Why “Just Do It” Doesn’t Do It Anymore

I’m discovering (the hard way) that if we’ve successfully established good fitness habits during the first half of life, everything changes as we try to stay active during the second half of life. The mindset and techniques that worked to get us active when we were younger can now become ineffective or downright harmful.

Previously, the mantras “just do it” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” effectively motivated and pushed me to reach my limits. I settled into habits and routines that worked well for me.

But now, after prematurely congratulating myself for having a consistent exercise routine, I’m discovering that the mindset I spent so long developing has become counterproductive.

About a decade ago, I adjusted my expectations around fitness. My exercise goals changed away from focusing primarily on my appearance or making significant strength gains. I realized those goals weren’t practical and would only frustrate me. Instead, I shifted my goals towards maintaining my fitness level so that I could continue to do the things that are important to me for the rest of my life (walking and hiking, gardening, lifting boxes of kitty litter, doing projects around the house, etc.).

But even with this revised mindset, I continue to get minor injuries and spend significant time and effort just regaining the fitness level I previously achieved. It’s incredibly frustrating to be doing something that all medical experts agree is good but feeling like I’m in a war with my body that I can’t win.

After thinking about this a lot, I am concluding that another, more profound mind shift is needed.

Our bodies don’t have the resilience they were when we were younger. Although previously we could overdo activity at times and recover the next day, this can now lead to long-duration setbacks or issues that need medical intervention, such as physical therapy or surgery.

But my mind still wants to do things my body can no longer tolerate or quickly recover from doing. So, rather than treating my body as something I can force into doing what I want, I now have to work with it as (at least) an equal partner. And my body needs to have the final say.

This means I must learn how to better listen to my body. I have to learn to distinguish between pain, which means I’m injuring myself, and discomfort, which means I’m working close to my limit. Since sometimes I can’t tell that I’m doing too much until I feel adverse effects the next day, my default approach must be caution rather than enthusiastic exertion. And because it’s likely I will still occasionally do too much, I have to learn when and how much rest I need, when I can resume activity, and how quickly I can build back up to my previous level. Annoyingly, I can’t figure this out once and be done. My body keeps changing and will continue to do so. So this needs to be an ongoing practice of paying attention and adapting.

As much as I resist doing this, I admit that there is a grace that comes with this approach.

I am learning to live in my body in a different, more mindful way. There is a benefit in living more deliberately embodied, and I suspect this increased awareness will help immensely as my body continues to change with age (and not in the direction I want!). Hopefully, I will notice small changes and take action to address them before they become big issues. And I’ll be more deliberate about savoring my active experiences now, knowing that I might not always be able to do these things I enjoy.

A Closing Prayer

It was a long, hard process to figure out strategies and approaches to make fitness a part of my daily life. And now I’m frustrated that these strategies won’t continue to work to keep me strong and healthy. It isn’t easy to accept that many of the life skills I struggled to figure out will continue to require adaptation as I get older.

And yet, change is the only constant part of life. God, you understand what it means to live an embodied life in this world. Guide me as I strive to learn (and relearn) this lesson as it confronts me in so many areas of my life. Grant me the insight to see that my resistance only makes this process harder. And give me the grace to see the potential benefits of a changed mindset.



  1. No pain no gain. If that’s true, I have gained an enormous amount of something in the past 3+ years. Limits can’t be established until they are surpassed, IMHO. I don’t know how anyone can know when she has reached a limit until it’s in the rearview mirror. Unfortunately. I think adaptations can be made, as you noted. If we want cardio fitness and can’t run, there are ellipticals and bikes and rowing machines as substitutes. If free weights cause issues with our form (and subsequent injuries), then we can use machines. Personal trainers would be something to consider if we really needed a voice of reason to protect us from ourselves. I agree that as we age, we must make changes in order to focus on long term movement and health. It’s all about what our personal goals are and whether or not they are sensible as we age. Running a sub 9 minute marathon is no longer an option. But maybe walking a half marathon at any pace is. The easiest thing is to give up. And perhaps that’s the wisest as well. But maybe there are other choices when we accept that we can’t do what we once could, but we can still do. And find other ways to feed our souls. I still struggle with the concept of limits and not equating the acceptance of limits with personal failure. But I’m learning.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: