Opinion: Exercise is easy, but so are excuses

I’m a reasonably responsible freelancer, adult and parent. And I’m fully aware of the benefits of physical activity, from health to boosting creativity. The problem is that exercise is easy, but so are excuses – especially when you’re busy and self-employed.

Having read plenty of research to write articles on sport and wellbeing, I’m well aware I can lower the risk of developing many long-term chronic conditions, boost my self-esteem, mood and energy, and help reduce the impacts of stress or depression. I might have assumed the appearance of a middle-aged desk jockey, but my past includes rugby, cross country running, martial arts and visiting the gym 3-4 times a week.

Being a freelancer means I can be more flexible with my working hours, making the most of good weather or getting to the gym when it’s less busy. I know plenty of inspirational self-employed people who have a wide range of cool, active hobbies. And I live within a few minutes of a park, and other open spaces. But as a typically irrational human being, it’s easy to find myself spending days indoors, slumped in front of the TV or computer.

So, I’m publicly sharing my most common justifications for sitting around in the hope it’ll help avoid them in the future. And my shame might hopefully inspire one or two other freelancers to make more of their time.


“I’m too busy with work”

Deadlines, client questions and family life can all put enormous pressure on our time. And it’s easy to say I can’t spend 20 minutes going for a short walk. And it sounds entirely reasonable.  Until I think about how long I spend choosing my clothes, lunch, or what to watch.

Will I lose a client because I replied to their email 20 minutes later? Or will I actually communicate more effectively when I’ve got some fresh air and exercise? And if I plan some active time into my schedule, the 150 minutes per week recommended by the UK Chief Medical Officers is much less likely to hurt deadlines than having a mid-afternoon energy crash.


“I hate walking/running/cycling/the gym”

Activity doesn’t have to be tedious or unpleasant. It’s easy to choose outdoors over a sweaty gym, or a home workout if it’s cold and wet outside. And you can always build in other hobbies. In my case, walking also tied into an interest in photography and local history. Did you know Peterborough had a popular brand of bottled spring water in the 1900s? I didn’t, until I stumbled across the spring on a stroll around the neighbourhood.


I can’t afford all the equipment”

Then don’t buy anything which isn’t absolutely necessary. And a gentle walk for 15 minutes doesn’t require anything more than some shoes. You probably own a pair to use while you’re waiting for some ultra-athletic trainers to be delivered.

If you need something more dedicated to your exercise, then there are plenty of guides online to using household items, making something yourself, or finding cheap second-hand equipment.

Exercise is easy, but so are excuses

“I’m still in my PJs”

Working from home is great if you don’t enjoy getting dressed up every day. But you might be reluctant to be seen outside the front door in your pyjamas, or that hoodie with the takeaway stain that won’t disappear.

Either get dressed, or just stick a coat on. No-one will notice or care, and the odds on a British sitcom type disaster are miniscule. Just make sure you have your door key and a phone.


“There’s no nice place to walk nearby”

Everyone has the image of hiking through the Lake District in their mind when they think about going for a walk. But after working in London and living in the built-up Medway Towns in Kent, I’ve had as much fun wandering around and discovering unusual buildings, old signage and other discoveries as I’ve had on organised walks in the countryside.

Endless fields can be a bit boring after a while compared to discovering a new local shop or micropub.

“Family commitments and guilt”

This is a big one for me, as two of my close family members have chronic conditions which make it difficult or more complicated for them to go on walks with me. A childhood spent on walking holidays rather than trips to Disneyland means I’m happy going on a hike, rather than a wander to the local post office and back.

And should I be going out when the washing up needs doing, and there’s laundry piling up? Oddly enough, the answer is similar to client work. A quick chat can stop you feeling bad about a lunchtime stroll while family are stuck at work or home, and you’ll be more motivated to tackle the house work after a break.

It’s also a good method for getting separation between work and personal time. Some people find a short walk before or after work draws a line between professional and home life.

“Too tired and can’t be bothered”

Rationally, I know that exercise will give me energy and leave me feeling more motivated. But after working late into the night, interrupted meals and sleep, and with a long list of jobs still to do, snacking on a family-sized multipack of crips and chocolate in a comfy chair tends to be much more appealing.

From previous efforts to get fitter, and research into the subject, there are two key steps to beating this excuse. The first is to make the activity a simple and easy habit, by putting your trainers by the door, or your weights by the bed. And the other is to grit your teeth and just go and do it anyway.

One of the best tips for creative freelancing is to get into a routine, and not wait for inspiration to arrive as a bolt from the blue.  And the same is true for exercise, which is why so many writers had a set schedule of work and walking. Growing up in Medway, I’m familiar with Charles Dickens apparently walking around 12 miles per day around the same area I lived in. And local features such as the gravestones at St James Church in Cooling famously inspired the opening of Great Expectations.

“I missed yesterday, so I might as well give up”

The final excuse is that skipping a day means you might as well compound the mistake by giving up entirely. It’s particularly ironic, given the drive and determination it can take to establish a successful freelance career. But when you break any habit, good or bad, it’s sometimes hard to get going again.

This is a time to practice forgiveness for yourself. Don’t promise you’ll double or triple the amount of exercise to make up the backlog. That’s just going to put you off even more, and no-one is keeping score (unless you’ve shared your efforts with friends or other people as social motivation, and even then, they’ll understand you’re human).

Take the same approach to lapses as you would for illness or injury. Get back into your routine if you’re fit and able. And don’t let your physical activity become a cause of more stress and pressure. If it stops being beneficial, try an alternative exercise or hobby as a break. Mixing things up not only keeps things fresh and interesting, but along with learning new skills you’ll also potentially avoid recurring injuries associated with particular sports.

It’s frightening how easily excuses can come to mind when you want to avoid exercising or physical activity. But by being conscious of them, you realise how easily they can be overcome by a little thought and logic.

I need to go for my daily walk, so if you need more help and advice, why not take a look at;

Read more of Dan’s previous opinion columns on freelancing here, including bad briefs, living with another freelancer, and why everyone should be self-employed at least once in their careers.