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No More Excuses!

Here's motivation:  Becoming more fit CAN skim 20 years off your
chronological age, according to recent studies.

Chances are, you can rattle off plenty of reasons why you should pull on your sports bra and sneakers and get to the gym:  You want to feel good and tone up; you wouldn't mind working off some of last night's three-cheese lasagna.  But for every good intention, there are always rationalizations: You really should balance your checkbook; you couldn't possibly work out with such a debilitating paper cut.  No one is immune to procrastination.  According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in San Diego, 50% of exercisers will drop their workout programs within six months. Depressing, yes.  But luckily, not terminal.

To help you break this vicious exercycle, we dug up gems from some great female minds to prove that for centuries even smart women have made crazy excuses. Here are 10 timeless adages that could easily apply to any couch potato, plus advice from personal trainers and fitness instructors on how to get an out-of-whack routine back on track.

EXCUSE #1 "Who shall dare/To chide me for loving that old armchair?" Eliza Cook, poet  

TRANSLATION:  You attempt to exercise after work, but once you get home, you're intercepted by your recliner.

This was a no-brainer for the experts we consulted: Pack your clothes the night before, tote them to work- then "go directly to the gym or park for your workout," says Kwasnicki.  Sure, there's more to carry each morning, but after a long day, the comforts of home-the TV, the fridge, the couch-are hard to resist.  If the problem is that you're prone to late-day exhaustion, exercise before work or take a 45-minute power walk at lunch.  Check to see if your company sponsors on-site fitness programs at lunch, which can be an easy way to fit fitness into your schedule.

EXCUSE #2  "I love humanity, but I hate people." Edna St. Vincent Millay, poet

TRANSLATION:  You loathe the gym.

Head outdoors to get in shape, suggests Kwasnicki. Take your dog for a run.  Or borrow a friend's dog. tackle a nearby park's circuit of stretches and calisthenics or try an in-line skating class.  When the weather doesn't cooperate, rent a fitness tape from your local video store. (Denise Austin, Crunch and the Fitness Firm offer tapes for a variety of skill levels and interests.)  You can also assemble your own home fitness kit on the cheap.  For all-over conditioning, ACE recommends these under $20 basics: resistance bands, a jump rope and dumbbells.  Still like the idea of group exercise?  Look for options to the traditional gym.  Take fitness classes at a nearby community center or yoga school, or join an all-women's gym.  Ask for a trial period at several different places so you can find the best fit.

EXCUSE #3  "The phantom of ennui forever pursues me." Germaine de Stael, novelist

TRANSLATION:  Your workouts bore you to tears.

Break the monotony by cross training, says Katalin Zamiar, a Chicago trainer and professional boxing and martial arts coach.  For a complete 30 minute workout, jog, jump rope and climb stairs for 10 minutes each.  Or run to the pool for a swim and then walk back.  Varying your routine will make your body stronger.  If you belong to a gym, it's probably one step ahead of you in this department.  "We're in the business of reinventing fitness," says Courtney Barroll, a trainer and medical exercise specialist at Equinox fitness Clubs in New York City.  Check out the newest class trends such as group rowing, yoga, Pilates, cardio boxing and Spinning, and commit to trying one new strength-training machine every week (as a staffer to help set the machine or spot you if necessary).

EXCUSE #4  "No good deed goes unpunished."  Clare Booth Luce, politician and playwright

TRANSLATION:  You're uncomfortably sore after workouts.

Some muscle soreness is natural after exercise.  "But if you can't walk the next day, you're overexerting yourself," says Mantia.  To minimize post-workout pain, exercise regularly and gradually increase your workout intensity and time. Mantia suggests this plan for beginners:  Do a 20-minute, heart-pumping workout three days a week.  Each week, either do an additional 10 minutes or turn the intensity up a notch (but not both at the same time).  Strength train twice a week for 20 minutes, gradually adding more resistance or sets each week.  If you feel sore, you don't have to skip exercise altogether. Substitute a muscle-friendly, low-intensity workout such as yoga, stretching or leisurely walking.  Be sure to get one day of rest (or do low-intensity exercises) each week.

EXCUSE #5  "The distance is nothing!  It is only the first step that is difficult."  Marie Anne du Deffand, 18th-century French intellectual

TRANSLATION:  When it comes to fitness, you haven't the foggiest idea where to begin.

If a fear of the unknown is holding you back from meeting your fitness goals, a few sessions with a trainer is the perfect prescription.  According to IDEA, the Health and Fitness Source in san Diego, the average price for a one-hour session is about $40. IDEA recommends investing in a package of three training sessions (which can be done at home or at a gym) to establish a plan and help you master the equipment, then scheduling a monthly appointment for a fitness checkup.  For qualified trainer referrals, check local workout facilities or call ACE (800-825-3636) for a certified trainer in your area.

