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Overcoming Barriers to Exercise

overcoming barriers to exercise

Anyone who currently or previously has exercised regularly knows exercise makes you feel great. Aside from the physical benefits and changes we feel and see, there are many other benefits to regular exercise which also include:

  1. Improved Weight Management

  2. Build Muscle & Bone

  3. Reduced Risk of Chronic Disease

  4. Increased Energy & Better Sleep

  5. Improved Mood & Reduced Stress

  6. Reduced Anxiety

  7. Improved Ability to do Activities of Daily Living name a few.

If we even looked at just the top 3 on this lift, one would think it's without question that every person would (and should) participate in a regular exercise program. One can feel better, look better, be less stressed and physically able to do so many day-to-day things - no brainer right? But the reality is, that’s not the case. Check out these alarming statistics:

  1. Less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day; only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week.

  2. More than 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, and more than 80% of adolescents do not do enough aerobic physical activity to meet the guidelines for youth.

  3. 28.0% of Americans, or 80.2 million people, aged six and older are physically inactive.

Let's refocus now on the premise of what I want to talk about today, which is what are the barriers to exercise & how can we overcome them? What is at the root of preventing people from exercising regularly? Certainly when the list of benefits are so clear and enticing. In my 5 years of coaching and training both men and women, I personally see these being the top barriers to exercise:

  1. No time

  2. No motivation

  3. No energy

  4. Other priorities

  5. Dislike exercising in public

  6. Dislike exercise in general

As a professional in the field of health and exercise, I of course want to help as many people go from not exercising to exercising and actually enjoy the act of exercise. With time constraints, lack of motivation and low energy being the top 3 barriers, it's important for me to provide some help and advice to overcome some of these because often times, it's not as easy as saying "Well if you want to exercise, just start exercising." Let's focus on those top 3 barriers now.

Overcoming Barriers to Exercise

1. No Time

We may not have the most ideal amount of free time we'd like to dedicate to the gym or our workouts. But who's to say you need 2 hours a day, several days a week to see results? As a women's fitness coach, the majority of my clients are limited on time between a full time day job, school drops offs, homework, providing for their families, the list goes on - and they are certainly short on free time. One important question to ask yourself is "where is my current free time being used?" and "Is there a way for me to commit X amount of minutes X amount of days to at least do something active?" It may not seem like you have much free time when you think about how overwhelmingly busy your schedule is - but write out your day to day if you have to; you might be surprised how many minutes/hours are dedicated to social media scrolling, binge watching Netflix, etc. I would encourage you to also give yourself some grace in the time department. If you find you only have 20 minutes 2-3x/week that you could do something, that is GREAT! Start there. Don't wait for your schedule to slow down - when does that ever happen for longer than a week!? ;)

For many, exercise means having to commit an hour or two every single day - they know they can't commit to that kind of routine, so they just don't even try. Exercise style, session duration, and frequency can be different for different people and still be incredibly effective. You don't need hour long gym sessions to see results and gain forward momentum in your fitness journey. You know your schedule and what's realistic for you - but even if that only means 20 minute a couple times a week, something is absolutely better than nothing. Do what you can instead of caving into that extreme all-or-nothing mentality.

2. No Motivation

I talk a LOT about motivation on my instagram and why it's important NOT to rely on it for reaching your long term goals. So what's motivation anyway? Motivation is just you becoming excited and determined about doing something, and then doing that something. So how can you get excited about doing something, like exercise? Especially if your main motivation is for the sake of toning up or losing some weight. If getting started with exercise is a barrier to you, try creating a pros and cons list of beginning an exercise program as well as educating yourself on a list of health-related benefits to exercise (like the one at the top of this article). Another important factor to note is that motivation will come and go, which is why I see a lot of women yo-yo diet and are constantly on and off this hamster wheel of forever dieting. They feel motivated in the beginning when things are new and exciting, then a couple weeks later maybe something came up, they fell off track with their workouts or their nutrition program, they feel guilty and defeated, then throw their hands up and give up because "I already messed up, what's the point". Now they're left feeling unmotivated for a while until the next cycle of motivation comes back. I wrote an in depth article on motivation which I would highly recommend reading next!

My point here is that you can't solely rely on motivation to reach your goals. You will forever find yourself in this cycle of starting and stopping a diet or an exercise program as things come up, you fall off track, or you get "unmotivated" so you stop altogether. Finding a balanced nutrition approach and an exercise program that you actually enjoy and can stick to without much restriction involved, will highly increase your adherence to that approach, therefore increasing your motivation along the way. My best tip in the motivation department: take action even if, and especially when, you are not motivated. The actions you still choose to take are what will drive results, and when you see or feel results, the motivation comes along with it. Start with some simple actions that don't feel too overwhelming or difficult to start creating that forward momentum and building some confidence along the way.

3. No Energy/Too Tired

Long days at work or school often make us tired and when you're tired, the last thing many people want to do is exercise. Who wants to purposefully go exercise and feel even more tired when you're already tired to begin with? It makes sense to rest when you’re tired, right? Well, not necessarily. Exercise has a positive impact on energy and fatigue. Many people feel more energized after a workout. Not to mention their quality and duration of sleep improves, their stress and anxiety levels decrease and they overall feel better than they did before they started their workout.

Finding excuses not to exercise are entirely too common and easy to do. I always say if it's important to you, you will find a way. That may sound harsh, but in reality - no one can put the work in except you. And remember, these steps forward don't have to be huge - in fact, I'd argue that baby steps will produce far more consistent change and progress than trying to take drastic strides. The best piece of advice to help remove some of these common barriers is to start with small, SMART goal setting (which you can read about here), find something you enjoy doing - even if that's taking the dogs for a walk 2-3x/week or finding a fun group fitness class, be realistic with your goals, your time and your schedule. Can't commit to an hour 5x a week at the gym? Start with 10 minutes of intentional movement at home. Can't hit 10k steps every day? Try increasing your weekly average by 500 steps. Need help adding in more fiber to your overall diet? Start adding in veggies to 2 of your meals every day. These are just some examples of smart goals you can implement to tackle behavior change and improve your habits. Start with small habits you want to work on and build on those. Finding an accountability group will also help you stay on track and stay motivated!

If you're looking for a sustainable approach to reaching your health and fitness goals, I highly recommend checking out my Forever Fit Formula coaching + training programs!



  1. HHS Office, & Council on Sports. (2017, January 26). Facts & Statistics. Retrieved January 21, 2019, from

  2. Appendix 1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. (n.d.). Retrieved January 21, 2019, from

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