5 Ways to Exercise When You Hate Sports

Don’t let gym class trauma doom you to a sedentary life.

I hate sports. Absolutely, irrevocably despise physical activity. I’ve always had terrible coordination, I can’t catch a ball to save my life, and I still can’t shoot pool straight. But I understand the importance of exercise. Next to getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and avoiding stress, being physically active is one of the healthiest investments you can make.

Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

I know there are a thousand and one articles on the internet about how to get started with exercising. Yet I find the majority of them too generic and written by people who likely already enjoy sports.

Which is why I’ve written this list for people who hate sports, full-stop.

1. Find a sport/exercise you can do in private

A big reason why I hated P.E. was that anything I did, good or bad, would be seen by the entire class. I could fail math class and no one would know. But if I only made 2 points in archery class while everyone else made 60 (true story), I would feel so mortified as to avoid moving in public again.

So, if you hate exercise, I suggest choosing an activity that you can do on your own, in the privacy of your own home.

Here are some ideas:

  • free weights or weightlifting
  • investing in a treadmill
  • yoga, tai chi, or pilates
  • Dance Dance Revolution

2. Entertain yourself while you exercise

My typical daily exercise regime consists of 1) playing a TV show on Netflix; and 2) doing exercises like sit-ups, push-ups, and stuff I find on Fitness Blender for the duration of the show.

Following the show distracts me from the pain. It also gives me an activity to look forward to. Instead of dreading my workout, I can look forward to a half-hour of guilt-free television.

Listening to music and audiobooks also works. Some people can even read a book while cycling on a stationary bike, and people with treadmills can watch Netflix while they run.

3. Walk…with a purpose

Walking is an underrated method of exercise.

You don’t have to be a studious athlete to be healthy. In fact, hunter-gatherer societies — that don’t have a culture of exercising for exercising’s sake — sit around as much as we do. They just get up more often and walk a moderate amount to compensate.

But walking can get boring. Music and audiobooks help, but I find it’s useful to walk with a purpose. For example, you can walk with a destination in mind, such as a grocery store or a café.

You can also find entertainment along the way. This depends on your location. I live in a residential area, and one weird thing I like to do is admire fancy houses and architecture.

If you live in a place with lots of nature, consider picking up birdwatching. If you live in an urban area, go people-watching. (Just don’t be a creep!)

4. Find unconventional sports you can try

I hated many of the organized sports they made us do in gym class, but guess what, sports aren’t just what they teach you in P.E.

There are some pretty fun sports out there that most people don’t call “sports,” such as:

  • hiking, walking, and rucking
  • kayaking and canoeing
  • skateboarding/longboarding
  • rock-climbing
  • dancing
  • bowling
  • windsurfing
  • Dance Dance Revolution (yes, I know I’ve mentioned this before but DDR is FUN)

Unfortunately, many of these activities are not super accessible for most people. But if you have the means, consider investing in a class or entry-level equipment.

I happen to like longboarding. I’m not that great at it (I can only do basic tricks and cruise on flat land), but it’s fun, good exercise, and gets me from point A to point B faster than walking. (It also looks cool and impresses the ladies!)

5. Find meaning in sport

In my elementary school, you were forced to go outside for recess, but once you hit Grade 4, you were allowed to spend lunchtime at the library. So, as soon as I got to Grade 4, I hung out at the library every day. I read every single WILD Magazine while my peers swung on monkey bars and chased each other in circles.

But I wanted to be decent at sports to fit in — or at least be less embarrassing. And while I’ve never been overweight, I’ve always been self-conscious about my pot-belly. So I tried Tae Kwon Do and kung-fu and archery and all sorts of stuff because people kept telling me that I just hadn’t found a sport I loved.

But I had bad experiences in about 90% of the sports I tried. (The one sport I do love — snowboarding — is super expensive and inaccessible.)

I’ve long accepted that I will never love sports. I’m simply not a physical person. I don’t experience joy by moving my body parts.

Yet the truth of it stands: exercise is important. So, I motivate myself in other ways, ways that I understand.

How I Find Beauty in Sports

I’m motivated by nature. I love trees, mountains, lakes, and birds. I don’t necessarily like the strenuousness of hiking, but what I do like is spending time in nature. And if it takes a long, uphill walk to access that nature, I’m willing to do it.

Bonus points if I get to do that walk with company. For a few years before the pandemic, one of my best friends and I would hike and camp the British Columbia backcountry. We’re both barely five feet tall, but somehow we manage to lug our tents, sleeping bags, food, stove, and gear up several kilometres of rugged, uphill terrain because we love nature.

I’m also motivated by beautiful things. While sports aren’t usually seen as “art,” there are some sports — particularly board sports — that are aesthetically pleasing. Snowboarding is one of my favourite activities because it is creative and artistic. That being said, I’m not the most aesthetically-pleasing rider (in fact, I’m downright clumsy), but seeing other people throw beautiful tricks in the air is enough to get me pumped to go snowboarding. Enough to get me to move, and that’s all that matters in the end.

Li Charmaine Anne (she/they) is a Canadian author and freelance writer on unceded Coast Salish territories (aka Vancouver, Canada). Her work has appeared in literary journals and magazines and she is at work on her first novel, a contemporary YA about queer Asian skater girls. To read Charmaine’s articles for free (no Medium subscription required), sign up for her newsletter.

(She/They) Author on unceded Coast Salish territories (Vancouver, Canada). At work on first novel. Get links to read my stuff for free: https://bit.ly/2MleRqJ

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