Common Barriers to Exercise and How to Deal
Updated: Mar 6, 2021
Hey Readers! I am so thankful you are here! In today's blog post, I will go over some of the more common barriers to exercise and possible solutions for each barrier. It's obviously well established that regular physical exercise provides so many benefits to your physical, mental, and emotional body. Just to name a few, exercise can improve your mood, reduce stress, alleviate depression and anxiety, strengthen your cardiorespiratory system, and improve overall strength and endurance in your body. But, I think we can all agree that just because something is good for us, doesn't mean it is always easy to follow through with it. Exercise is no exception. Sometimes it is just plain tough to find the motivation and energy to complete a workout.
There are so many roadblocks that can make it challenging to exercise. Even the most dedicated athletes have days where these "exercise barriers" make it feel much easier to skip a workout. And that makes total sense, as our biology has evolved for us to protect our valuable energy in case we need it later for survival purposes. Unfortunately, our biology does not realize that most of us lead sedentary lives due to work, commuting, and general lifestyle factors, and so we actually must engage in regular exercise to keep our bodies running optimally for as long as they can.
But of course, taking "off" days from a workout is just as important as the workouts themselves. Rest and recovery are an absolute MUST in order to keep your body working well. But, let's be honest - many of us take more "off" days than we probably should, given our lifestyle and nutrition choices. So, let's talk about some of the more common barriers to exercise and potential ways to deal with these barricades. And I'll be totally honest - I have absolutely fallen prey to each one of these excuses throughout my life. We will chat about the following barriers:
Amount of social support
Social physique anxiety
Convenience and practicality
Level of excitement
Negative past experiences with exercise
Barrier: The most frequent reason given for not exercising is a lack of time. And listen, I totally get it. Most of us work many, many, many hours per week, and finding time that doesn't seem to exist in order to exercise seems like a useless task. Maybe you are in graduate school working literally every day of the week, or maybe you work multiple jobs just to pay your bills, or maybe you are a parent that is super busy navigating all the things that keep your household running. Whatever your circumstances are, we can all agree that life is a busy, hot mess at times. But, the reality is, many of us actually do have extra time in our busy schedules to get in some type of physical movement.
Solution: One of the best ways to really see how you are spending each minute of your day is to keep a time journal. In this journal, you keep track of what you do during the day for a full week to gain a general sense of how you use your time, on weekdays AND weekends. Your time journal should include nearly everything you do, including getting lost on social media. But, for this to be effective, you need to be truly honest with how you actually spend your time. Don't try to "look good" on paper because that won't help you see how you really use your time. Once the weekly journaling is complete, most people find out that they actually have more time than they thought. Perhaps instead of getting lost on social media or an app for 30 minutes, you take a short walk or do a yoga video on YouTube. Or maybe instead of spending 45 minutes gossiping about an employee or co-worker, you use that time to move your body in some way. And if your time journal shows that you really do not have a lot of spare time, then find short snippets of time throughout your day to move your body - 2 minutes here, 3 minutes there, and so on.
Barrier: Another common reason for not exercising is feeling "too exhausted" to do any type of workout. As I said above, I know many of us work A LOT of hours during the week, and that can be pretty draining to our physical energy. It can feel near impossible to exercise before, or after, a full day of work. And I get it, your job pays the bills or keeps your household running, so you need to reserve your energy as best you can for those tasks. But, exercise actually improves your energy level, helping you to deal with those work and life stressors much more easily.
Solution: My first and foremost solution for reduced energy is to do your workout in the morning, before you do anything else, such as eating or getting ready for work. Yes, we all feel tired early in the morning, but guess what - you are going to feel tired in the morning whether you exercise or not. So, you might as well get up and move your body because you will absolutely feel better during the day. And once you get moving in your workout, you will wake up and start feeling a little more energized. But, if a morning workout is not possible for you, then find ways to make your workout feel more appealing after your workday is complete. Maybe you keep the workout simple (e.g. walking around your block once or twice), so it doesn't feel as daunting. And guess what - that is still movement, and it's better than nothing. Or maybe that means you listen to energizing music, an interesting podcast, or a gripping audiobook. Find some other "hook," so that you are motivated to do your workout, even when you feel donzo from the day.
