Barriers to fitness: Overcoming common challenges

Sticking to a regular exercise schedule isn't easy. Get practical tips for overcoming common barriers.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Sticking to a regular exercise schedule isn't easy. After all, there are plenty of potential hindrances — time, boredom, injuries, self-confidence. But these issues don't need to stand in your way. Consider practical strategies for overcoming common barriers to fitness.

1. I don't have enough time to exercise

Setting aside time to exercise can be a challenge. Use a little creativity to get the most out of your time.

  • Squeeze in short walks throughout the day. If you don't have time for a full workout, don't worry about it. Any amount of activity is better than none at all. Shorter bursts of exercise, such as taking short walk breaks a few times during the day, offer benefits too. Aim to work your way up to exercising about 30 minutes on most days of the week.
  • Get up earlier. If your days are packed and the evening hours are busy, get up 30 minutes earlier a few times a week to exercise. Once you've adjusted to early-morning workouts, add another day or two to the routine.
  • Drive less, walk more. Park in the back row of the parking lot or even a few blocks away and walk to your destination.
  • Revamp your rituals. Your weekly Saturday matinee with the kids or your best friend could be reborn as your weekly Saturday bike ride, rock-climbing lesson or trip to the pool.

2. I think exercise is boring

It's natural to grow weary of a repetitive workout day after day, especially when you're going it alone. But exercise doesn't have to be boring.

  • Choose activities you enjoy. You'll be more likely to stay interested. Remember, anything that gets you moving counts.
  • Vary the routine. Rotate among several activities — such as walking, swimming and cycling — to keep you on your toes while conditioning different muscle groups.
  • Join forces. Exercise with friends, relatives, neighbors or co-workers. You'll enjoy the camaraderie and the group's encouragement.
  • Explore new options. Learn new skills while getting in a workout. Check out exercise classes or sports leagues at a recreation center or health club.

3. I'm self-conscious about how I look

Don't get down on yourself! Remind yourself that you're improving your cardiovascular health, or focus on how much stronger you feel after a workout.

  • Avoid the crowd. If you're uncomfortable exercising around others, go solo at first. Try an exercise video or an activity-oriented video game. Or consider investing in a stationary bicycle, treadmill, stair-climbing machine or other piece of home exercise equipment.
  • Focus on the future. Praise yourself for making a commitment to your health. And remember that as you become fitter and more comfortable exercising, your self-confidence is likely to improve as well.

4. I'm too tired to exercise after work

No energy to exercise? Without exercise, you'll have no energy. It's a cycle. But breaking the cycle with physical activity is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. And over time, exercise can help improve your sleep quality and your energy level.

  • Try a morning dose of exercise. Remember the suggestion to get up 30 minutes earlier to exercise? Hop on the treadmill or stationary bicycle while you listen to the radio or watch the morning news. Or step outside for a brisk walk.
  • Make lunchtime count. Keep a pair of walking shoes at your desk, and take a brisk walk during your lunch break.
  • Be prepared. Make sure you have comfortable shoes and loosefitting clothes for exercising. Take them with you to the mall or when you travel.

5. I'm too lazy to exercise

If the thought of a morning jog makes you tired, consider several ideas to get moving.

  • Set realistic expectations. If you set your goals too high, you might give up without even trying. Start with a walk around the block. Don't give up if you feel worn out. Take another walk around the block tomorrow. Keep it up, and eventually you'll no longer feel worn out.
  • Work with your nature, not against it. Plan physical activity for times of the day when you tend to feel more energetic, or at least not quite so lazy.
  • Schedule exercise as you would schedule an important appointment. Block off times in your calendar for physical activity, and make sure your friends and family are aware of your commitment. Ask for their encouragement and support.

6. I'm not athletic

You don't need natural athletic ability to be active. Even if you've been inactive for some time, it's not too late to get more active.

  • Keep it simple. Try something basic, such as a daily walk. Start slowly and give your body a chance to get used to the increased activity.
  • Find company. Pick an activity you like, such as dancing or gardening, and invite friends to join in. You'll have fun while helping each other work out.
  • Forget the competition. Don't worry about becoming a superstar athlete or joining the hard-bodied athletes at the fitness club. Simply focus on the positive changes you're making to your body and mind.

7. I've tried to exercise in the past and failed

Don't give up. Reevaluate what went wrong, and learn from your mistakes. Although you can't always see visible changes when you lower your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease, you can make a positive impact in your health through regular exercise.

  • Pace yourself. Start small and build up to more-intense workouts later, when your body is ready.
  • Set realistic goals. Don't promise yourself you're going to work out for an hour every day, and then get down on yourself when you fall short. Stick with manageable goals you can achieve, such as exercising 20 minutes a day, three days a week for the first month.
  • Remember why you're exercising. Use your personal fitness goals as motivation, and reward yourself as you meet your goals.

8. I can't afford health club fees

You don't need a gym membership to get a great workout. Consider commonsense alternatives.

  • Do strengthening exercises at home. Use inexpensive resistance bands — lengths of elastic tubing that come in varying strengths — in place of weights. Do pushups or squats using your body weight.
  • Start a walking group. Round up friends, neighbors or co-workers for regular group walks. Plan routes through your neighborhood or near your workplace, along local parks and trails, or in a nearby shopping mall.
  • Take the stairs. Skip the elevator when you can. Better yet, make climbing stairs a workout in itself.
  • Try your community center. Exercise classes offered through a local recreation department or community education group might fit your budget better than an annual gym membership.

9. I'm afraid I'll hurt myself if I exercise

If you're nervous about injuring yourself, start off with simple activities such as walking and take it slowly.

  • Take it slowly. Start with a simple walking program. Warm up before you exercise, and cool down when you're finished. As you become more confident in your abilities, add new activities to your routine.
  • Try an exercise class for beginners. You'll learn the basics by starting from the beginning.
  • Get professional help. Get a fitness tutorial from a certified expert, who can monitor your movements and point you in the right direction. If you've had a previous injury or you have a medical condition, you may want to consult your doctor or an exercise therapist for help designing a fitness program appropriate for you.

10. My family doesn't support my efforts

Remind those close to you of the benefits of regular exercise, and then bring them along to exercise.

  • Get moving with your kids. Sign up for a parent-child exercise class. Pack a picnic lunch and take your family to the park for a game of tag or kickball. Splash with the kids in the pool instead of watching from your chair.
  • Propose a new adventure. Instead of suggesting a workout at the gym, invite a friend to go to an indoor climbing wall or rent a tandem bicycle for the weekend.
  • Do double duty. Volunteer to drive your teens to the mall, and then walk laps inside while you wait for the shoppers. And try walking around your child's school during lessons, practices or rehearsals.

If necessary, have a heart-to-heart talk with your loved ones. If they don't share your fitness ambitions, ask them to at least respect your desire to get fit.

Oct. 16, 2019 See more In-depth

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