The mental exercise of finding excuses to avoid working out often seems easier than actually embarking on a physical fitness routine. The following popular reasons for shunning exercise are accompanied by some of the latest research showing how these beliefs can be overcome:

* I can't get into the habit. Behavioral techniques can help virtually anyone adopt the exercise habit, says University of Mississippi psychologist John Martin, a specialist in exercise research. Join a structured program, he advises, that requires exercising with other people who offer good reinforcement. Studies suggest that one of every two people quits exercising within about six months, Martin says. But people in groups tend to stick with it longer.

Also, make exercise convenient to either work or home. And be prepared for some slip-ups. "The question is not, 'Will you stop exercising?' " Martin says, "but, 'When you do, how will you handle it?' Start back real slowly. We teach people that we're not concerned with how hard they exercise, but with the habit of exercising." If that means just putting on exercise clothes and working out for five minutes three times a week, it will help get the regimen going again, he says.

* I don't have enough time. Stanford University physiologist William Haskell is studying the effects of exercising in two 15-minute sessions instead of one 30-minute workout. Whether these split sessions will be as beneficial as the longer sessions is not yet known. But the hope is that they will allow more people to fit exercise into their lives.

Other tips are to take a 15-minute walk at lunch-time, park a few extra blocks from work or get off at an earlier bus stop and walk the rest of the way. Take the stairs. Walk to the store. Discard as many convenience appliances as possible -- from electric toothbrushes to can openers.

* I hate exercise. Find an activity that you like. The University of Mississippi's Martin suggests thinking back to what you liked to do as a child. Discard those activities that are associated with bad memories of a difficult coach or a poor performance. Look for distractions while exercising; for instance, play music, read or watch television while riding a stationary bicycle. Jog near other activities.

* I'm bored with exercise. Try a combination of activities. Researchers are just beginning to study the benefits of participating in varied kinds of exercise rather than sticking to one single form. "No one knows if it's better to do several aerobic activities or a single exercise," says Martin. "I think that it probably varies. Certain people probably need variety or they won't continue to exercise. My bias is to get one exercise under control before you start another." When people start getting signals that they're not enjoying an exercise, or they're thinking of lame excuses, that's the time, Martin says, "to come up with another activity."

* I don't want to have sore muscles. Forget the coach's rule of "no pain, no gain." Today, exercise researchers are replacing it with the "talk rule." "If I was going to tell someone one thing about exercise," Martin says, "I would say that it doesn't matter what you do, but do it at a level where you can have a conversation relatively comfortably. Exercise to the point where your breathing is just a little bit labored and then back off a little bit. That's your proper pace."

* I don't want to exercise every day. New studies are suggesting that daily exercise may not be necessary to reap health benefits. "It looks like there's a real benefit in exercise that burns 1,200 to 2,000 calories a week," Haskell says. That translates to about 200 to 300 calories a day of activity, which can easily be accomplished by walking. One mile, Haskell says, burns up about 110 to 130 calories.

Moreover, studies by fitness experts such as Dr. Kenneth Cooper, director of the Aerobic Center in Dallas, show that people reap great benefits from working out three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes a session. Anything more than that is gravy.

* I don't like to sweat. New studies are suggesting that it may not be necessary to perspire to gain health benefits from exercise. The fitness craze has been largely an under-40 phenomenon, says Stanford's Haskell. Surveys show that many people over 40 don't exercise because they can't picture themselves jogging or running, and they worry about sustaining heart attacks and orthopedic injuries while getting fit. As a result, Haskell and his colleagues are studying the effects of exercising at 45 to 60 percent of capacity -- which is below the level now recommended, but still slightly more activity than a sedentary life style provides.

"If you can get people to start out slowly, we think that we can reduce the orthopedic problems and lower the risk of heart attacks while exercising," Haskell says. "The idea is that our bodies adapt when we tend to do more today that we did yesterday, and a little bit more tomorrow."