Barrier: Another common roadblock to getting an outdoor workout done is that the tempertaure is too hot or too cold. Sure, sometimes the temperature actually is too hot or cold to safely exercise outdoors, but that is a rarity. Most often, a hot or cold temperature is more uncomfortable than it is unsafe. And, exercising in different temperatures is really good for your body because it gives your physiology a chance to acclimate to different conditions.
Solution: My biggest suggestion as it pertains to temperature is to "suck it up buttercup." Okay, I don't mean to sound too harsh, but unless the temperature is truly dangerous, there is no reason why you cannot either bundle-up on cold days or sweat-it-out on hot days. The human body contains many cellular pathways that can deal with temperatures that are a little hot or a little cold. And, you have the ability to dress appropriately for the temperature. If the air is really cold, wear lots of layers, cover your head with a beanie, and put on some gloves. You can always shed these layers if you need to as your workout progresses. If the air is really hot, don't wear long pants or a long-sleeved shirt. And avoid working out in dark colors since they can absorb more heat.
Barrier: Setting unrealistic goals for your workouts or physical appearance can be a huge barrier to keeping up with your exercise program. Unrealistic goals are goals that you simply cannot achieve based on the timeline you set or your physiology, personality, and lifestyle. Goals that are too lofty can lower your motivation for exercising, decrease your self-esteem, and bring about a sense of failure for not attaining them. What makes a goal "unrealistic" varies from person-to-person. Setting a goal to run a full marathon may not be an unrealistic goal for one person, but it might be for another. And sometimes goals are unrealistic simply due to the laws of physics and biology. For instance, a goal to lose 60 pounds in one month is highly improbable for almost all bodies based on the thermodynamics of energy balance.
Solution: The obvious solution to this roadblock is to set attainable goals. When you master a realistic goal, such as losing five pounds in a month, it gives you a feeling of success, which can really improve your exercise adherence. When setting your wellness goals, consider your long term goal, such as running a half-marathon or being able to move through your day without feeling fatigued or uncomfortable. Then, establish smaller stepping-stones to achieve that larger goal. For the half-marathon example, this might mean that you start with an objective to simply walk five miles in one week, spread over three days. And then you build from there. If you are unsure of what goals are feasible for your body, consider working with a certified personal trainer (CPT). CPTs are specifically trained to help clients set attainable, realistic fitness goals.
Amount of Social Support
Barrier: A lack of support from your social circle is another common barricade to keeping up with your exercise. Having support from your inner circle of peeps (e.g. family, friends, coworkers, etc.) for your wellness endeavors is super important. If your family and close friends do not support your wellness goals, it can make you feel like you are all alone with this aspect of your life. It can also negatively impact your workout if you feel a sense of guilt or worry about how your loved ones react to your fitness pursuits. It's not that your family and friends need to join you on your workouts per se, but having their emotional support when you are working towards a fitness goal can be really helpful. When that support is nonexistent it can make it really challenging to do your workout.
Solution: My first solution to this barrier would be to talk to your unsupportive loved ones and let them know how important your wellness is to you. And let them know how it makes you feel when they don't seem supportive of what you are working towards. If that doesn't work, or even if it does, I think the next solution is to find social support through your fitness community. This might mean finding support from your local fitness studio, listening to podcasts about the fitness endeavors you enjoy, or following certain fitness trends on social media. Find support where you can, so you do not feel alone on your wellness journey.
Social Physique Anxiety
Barrier: Another common barrier to exercise is worrying about what you might look like when you do a particular workout. Social physique anxiety is a real phenomenon where you are overly concerned with your body image in a social setting. You might overemphasize the differences between your body and the body types of others who are doing a similar workout to you. You might have the false perception that you are overweight and more out of shape than others and thus, less able to participate in that exercise. This is a common feeling for many people, especially for people just beginning a certain type of exercise. But, the reality is that very few people notice others when they are working out. Rather, their attention is on their own workout, body, and inner thoughts and emotions. I hate to say this concern is "all in your head," but it sort of is. Most people at any type of workout, indoors or outdoors, do not really care about the other people working out nearby. They are doing the best they can to keep up with their own workout.
Solution: My suggestion for the social physique anxiety barrier is to name three positive things about your body every morning, focusing on what your body is capable of. For example, you might feel gratitude for the fact that you have two working legs that allow you to walk around your daily environments. Or, you might take the time to notice the beautiful color of your eyes or the lovely shape of your face. You might even recognize your strong shoulders or capable hands. Try to shift your thinking from what you feel you cannot do to what you CAN do.