EXCUSE #6  "You have to endure what you can't change." Marie de France, writer

TRANSLATION:  You know you won't see washboard abs or buns of steel immediately, so why bother?

If you're looking for transformation, a routine that works both your heart and all your major muscle groups is critical.  To increase overall health, the American College of Sports Medicine in Indianapolis recommends 20 minutes of active aerobics and 20 minutes of strength training two to three days per week.  "You can do a million crunches a day," says Michelle Maturo, a certified personal trainer at Crunch in New York City, "but unless you're doing aerobic workouts to burn fat, you won't see those abdominal muscles."  Next, adjust your attitude. Like it or not, "it didn't take you a day to get out of shape," says Mantia.  "It's going to take more than a day to bounce back."  Set small goals.  For instance, aim to do five more push-ups or add a mile to your regular power walk each week.  One small blessing: The longer you've stayed away from exercise, the quicker you'll see the results.

EXCUSE #7  "I never did dislike the world.  I just disliked myself."  Elizabeth Layton, artist

TRANSLATION:  The gym's spandex-clad set makes you feel tragically out of shape.

It's hard not to notice a gym's super-fit clients - and every gym (or neighborhood) has them.  But chances are, they're not noticing you.  "Everybody's concentrating on their own workouts and their own bodies," Maturo says. "You'd be surprised.  Even women in great shape have hang-ups."  An easy solution:  Head to the neighborhood park or gym during off-peak hours (before 6 a.m., during lunch or after 8 p.m.) to cut your risk of run-ins with a pack of hard bodies.  For some of us, the challenge is feeling good in workout clothes.  To boost your confidence, invest in some new workout gear.  many companies, including Champion, offer plus-size active wear as well as bottoms with tummy-control panels and rear shapers.  

EXCUSE #8  "Lost time was like a run in a stocking. It always got worse."  Anne Morrow Lindbergh, author

TRANSLATION:  You're too busy to exercise.

You'll get little sympathy here.  "If my clients who run major corporations and have six kids can fit in exercise, you can too," says Sherri Kwasnicki, a personal trainer from Vancouver, BC.  "Don't overestimate the time it takes to achieve health benefits," adds Patty Mantia, owner of the Fitness Firm at World Gym in Brockton, MA.  Every woman doesn't have to take up pumping weights at the gym or competitive race-walking.  In fact, in a recent two-year study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, living an "active lifestyle" - for example, biking instead of walking to visit friends, playing at the playground instead of sitting on a bench - had many of the same health benefits as traditional exercise routines. Several other studies show that 15 minutes a day of brisk activity - walking, biking or swimming, for instance - will boost cardiovascular efficiency, normalize cholesterol and blood pressure, improve bone density and boost metabolism. Can't figure out how fit you are?  Buy a pedometer to see how far you walk each day and count the number of minutes you spend climbing stairs or walking outside.

EXCUSE #9  "You know, sometimes it feels like it's all movin' way too fast."  Pat Benatar, singer

TRANSLATION:  You can't keep up with the classes on cable TV, much less the women at the gym.

Is coordination a problem?  Some routines, like step classes, involve a lot of choreography and can take weeks to master, so be patient.  If you're a novice, stick to beginner workouts.  Let the instructor know before class that you're new.  Some teachers will demonstrate difficult steps one-on-one, says Michael Elder, an ACE-certified personal trainer in Chicago. Or take the class down a notch: Lower the resistance during a Spinning class, or make a high-impact aerobic routine low impact by stepping in place instead of jumping.  Enjoy gentle movements, such as yoga or martial arts.

EXCUSE #10  "With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts."  Eleanor Roosevelt, first lady and humanitarian

TRANSLATION:  You'll work out tomorrow.  You swear.

If you can talk yourself out of exercise, you can also talk yourself into it, insists carolyn Scott Kortge, author of The Spirited Walker.  Workouts don't have to be about dripping sweat for two hours at the gym.  Bike to the store. Break out the jump rope.  The more options you have, the more you'll exercise them.

YOUR DOG ATE YOUR SNEAKERS...and other ridiculous reasons why your butt's stuck to the couch.  We asked trainers to tell us how clients try to sidestep workouts.  Among the lamest excuses:

"I feel too fat."

"I can't find parking at the gym."

"I'm too old."

"I have a bum knee/shoulder/back."

"I can't go to the gym until I'm in better shape."

"I ate cookies for breakfast.  The day is ruined."

"I need to spend time with my cat." 

By Sally Kuzemchak - American Health