How Not Exercising Obsessively Is Improving My Life

I have a confession to make.

I haven’t deliberately exercised in 17 days. I just carried my duffel bag and backpack, which tipped the scales at a whopping 20 pounds, through Denver International Airport for 25 minutes and realized that’s the hardest I’ve worked in over 2 weeks.

I’m feeling lazy. Unmotivated. And I’m busy with other things. And I think some of you–namely the fanatical exerciser types among you–should try this out for a while, too.

Generally I climb indoors or outdoors anywhere from 2 to 5 days a week. My sessions last anywhere from 1 hour to 10 hours. In between all that, I like to do some sort of high intensity interval training once or twice a week with weights and bodyweight exercises other than climbing. I walk almost every day for 30 minutes to 2 hours. The walking is the only thing I’ve kept up in these last 17 days and that’s only because my dog would implode if we didn’t walk every day.

After spending my whole summer and fall either climbing outside, training inside so I could climb better outside, living in a freaking tent so I could climb outside, regularly driving almost 4 hours to get to or from my favorite climbing area, spending hours preparing my Paleo food for those camping outings, and then failing to succeed on my climbing project after all that… I exhausted my will to try hard at anything physical for a while. 

I know my motivation will come back, and I thought maybe it would have already, but I’m just waiting… Waiting and listening to my body to say, “Aaaand… GO!”

Haven’t heard anything yet.

In these 17 days, I’ve learned a few things.

1. It is possible to sleep well when I haven’t exercised for this long. I’ve always wondered how people sleep at all when they aren’t totally exhausted from a good wrestling match with some weights or a rock wall.

2. My appetite for food and carbs has decreased because of the lack of exercise, which makes me trust my body more. I can go way longer between meals than normal, which is nice.

3. In fact, I’ve actually lost weight, which makes me think maybe my body doesn’t love all the work I make it do. Maybe it makes me retain water? It’s possible the weight loss is from all the supplements I’m taking from my naturopath, but who knows…

4. I feel relaxed more often. I’m giving myself time to read. Imagine that! Like, I’m reading books and not blogs and nutrition nonsense (I’m reading Game of Thrones, which is the best set of books ever written besides the Lord of The Rings). I feel more like a normal human being and less like an obsessive adrenaline junky. Which brings me to my next point.

5. I think I’m an adrenaline junky. I’ve always said I climb because I love the movement and the sense of satisfaction I get when I succeed on a climb. I don’t do it because I love falling off rock walls: in fact, I hate that part. But now after being away from it for a while, I feel less frazzled because I’m not constantly facing that very primal fear of dying or maiming myself by taking a bad fall or getting dropped by my belayer. I AM sort of addicted to the fear. After all, if I didn’t like it on some level, I’d quit climbing and start doing CrossFit, right?

6. Maybe I will quit climbing. I’ve been considering it. But after 15 years of climbing at almost a neurotic level, I’m confident my psych will return. In the meantime, I’m exploring my options. Barre Method, yoga, CrossFit, kickboxing, paddle boarding, and horseback riding (again) have all crossed my mind. But cooking, reading, and walking are all that I’ve been able to crank out so far.

I’ve been less stressed about “getting my workout in” and instead I’m spending time doing things I’ve been a) putting off and b) really wanting to do. Like lying in bed for 4 hours on a Sunday reading and napping. Novel concept.

Now that you know how lazy I am, I’ll tell you my point.

My body isn’t going to irreversibly atrophy if I take some time off and neither is yours. However, my mind, motivation, and passion would definitely have withered away if I’d kept relentlessly doing something that started to feel like a chore. And yours might, too.

So mix it up. If you don’t like your workout, change it or stop it for a while, or both. If you need a break, you need a break. Who cares? Remember that too much exercise, which is a different amount for every person, can be just as bad for your health as never exercising at all. Let yourself take a breath every now and then so you can check off “relax” on your to-do list. I’ve checked it off every day for over two weeks and it’s been awesome.


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  1. paleozeta

    seems like your day lasts at least 30 hours ( 10 climbing, 4 drive, 2 walking the dog, cooking, etc.
    lucky you pal..
    buy a watch,..not!

    • Neely

      paleozeta – Well, not 30, but I do try to make use of my days. When I’m climbing, the dog just goes with me, so I don’t have to walk her on those days. And some days I was climbing all day, but some days I was driving half the day and climbing half the day. Just all depended.

  2. Kyle Knapp

    Very cool- I am in the middle of an exercise hiatus myself. 5 weeks at this point. I decided to do it in prep for baby number three coming up next month. I figure the more I can rest up and recover the better I will be in helping my wife and being a good dad. I miss working out a bit but it is also very cool to just hang back and relax for a while. Best of luck however your journey goes!

  3. emily_osborne

    Great post! I totally understand where you are coming from. I have been feeling really unmotivated in the last few months. It has actually been very liberating. I now realize that I won’t blow up like a balloon if I don’t exercise for a few days, weeks or even a month. What a nice surprise after spending most of my adult life over exercising. I am feeling less stressed about when I can fit in my next work out in and more focused on doing calming things like walking and yoga. I’m hoping I get my exercise mojo back soon….

  4. sjfcraig

    Good for you! I keep meaning to write an article “Exercise is over-rated” and now you’ve inspired me again.

  5. Andrea

    I had shoulder surgery on August 30th so my exercise hiatus has been somewhat forced…but the body is an amazing thing…8 weeks off and my body hasn’t forgotten a thing…jumped back on the treadmill today and it was like I hadn’t missed a workout at all!

  6. RockDoc

    An honest posting and one to congratulated for. I spent almost three years religeously working out and prepping for bodybuilding. I had a work schedule of 10 hr days + 3 hrs commute + 1-2 hrs working out, add in the time to cook, eat, bathe (very important), acknowledge by husband and only 4-5 hrs for real sleep. I was in great shape, looked fabulous with that tight tummy, great glutes and awesome guns that fitness fanatics go for. Perfect…right? I moved to another job that still has 10 hr days, but only a 15 minute commute, I figured it was lots of time to work out. What I found was thatI was exhausted, I didn’t want to workout that hard anymore. Instead I walk the dog, enjoy the trees and river as I go, go skiing, go hiking, practice yoga (which I’ve learned to love), and in general find myself looking for balance in life and enjoy being in decent enough shape to enjoy a day of skiing or hiking, but not be neurotic about ‘missing my workout’ or feeling guilty. It’s OK to have a balanced life, that means a little laziness now and then.

  7. Patricia

    You make good points in this article. If your body needs a break, it deserves it. Working out for me needs a true purpose (like lose weight for a very nice dress), or else I will be very lazy and putting it off.

  8. Grandpa J

    I took 40 years off…don’t do that. Now I’m doing the CrossFit and the adrenaline is back.

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