Convenience and Practicality
Barrier: Another common roadblock has to do with how easy it is to actually engage in the exercise you might want to do. This includes having a reliable form of transportation to/from a workout facility (e.g. gym, yoga studio, hiking trail, etc.), babysitting services if you have young children that need supervision, and/or access to internet or other necessary equipment if working out from home. Another issue that comes up for people is having a lack of financial resources in order to pay for the services (e.g. memberships) and/or equipment (e.g. weights, running shoes) needed to workout.
Solution: The potential solutions here depend on what is making the workout inconvenient or impractical for you. If the issue is transportation, then try doing a workout from your home, such as going on a walk or run or doing yoga at home. If the issue has to do with access to babysitting services, try using a gym that offers childcare services, and if that does not work out for you, then bring your child(ren) with you to a park where they can play and you can move around. This not only helps you get some type of physical movement in but it also teaches your child(ren) the value of daily movement and exercise. If the issue is not having internet or other equipment at your home, go to garage sales or places like Goodwill to see if you can find inexpensive workout equipment. If you cannot secure workout equipment, then take a walk in the most supportive shoes you own because that is still movement. If the issue is financial in nature, then check out YouTube or Instagram TV (IGTV), as there are a TON of free workout videos out there.
Level of Excitement
Barrier: Another common excuse for not exercising is simply "I don't want to" or "I don't like to____." And that makes total sense, as no one wants to do things that are boring or nonpreferred. Along this same line of thinking are those people who avoid exercise because they say "it hurts."
Solution: The solution is pretty simple for this one - find something that you DO enjoy and that DOESN’T cause you pain. There are so many ways in which to move your body. Just to name a few - walking, hiking, kayaking, swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, yoga, lifting weights, Barre, tennis, team sports, and the list goes on and on. Even gardening and cleaning are types of physical movement. Thus, "I don't like it" isn't really an excuse for not moving your body in some way. If the workout you are doing is causing you pain, either modify it in some way or try another workout. Some bodies just respond better to a certain types of movement. Find an activity that you look forward to doing and that helps you live better in your body. And when you do it, make sure you leave yourself wanting more when it is all over. Think of your exercise time as time for YOU, so you get to pick, and structure, the activity in the way that best suits you.
Negative Past Experiences with Exercise
Barrier: Another barrier to exercise often stems from past negative experiences with exercise. Maybe you tried to take up walking, but the last time you did it, it really hurt your body. Or maybe you sustained an injury during a previous workout, so now your nervous system signals anxiety or worry when it is time to workout. The memories of stressful or unpleasant experiences can make it really challenging to get motivated to exercise.
Solution: Even though there might be some negative memories with exercise, you likely have a ton more positive experiences, even if it was from years ago. Consider the following questions. Did you ever feel good after working out? Did you ever notice having more energy during the day after working out? Did you sleep better at night after working out? Did you feel more relaxed, focused, calm, etc... after working out? Was exercise more successful at a certain time of day? The answers to these types of questions can help you see that there are likely many examples from your past where exercise felt fabulous to your body. Focus on those experiences rather than the negative ones, as best you can.
Even though exercise is so incredibly beneficial for the functioning of the human body, many individuals do not partake in regular exercise. A lack of physical activity is strongly associated with many bodily issues, including heart disease, cancer, chronic pain, mental illness, and more. However, regular physical movement is very strongly correlated with many positive outcomes in human physiology and psychology, including reduced instances of mental health issues, decreased chronic pain, improved cardiorespiratory functioning, and much, much more. There are some common barriers that get in the way of carrying out a regular exercise program, such as a perceived lack of time, impracticality, reduced energy levels, and a lack of enjoyment. Try out some of the solutions offered in this blog post to see if that helps make exercise more accessible to your body. And most importantly, remember that movement truly is medicine for the body. Thanks for reading!
As always, the information presented in this blog post is derived from my own study of neuroscience, human movement, anatomy, and yoga. If you have specific questions about your exercise program, please consult with your physician, physical therapist, personal trainer, or private yoga teacher. If you are interested in private yoga sessions with me, Jackie, you can book services on my website ("Book Online" from the menu at the top of the page), or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about my services. Also, please subscribe to my website so you can receive my weekly newsletters (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can submit your email address). This will help keep you "in-the-know" about my latest blog releases and other helpful yoga and wellness information. Thanks for reading!
~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT, NASM-CPT