workouts, yet kept pushing myself thinking I was just out of shape. I wish I had listened.

    1. I agree 100% VJ! Learning to listen to what our bodies is so important, but it can be so hard for people to do sometimes. For some reason, we feel we just have to push ourselves, no matter what our bodies are trying to tell us. The thing is, our minds often lie to us, but our bodies seldom do. Hope you and Ric are doing well. Sending hugs your way!

  2. Such a relevant post Terri. I have to tell you that there are actually some days where I just don’t want to exercise and take a day off. Kind of like my work. Something internal just tells me that you don’t need to do that today so just rest and take it easy. I’m glad you talked about this cause I was feeling a bit guilty for taking days off from exercising because I just felt like my body needed to just chill.

    1. Thanks so much Mark. I’m glad you realize you don’t need to feel guilty about taking the time your body needs to rest. That ‘do more’, ‘push through,’ ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality can be so detrimental to our overall health. The older I get, the more I realize the importance of paying attention to what our bodies are trying to tell us. I hope you and your family are doing well. Blessings to you!

  3. This week I used the excuse that I need to be where my mind (head) was so I was concerned about deadlines so I skipped my regularly scheduled Monday 8-8:30 strengthening class on zoom. Had my weights, resistance bands and yoga mat at work with me. Got to work 1 hour early so I could clock out to exercise at 7:50. But got busy and it was 8:10 when I realize class had started. I should have just jumped in late but made excuses. This blog was timed perfectly for me. Thank you for framing this up concisely and giving me a different way to evaluate my decisions about working out.

    1. Thanks so much Sarah. It’s always good when we can determine whether we need to take a break or are just making excuses not to. Sometimes, though, it’s just a matter of other things getting in the way. That’s when we have to stop and figure out what’s most important – our (other thing) or our health…. It’s not always easy to make ourselves a priority, but we can’t pour from an empty cup…. I hope you guys are having a great month. Sending love and hugs your way!

  4. Great way to look at the issue, Terri. It’s easy to either push ourselves too much, or skip exercise altogether without considering if it’s a good idea. I’m sorry about the ongoing issue with your foot, but I do help the focused exercises can help a little. It’s tricky when problems like mobility, fatigue and pain make exercise, even the simplest and lowest impact ones, very difficult so while exercise is important, so too is looking after ourselves and making sure it’s done in the best way. xx

    1. Thanks so much Caz! You’re so right about the need to look after ourselves. Sometimes it’s just not a good idea to exercise, and we need to learn to listen to our bodies during those times. I hope you’re doing as well as possible sweet friend. Sending lots of love and hugs your way!

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