Lessons from a Tree Climbing Fish


Written by Alexandra Black MPH, RD, LDN, Health Promotion Manager, IHRSA 

There is a saying that goes something like “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing itself stupid.” It resonates with so many because we know every person has different talents, experiences, preferences, and abilities, and not all can be judged by the same measure.

Yet shouldn’t that acceptance of differences apply to physical activity and forming a fitness habit? People often feel as though they need to get in shape to participate in group fitness activities like joining a gym or attending a yoga class.  Some who feel intimidated by exercise may have tried to be active before and unable to maintain it for a significant length of time. And others may be discouraged by the feeling that exercising at a moderate to vigorous intensity for 150 minutes each week is a near impossible task.

But what if some of these people who feel intimidated, those who tried and failed before, were just fish trying to climb a tree? Maybe they’ve tried running but didn’t enjoy it. Maybe they joined a gym but only used a few of the available machines and got bored. Maybe they bought a few months at a trendy new studio but found the classes didn’t fit their schedule. In all likelihood, most people who are habitually active have a story about an activity they tried that just didn’t work out.

There is a theory that it takes 21 consecutive days of repeating an action to make it a habit. Yet I doubt a fish could climb a tree even once, let alone 27 days in a row. So how does the fish find the water and ace the swim test?

It’s important when building an exercise habit to find something that is doable, enjoyable, convenient, and safe. Health clubs tend to be a first stop for many people because they offer a safe environment to test out a variety of different exercise options, like classes, circuits, one-on-one training, and recreational sports. But whether it’s a health club or adventure running or archery, the important thing is to find the right activity – something that doesn’t make you dread lacing up your sneakers. Something you get out of bed excited to do. Maybe something friends and loved ones can do with you. Something that doesn’t make you feel like a fish trying to climb a tree.


If you need some inspiration, visit the #WhyGetActive hashtag on Twitter or Instagram, where people share their reasons, passions, and favorite methods for getting and staying active.

Help get the conversation started by sharing this post using the sample tweet below: 

“Find something that doesn’t make you feel like a fish trying to climb a tree.” @IHRSA explains at odphp.tumblr.com #whygetactive