How To Finally Stop Procrastinating On Exercise

Updated to Habits, Life on January 23, 2023.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated in 2022. Enjoy!

You don’t need more books about exercise and fitness. And I doubt you need more advice, tips, gurus, or videos on how to “gain muscle in just 10 minutes a day.”

Don’t worry—that’s not what this post is about.

Instead, I want to share a kind of checklist I use to decide what fitness activities will work for me.


For a long time, I used marathons, ironman, and short-course triathlon competitions to motivate me and get my butt out of bed. That still works, and I still enjoy an occasional endurance race, but I need something for every day, even when there isn’t a competition on the calendar.

My goal is simple: have a great level of fitness and a body that allows me to do whatever I want for the next 20 years. And to get there I have a good diet, am mostly gluten-free, try for seven hours of sleep, and I get 30 hours of exercise a month.

You may not want or need that much fitness time, if you are like the 80% of Canadians and Americans who don’t get even the minimum fitness time per week, you need some kind of solution.

So, if you ever joined a gym, but only went four times, or have a rusty NordicTrack in the basement, this is for you.


Here are my four ways to know if a new fitness “solution” will work for me long-term. The question for you is:

What are you going to stop, start, or change today to make fitness your friend every day?


I want to look forward to exercise. So, my first rule is all activities have to be enjoyable (fun is even better).

Saturday mornings I run with a bunch of guys (occasionally a woman suffers our company). The conversation is hilarious. Within five minutes we have gone from a recent NHL match-up, to marriage, kids, US politics, and back to hockey.

On Friday, I’m already looking forward to the run and, if I’m in town, I never miss the workout. What can you do – even daily – that is simple, enjoyable and you always look forward to it?

Here are some quick ideas:

  • listen to podcasts or audiobooks on your walk
  • meet a neighbor and walk your dogs together
  • join a local running group
  • hike/walk/run trails instead of the road


Younger Next Year

One of the first books to inspire me to think about aging well.

In the best-seller Younger Next Year, author Chris Crowley says that daily exercise “is our job”. That’s why I think the best fitness program is the one that becomes a habit. Thinking about running, cycling, weights, or yoga class is a lot more exhausting than simply picking up your yoga mat and towel because it’s 11:45AM on Tuesday and that’s
Yoga day.

I walk my dog, Riley, every weekday morning at 7:00AM plus every evening, for a total of about 1 hour—no exceptions. That habit alone, gives me about 260 hours of fitness a year.

Habits are the brain’s way to save energy. It’s a part of our wiring that can get you out of a lot of trouble (like apologizing when you screw up), and get you into a lot of great fitness. What habit do you need to create?

  • meditate for 20 minutes as soon as you wake up
  • walk for 20 minutes at lunch
  • do yoga every Wednesday and Friday
  • move garbage and recycling containers away from your desk


When I’m on the road for a speaking engagement I need every minute I can get. I often arrive late the night before my event, the next morning is for prepping, and typically I meet my client early, before delegates arrive. So, there’s no time for the gym. That’s why I created my 15 minute hotel room workout.

It’s convenient, that’s why it works. What fitness routine could you include in your week that’s super convenient and fits perfectly into your schedule?

  • park four blocks from work and walk the rest
  • take the stairs to your office
  • become friends with the gym in your building, or neighborhood
  • use your bike to run local errands, like getting groceries


A typical calendar showing lots of great workouts.

We all need an incentive to stick with fitness. I realized years ago that I didn’t have enough triathlons, mountain climbs, or marathons on the calendar to motivate me. So I created my own incentive.

For at least 10 years now I have recorded all my fitness on a calendar, after the event. My goal is for every month to add up to at least 30 hours. Jerry Seinfeld says his goal (because he marks his calendar with an “X” every morning after writing new material) is to not “break the chain”.

How can you reward yourself for fitness?

  • sign up for a charity walk or run
  • create your own goal for the week
  • mark your calendar after every fitness activity
  • use the LIFT app, Nike Fitbit, Lose it!, or some other tool to track your activities

There you have it: four things I look for in fitness. 
Now it’s up to you.


Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash