Tips to Overcoming Your Barriers to Exercise

Fitting a workout into your busy schedule can be one of the last things on your to-do list. By recognizing what's holding you back from getting your exercise in each week can help you adjust to a healthier lifestyle. Try these tips to overcoming the barriers that are preventing you from your work out.

By Ellen G. Goldman

After working in the health and fitness industry for over 25 years, I’ve heard a lot of excuses when it comes to exercise.  The problem is, most people know what they “should” do, but following through and taking action is a whole other story.

I’ve read tons of books and articles written by the experts in the field of motivation and behavioral change, seen what’s worked for my own clients, and have spoken with my colleagues about how we can help people get over their barriers to exercise.  But what I really wanted to know is this: how does the average individual, who isn’t a health and fitness professional, an athlete, or a fitness fanatic, get his or her workout in?  What are the most common barriers to exercise and how do these folks get past them?

Overcome Fitness BarriersTo find my answer, I decided to send out an inquiry through HARO and asked individuals what their greatest barrier to exercise is and how have they gotten through it.  I was inundated with responses, and so many amazing ideas!  Which one (or more than one) is your greatest barrier?  I am sure you'll find some tips to help you overcome it.

Time – Without a doubt, the number one barrier to consistent exercise is time.  Fitting in a workout amongst all our other responsibilities is challenging.  The strategy most use to get through it is scheduling.  Knowing before hand when you will work out increases compliance. And for the majority of the responders, early morning worked best.  Morning exercise can become a way to enjoy “me” time and quiet before the craziness of the day begins.  Morning exercise leaves many more relaxed, calm and productive for the rest of the day. If you can pair your scheduled exercise with another activity you enjoy, even better.

One respondent, Heidi Mylo, had a work commute that took 45 minutes each way due to traffic, but by bicycle she could make it in 30 minutes.  With this strategy she got in an hour of exercise each day, and gained 30 extra minutes as well.

Tobi Kosanke, founder of Crazy K Farm Pet and Poultry Products, LLC, works from a home office.  Breaking away from her desk to workout was difficult, until she scheduled 4PM as workout and reading time.  With a reading stand on her equipment, and the rule, “No reading until exercising!” workouts became a pleasurable break in her day.

Boredom – Not everyone is in love with exercise, but many recognize the necessity of doing to stay healthy, manage weight, and reduce stress.  Some stick to a steady routine and just except it as a means to an end. But others need variety to keep up their motivation.  Luckily, there are so many options out there that you never need repeat the exact same workout twice. Vary the machines at the gym.  Not only will it beat boredom, but cross training also works different muscle groups.  Listen to music you love or books on tape.  Join a gym that offers no extra fee for classes, and participate in a different one every week.

Debra Jaliman, a busy dermatologist in NYC, found tons of different exercise videos through Netflix, allowing her to save time (no traveling to a gym) and have a variety of workouts right in her living room.

Fatigue, Lack of Energy, Feeling Unmotivated – For those who have never stuck with exercise long enough to embrace the results, it is hard to grasp the concept that “energy begets energy.”  What that means is sometimes the best way to beat fatigue and re-energize is through movement.  Remind yourself that you will feel better after a workout, and keep in mind the reasons you exercise.  If you have a strong, compelling motivator for the long term (e.g. every workout helps me lower my cholesterol and brings me closer to getting off my meds), you will more likely get over the inertia and get moving.

Kimberly Llewellyn, aka The Wedding Writer says, “My greatest barrier to exercise is just getting up and going. A doctor told me once, 'Just ten minutes a day, every day. You can do that, right? Anyone can do ten minutes.' Once you see it as "just" ten minutes and get going…you then are likely to keep going for 30, 45, or even 60 minutes.”

Eric Peters, a PR Professional from Vermont found that exhaustion and sitting in traffic after a long day at work made him agitated and hungry.  Coupled with his dislike of the gym, going to exercise at the end of the workday was the last thing he wanted to do.  “My answer to all this is that I now have my girlfriend drop myself and my bike off at work every morning. Whenever it's not raining I ride my bike the 10 miles home from work and I absolutely love it. Peddling home is everything I need after sitting all day at a desk. I ride through the neighborhoods, so there is no traffic or stress, just a pleasant ride.”

Distractions – Ever experience planning to do your exercise first thing in the morning, and then find yourself still at your computer at lunchtime, exercise not done?  Or plan to workout as soon as you get home, but checked e-mails first or returned phone calls, only to find it’s time to start dinner and the workout never happened?  Seems to be a common problem for many.  The intentions are there, you may even be dressed in exercise clothing, yet often your attention is pulled to something else.

A great strategy to get around this is creating rules.  If morning is your chosen time to work out, close your computer down at night, and create a rule: “Computer does not get powered on until after exercise is done.”  If you exercise after work make “No stopping home,” a rule. Pack a gym bag, leave it in the car and go straight to the gym.  Other ideas include scheduling and pre-paying for a class so you’ll be less likely to skip it. Keep exercise gear visible, too, or set an alarm to remind you to stop what you are doing at your scheduled time, and lastly, ask yourself the question, “What is the greater priority, my health or this task I’m about to do?”  Chances are good your health will win out.  One last thing – when you hear yourself negotiating, “I’ll just get this done, and workout afterwards,” talk back and remind yourself you usually lose that game.  You are only kidding yourself!

Travel and varying schedules –
 If you’re on the road a lot for business and/or pleasure, keeping to an exercise regime is challenging.  The only way to make sure it happens is with pre-planning.

Dr. Veronica Tomar, author of the forthcoming book, “The L.E.A.N. Guide”, shared her strategies. “I always pack my workout gear first in the bags. That way I'm thinking exercise will happen and not leaving it to chance. I can visualize myself doing it before I get on the plane and then it is a 'when,' not an 'if.'  I always check with the hotel and find out what facility they have and if not, what gyms are close by, and check the time of group classes.  I call the gym the night before and if they have a 5am or 6am cycling (spinning), sculpting, or any high intensity group class, I am there. I get myself psyched the night before and set the alarms and have the hotel call me at the crack of dawn. That way I am sure to get out of bed and do it! I also check and can plug in the zip code of wherever I am and it will give me all the gyms in that area. Finally, if all else fails, I always take my iPod and make sure it's charged and use the hotel exercise room.”

Foresight and planning works!  For me, since my schedule changes from week to week, I take a few minutes on Sundays to check my week. Then I schedule my exercise times into my calendar, and treat it like a client appointment.  It’s non-negotiable.  The client is me!

I just hate it! –  
I don’t want to do it!  For many, no matter how much they try, or how much they understand exercise is important to their health and well being, they still hate to do so.

For Carol Mann, DMD, a dentist in NJ, the solution is simple.  She hired me as her personal trainer 14 years ago, and religiously shows up for her twice a week appointments. She considers it an investment in her health, and it is the way she has maintained her weight. She may not like to exercise, but we make it as fun as possible, swapping stories, laughing and getting the job done.

Joy Jones sums it up best. "Not everybody likes to exercise, but everybody likes to play – that's my watchword. As a result, I get my exercise by doing the things I liked doing when I was young. I started an Adult Double Dutch program at the recreation center in my neighborhood where grown women jump rope once a week on Fridays. And I also 'hand dance' – the Washington, DC term for swing dancing. That was the 'in' dance when I was a teenager. These are definitely more fun ways to exercise than sweating at the gym.”

As you can see, there are loads of creative ways to get over the barriers to exercise.  Please let me know if you have any other ideas that have worked for you, or if you try out any of the ones mentioned.

So put on your Nikes® and “Just do it!®”  And your time spent will pay you back tenfold in renewed energy, strength, stress relief and maybe even fun!

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