Why Do So Many of Us Think of Exercise As a Luxury Rather Than a Necessity?



Confession: The number of times I’ve toted my yoga mat to the office only to end up skipping my  yoga class and staying late at work in an effort to finish something up is countless. Seriously, I could not tell you how many times that has happened. But I can tell you why: Because, somehow, I — a person who spends every single day reading and writing about health and fitness and should know better — think of work as an obligation and I think of a workout as a luxury that, if time is not permitting (which it often isn’t), can be skipped.


And I know I’m not alone: The other day, I came across an essay on the Huffington Post that told the story of a new dad who, with the onslaught of parental obligations, let his beloved running and yoga habits fall by the wayside — for years. As the author, Brian Gresko, says in the essay, “Felix came along, and exercise went from being a normal part of my week to an extravagance … I felt guilty sticking my hard-working, fully employed wife with solo parent duty just so I could go to the park and run circles in the sunshine.”

Not too long ago, in the same theme of the Gresko’s sentiments above, Be Well Philly contributor Lauren Napolitano, a Bryn Mawr-based psychologist, said in a piece, “When we are overwhelmed, we think that we don’t have the ‘luxury’ of caring for own health.” And it is so true, right? I know, when I have a lot on my plate at work, I feel like going and getting my downward dog on in a hot yoga class is simply an indulgence I can’t afford.

But the problem with viewing exercise as a luxury, indulgence or extravagance is that skipping out on it often backfires: As Gresko says in his essay, “By week’s end, I can feel tired and irritable, if not down and depressed. Unless, that is, I exercise. That’s one time during the day when I’m just me, a body in motion. I can run out my frustrations or work up a sweat when I’m feeling stuck in some aspect of my life.” So working out makes Gresko better at doing the laundry list of tasks at hand, and if he skips out on his sweat session, other aspects of his life — those he can’t skip, like work and spending time with his kid — suffer.

Studies back up this idea that ditching your workout due to busy-ness can easily backfire: Not only does working out make you a happier human (hello, endorphins), which one can assume makes you a better parent, friend and employee, but it also boosts your brainpower and ups your ability to handle to stress, making you more capable of knocking out the never-ending list of tasks you have to complete, whether they be at work or home.

My point? In the end, science, psychologists and anecdotal tales all suggest putting my yoga class in the “necessity” box, even when it means leaving work at 6, would, in the end, make me better, not worse, when it comes to all the other stuff in my “necessity” box — like my job, for one. So today, I’m making a conscious decision, a mid-year resolution if you will, to start thinking about my yoga habit not as a luxury but as a necessity, something that I need to be doing come 6:30 p.m. If you often find yourself pushing your workout aside for “more important” things, I suggest you join me.

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