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The five stages of trying to get fit

Penny Flanagan on how starting a new exercise regime can be an emotional rollercoaster ride.

weights headphones running shoes water bottle and smartphone
Last updated: 21 February 2020

Some people live to exercise, others live to avoid exercise until they can no longer do up their pants. If you're in the latter category, you might recognise the five stages of trying to get fit.

1. Denial

Even though you know full well that your daily routine lacks exercise, you find yourself quoting Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw as if she's a bonafide fitness guru. 

"Shopping is my cardio," you tell yourself on your daily supermarket run and accompanying waft through the shopping centre. You even start to count steps on your iPhone so you can include walking out to the letterbox as part of your 'fitness regime'. At first glance, all the graphs on the app look impressive.

2. Anger

As your daily step tally and their unremarkable numbers are put into perspective by the recommended target of 10,000 steps, the reality emerges: shopping is not cardio and you rarely break a sweat, unless it's to beat someone else to the 'further reductions' rack. 

Why can't squats and lunges be fun? Why? Why? Why? 

Now you're angry. Angry with yourself and angry with evolution: if humans are so clever, why have we evolved to have a sedentary lifestyle that is detrimental to our own health and wellbeing? Why can't we bring back hunting and gathering? Why can't squats and lunges be fun? Why? Why? Why? 

3. Bargaining

The beginning of this phase is signalled by some psychological wheeling and dealing. For example, you won't join a gym, but you will eat smaller bowls of pasta. And in the event that you do eat a big bowl of pasta, you make a deal that you'll go for a 30-minute jog afterwards. 

But the last time you tried to jog you nearly had a heart attack. So you tell yourself you'll do the old 'five-minute bursts' jogging/walking strategy. This turns into five-second bursts of running and a debilitating stitch. 

4. Depression

Needless to say, the jogging never happens. Sometimes you don't even go for a walk because there's always a reason not to: it might rain, it's too hot, you've got a bit of a virus and you don't want to put a strain on your body. With a heavy heart, you realise your fate is now inevitable. 

You do the walk of shame to the front desk of the local gym chain and restart your membership. What is really depressing about this phase is the revelation that they never deleted your membership in the first place: you've been unknowingly paying the fees for the past two years.

5. Acceptance

Reaching this stage of acceptance is a big-picture mindset. It means accepting that human beings now have to walk on the spot in a room full of other humans walking on the spot in order to keep their muscles from atrophying. 

We also might have to do weird random things such as circulate the ends of dumbbells around our heads. But it's not so bad. After all, you can get through a lot of podcasts while you're on a treadmill.