Sticking to a regular exercise schedule isn’t easy. Get practical tips for overcoming common barriers.
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.
BARRIER NO. 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 sweat it. Shorter spurts of exercise, such as 10 minutes of walking spaced throughout the day, offer benefits too.
- Get up earlier. If your days are packed and the evening hours are just as hectic, get up 30 minutes earlier twice 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.
BARRIER NO. 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 encouragement of the group.
- 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.
BARRIER NO. 3: I’M SELF-CONSCIOUS ABOUT HOW I LOOK
Don’t get down on yourself! Remind yourself what a great favor you’re doing for 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.
BARRIER NO. 4: I’M TOO TIRED TO EXERCISE AFTER WORK
No energy to exercise? Without exercise, you’ll have no energy. It’s a vicious cycle. But breaking the cycle with physical activity is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
- 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. Put workout clothes on top of your dresser, socks and all. Keep a full water bottle in the fridge. Have an exercise video queued up and ready to go when you get home at night.
- Hit the hay earlier. Running on empty is no way to face a full day. Go to bed earlier to make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
BARRIER NO. 5: I’M TOO LAZY TO EXERCISE
If the mere thought of a morning jog makes you tired, try these thoughts on for size:
- Set realistic expectations. If your mental bar is 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 for physical activity, and make sure your friends and family are aware of your commitment. Ask for their encouragement and support.
BARRIER NO. 6: I’M NOT ATHLETIC
Natural athletic ability isn’t a prerequisite to physical activity.
- Keep it simple. Try something basic, such as a daily walk.
- Start a team. Join up with friends who are in the same boat. And 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.
BARRIER NO. 7: I’VE TRIED TO EXERCISE IN THE PAST AND FAILED
Don’t throw in the towel. You can’t see it when you lower your cholesterol or reduce your risk of diabetes, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t doing yourself a great favor. Re-evaluate what went wrong, and learn from your mistakes.
- 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 goals you can more easily 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.
BARRIER NO. 8: I CAN’T AFFORD HEALTH CLUB FEES
You don’t need a membership at an elite gym to get a great workout. Consider common-sense alternatives.
- Do strengthening exercises at home. Use inexpensive resistance bands — lengths of elastic tubing that come in varying strengths — in place of weights. Lift plastic milk jugs partially filled with water or sand. Do push-ups or squats using your body weight.
- Watch an exercise video. Try videos on dance aerobics, cardio-kickboxing, yoga or tai chi. For variety, trade exercise videos with a friend.
- 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.
BARRIER NO. 9: I’M AFRAID I’LL HURT MYSELF IF I EXERCISE
If you’re nervous about injuring yourself, start off on the right foot.
- Take it slow. Start with a simple walking program. 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 scratch.
- 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, you may want to first see a sports medicine physician, who can evaluate you and recommend specific treatment, such as physical therapy.
BARRIER NO. 10: MY FAMILY DOESN’T SUPPORT MY EFFORTS
Remind those close to you of the benefits of regular exercise — and then bring them along for the ride.
- Get your kicks 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. Try the same trick at your child’s school during lessons, practices or rehearsals.
If necessary, have a heart-to-heart with your loved ones. If they don’t share your fitness ambitions, ask them to at least respect your desire to get fit.
So are you Ready to start a fitness program?
Measure your fitness level with a simple four-part test. Then use the results to set fitness goals and track your progress.
How fit are you? See how you measure up
You probably have some idea of how fit you are. But knowing the specifics can help you set realistic fitness goals, monitor your progress and maintain your motivation. Once you know where you’re starting from, you can plan where you want to go. And it’s easier than you might think. Get started with the simple four-step assessment below -(based on guidelines provided by the President’s Challenge, a program designed by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.)
Gather your tools
Generally, fitness is assessed in four key areas – aerobic fitness, muscular fitness, flexibility and body composition. To do your assessment, you’ll need:
- A watch that can measure seconds or a stopwatch
- A cloth measuring tape
- A yardstick
- Heavy-duty tape
- Someone to help you with the flexibility test
You’ll also need a pencil or pen and paper to record your scores as you complete each part of the assessment. You can record your scores in a notebook or journal, or save them in a spreadsheet or another electronic format.
Check your aerobic fitness: Brisk walk
Checking pulse over the carotid artery
To assess your aerobic fitness, take a brisk one-mile (1.6-kilometer) walk. You can do the walk anywhere – on a trail or track, inside a shopping mall, or on a treadmill. Before and after the walk, check and record your pulse in your notebook or journal.
To check your pulse over your carotid artery, place your index and middle fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. To check your pulse at your wrist, place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery (which is located on the thumb side of your wrist.) When you feel your pulse, look at your watch and count the number of beats in 10 seconds. Multiply this number by 6 to get your heart rate per minute.
Let’s say you count 15 beats in 10 seconds. Multiply 15 by 6 for a total of 90 beats per minute.
After you’ve recorded your pulse, note the time on your watch and walk one mile (1.6 kilometers). After you complete the walk, check your watch and record the time it took you to finish – in minutes and seconds – in your notebook or journal. Then check and record your pulse once more.
Measure muscular fitness: Push-ups
Measuring muscular fitness
Push-ups can help you measure muscular strength. If you’re just starting a fitness program, do modified push-ups on your knees. If you’re already fit, do classic push-ups. For both types:
Lie face down on the floor with your elbows bent and your palms next to your shoulders.
Keeping your back straight, push up with your arms until your arms are extended.
Lower your body until your chest touches the floor.
Push your body upward, returning to the starting position.
Count each time you return to the starting position as one push-up. Do as many push-ups as you can until you need to stop for rest. Record the number of push-ups you complete in your notebook or journal.
Assess your flexibility: Sit-and-reach test
Assessing flexibility in the legs, hips and lower back
The sit-and-reach test is a simple way to measure in general fashion the flexibility of the backs of your legs, your hips and your lower back. Here’s how:
Place a yardstick on the floor. Secure it by placing a piece of tape across the yardstick at the 15-inch (38-centimeter) mark.
Place the soles of your feet even with the mark on the yardstick.
Ask a helper to place his or her hands on top of your knees to anchor them.
Reach forward as far as you can, holding the position for two seconds.
Note the distance you reached.
Repeat the test two more times.
Record the best of the three reaches.
Estimate your body composition: Waist circumference and body mass index
With a cloth measuring tape, measure your waist circumference just above the hipbones. Record your waist circumference in inches or centimeters in your notebook or journal.
Then determine your body mass index (BMI) – an indicator of your percentage of body fat – through a BMI table or online calculator. If you’d rather do the math yourself, divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches squared and multiply by 703. Or divide your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. (To determine your height in meters, divide your height in centimeters by 100). Record your BMI with the rest of your scores in your notebook or journal.
Monitor your progress
Now that you know your fitness level, keep track of your progress. Take the same measurements six weeks after you begin your exercise program and periodically afterward. Each time you repeat your assessment, celebrate your progress – and adjust your fitness goals accordingly. Share your results with your doctor or personal trainer for additional guidance.