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Baltimore living column: Finding motivation to work out takes finesse

Columnist Ellen Fishel thinks the adult world is full of ready-made excuses to avoid exercising.
Columnist Ellen Fishel thinks the adult world is full of ready-made excuses to avoid exercising. (Jeffrey F. Bill, Baltimore Sun)

Finding the motivation to exercise is a true art form. So is coming up with excuses not to.

I consider myself a Picasso in the latter. And like many great artists, my work has only appreciated with time.

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To be fair, though, finding a reason to avoid physical activity has required much less creativity as of late. The adult world is full of ready-made excuses: I'm too tired after work, I'm too tired before work, I can't afford to join a gym, I'm so out of shape that if I do go to a gym it will probably be embarrassing, etc., etc.

But the harsh truth is that exercising becomes more necessary after college. With no more walking to class/everywhere else and no more free, conveniently located gym — plus the gradual but inevitable metabolism slow-down — there can be some undesired consequences.

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In my case, it doesn't help that I have a complex history with body image. I've gone through a few periods of obsessive under-eating and over-exercising in the past, with bouts of weight gain sandwiched in between. Toward the end of college, I finally realized that the solution to my fluctuating weight and nagging neurosis was to stop being concerned about what I ate and how much I worked out. (I know, you hate me now.)

So there's always the fear that if I let myself start to care about my fitness and nutrition again, it will spiral out of control. Plus, the apathetic approach still works in terms of keeping my weight reasonable. But, in another begrudging adult realization, I'm starting to recognize that there are aspects of my health that matter besides just how skinny I am.

But then comes the hurdle of how exactly to get said exercise. The main outlet I, and many of my peers, relied on in the past was organized sports. It still makes an obviously ideal option in your 20s, because all of the real work is disguised in the game and there's no complicated regimen to follow. The problem is that post-college organized sports likely either a) are weirdly too competitive, or b) involve more drinking than athletics.

Like a lot more drinking — as my roommates and I learned when our attempt to join a kickball team somehow led us to a league that literally required each player to hold a cup of beer at all times. (Though in full disclosure, we were all still embarrassingly sore after our first game.)

If sports are out, there's always jogging or biking. But I'm barely coordinated enough to ride on a bike path, let alone fight with giant balls of steel zooming past me on crowded city streets. Jogging is OK, and it's definitely one of my go-to methods of exercise, but for most it can get unbearably boring.

Plus, I am not about to become one of those crazies who runs outside in the winter. A below-50 temperature or just the slightest drizzle are more than enough material for me to create an excuse-not-to-exercise masterpiece.

So, finally, the most obvious fitness option left is working out at a gym. This choice offers lots of perks — a wide range of equipment, maybe some classes and a pool — but one big downfall: price. On a broke 20-something budget, dishing out an extra $40-$70-plus a month is pretty significant. And even more so if there's a chance you'll be lazy and not show up enough to get your money's worth.

Also, gyms can be a bit intimidating. Even though I'm sure no one actually cares/pays attention to my treadmill speed or how long my workout lasts, it's easy to feel trapped under a judgmental microscope of neon Under Armour-clad fitness buffs.

Recently, I broke down and bought a gym membership. I spent my first outing there wandering around trying to brainstorm a cool, tough workout to do, then ended up on the elliptical watching Bravo on the TV.

Hey, it's a start.

Ellen Fishel's column appears regularly in b.

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