Many of us feel pressure to go to the gym.

It’s heavily promoted like some kind of divine panacea that will bring us looks, health and the stares of hot men/women on the street.

But, honestly, why go to a gym?

Let’s take a look, using this email as a starting point:

Dear Michael:

I’m depressed a lot, so my doctor told me to join a gym. I joined, but I already hate it. I feel intimidated by how good-looking everyone else is. I think that other people look at me and laugh at what lousy shape I’m in. At 45, I feel so ugly and over-the-hill. What do you recommend I do now?


Gym Scaredycat in North Park

 Dear Mr./Ms. Scaredycat:

As a psychotherapist, I’ve been reading about research studies that show how aerobic exercise and weight lifting are tremendously effective at decreasing depression, and there are no side effects. The consensus is that, for most people, three hours of exercise a week is comparable to taking anti-depressants. So, if regular exercise reduces depression and improves your mood, why wouldn’t you want to go?

Ask yourself, “Why would I want to go to a gym?” Here are some reasons my clients like the gym:

  • Improved mental and physical health
  • Endorphins from exercising give you a “natural high”
  • You’ll meet other people taking good care of themselves
  • You’ll like your body better (and so will others)

Regardless of why other people go, this is your life. If you go just because other people want you to, the odds of your success are slim. Your motivation is key.

 Complete the two sentences below several times. Doing this simple exercise can save you a lot of time and money. Try it:

#1: I’d like to go to the gym because ________________________________.

#2: I don’t want to go to the gym because ____________________________.

 Use Sentence #1 to motivate yourself. Write all these reasons down. This is why you WANT to go. Put this list on your refrigerator and read it often.

 A lot of my clients talk about being “lazy”, e.g., “Oh, I’m so lazy, I’ll never go to the gym.”   What we call “laziness” is a lack of awareness: there are obstacles in our way that we’re not yet aware of. This is the real problem…and pushing yourself into something without being aware of your obstacles is a set-up for failure. Sentence #2 will show you your obstacles/concerns. Let’s tackle a few…

 Concern: I am old, fat and it’s too late for a gym.

Response: Watch your self-talk! Instead of telling yourself all that old, familiar negative garbage, try something like: “What can I can learn at the gym today.” or “How can I make my body feel better today?” Aim for neutral thoughts, not negative ones.

 Concern: I hate working out on machines, using free weights and those awful classes the gym offers.

Response: Find one or two things there that you like to do. On days you can barely drag yourself to the gym, focus on the things you enjoy. On days when you feel more motivated, push yourself and do more challenging things.

 Concern: Gyms are boring.

Response: Create variety in your gym routine: read some of the online fitness magazines and try their exercises, or watch what other people at the gym do and ask them for their advice. Then, try it! (I do this a lot).

 Concern: Everyone there looks better than I do.

Response: Focus on yourself and how you’re progressing. The people you admire may have been going to the gym for fifteen years and have a completely different body type than you.

 Concern: I’m afraid everyone there is secretly laughing at me.

Response: A wise personal trainer once told me that most people go to gyms to work out and focus on themselves; it’s very unlikely they’re paying much attention to you or anyone else.

 I admit to a bias here: going to a gym for the last 40 years of my life has been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself (along with yoga). Give it a try!

If you’re afraid to go to the gym – but want to – identify your obstacles and address them. We’ve all been gym newbies, you can get through it! Don’t give up: your mental and physical health are worth it. And, unlike medications, there are no side-effects.