Overcome these common barriers to exercise and reap the physical and mental rewards of consistent activity.
By Diana Price
Everyone has pulled out at least one of these excuses to avoid exercise—likely more than one. But no more! Jump these barriers to doing your body good, with expert tips from trainers Kerri Dorn and Jessica Matthews, and see how great you feel when you make the choice to put your health first.
Kerri Dorn is a certified personal trainer through the National Association of Sports Medicine and a certified group fitness instructor through the American Council on Exercise. She holds specialty certifications, including Boot Camp Challenge trainer, Tabata, small-group kettle bell trainer, and Schwinn cycling instructor. Kerri teaches group classes and provides personal training at FIT Studio in Half Moon Bay, California.
Jessica Matthews, MS, E-RYT, is assistant professor of health and exercise science at Miramar College in San Diego, California, and is senior adviser for health and fitness education for the American Council on Exercise. Jessica is also a registered yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance and has been featured as a fitness expert on CNN and by various magazines, including Shape, Self, and Oxygen.
Excuse: “I’m Too Old To Try Something New.”
Reality: You’re never too old! “Exercise is for everyone, regardless of age, says Matthews. “In fact, exercise becomes increasingly important through the aging process. On average after the age of 25 we lose approximately 0.5 pounds of muscle per year (which equates to 5 pounds per decade) if we are not regularly engaged in resistance training.” And, she notes, exercise—and specifically bone-building weight-bearing exercise—is key as we age, as bone mineral density decreases.
Dorn encourages women to understand all the benefits and to move regardless of age. She notes that you can start wherever your current fitness level allows and your interest takes you. “Start walking with a friend on a regular basis; schedule a once-a-week session with a personal trainer who can show you safe and effective ways to train and get you going the rest of the week on your own; find something you like to do and that brings you joy, such as swimming, dancing, hiking, or biking.”
Excuse: “I’m Too Tired.”
Reality: If you’re feeling tired, exercise may actually be the best solution. “Exercise is a great way to naturally and healthfully boost energy levels,” Matthews says. “And,” she notes, “your workout doesn’t need to be intense to produce valuable benefits: a study at the University of Georgia found that as little as 20 minutes of low- to moderate-intensity aerobic exercise three days per week for six weeks can increase energy levels and decrease feelings of fatigue.”
Dorn says that if the idea of an intense workout seems intimidating when you’re feeling low-energy, remember that “you can always set goals to work out for just a short time; and if you feel energized, continue for longer.” And, she adds, be sure that you’re fueling your body appropriately to maintain energy throughout the day—and that you’re getting enough sleep.
Excuse: “I’m Not Athletic.”
Reality: You don’t have to be an athletic superstar to benefit from exercise; movement comes in many forms, and you can find the right fit for your interest and your body. “All forms of movement can be tailored to meet you where you are in your current health and fitness journey,” Matthews says. “If you’re feeling a bit intimidated about where to start, seek the guidance of a certified personal trainer who can design a custom workout plan to meet your personal needs and fitness goals.” (You can search for a qualified trainer in your area at USreps.org.)
“If you’re starting from zero,” Dorn says, “consider setting a goal to walk or jog for 20 minutes without stopping and work toward that.” And, she adds, make sure you feel comfortable in your workout space: “Find a place to exercise that is comfortable and convenient, with a welcoming and supportive environment.”
Excuse: “I Don’t Have Time to Exercise.”
Reality: Kids, grandkids, work, chores— the list goes on. We all have busy days, but you can fit exercise into your life in small increments or longer doses around your other responsibilities.
Dorn says that for many busy women, scheduling exercise on your calendar as you would any other essential responsibility is a great way to ensure that it happens. Still need help? Create some peer pressure: “Engage a friend to help hold you accountable in a supportive environment—family member, personal trainer, friend, or walking partner,” she says.
Matthews says that it can be helpful to remember that exercise doesn’t have to be “all or nothing.” “Often people assume that to see a meaningful difference in their fitness, they have to commit to spending at least 60 minutes a day at the gym performing intense workouts or they might as well not be active at all.” In fact, she says, fitting in shorter sessions can be equally effective. “Research has shown that even small bouts of physical activity accumulated throughout the day provide great benefit. Instead of one 30-minute session, try performing 10 minutes of bodyweight exercises at home before work, such as squats, lunges, or push-ups; going for a 10-minute walk in the afternoon during a lunch break; and finishing the day with 10 minutes of yoga-inspired stretching while watching your favorite TV show.”
Excuse: “I Can’t Afford a Gym Membership.”
Reality: Gym workouts are great but not necessary. You can work out at home, walk the stairs in your workplace, or take advantage of the great outdoors. No gym? No problem. “There has never been a better time to exercise effectively for little or no cost,” Dorn says. “Try out a video online—there are loads of sites offering great workouts for you to do in the privacy of your own home. If you don’t like exercising to videos, just watch the video and write down the exercises you like and are comfortable with and create your own at-home workout.”
Matthews agrees that there are seemingly unlimited online resources today: “From tried-and-true functional exercises like squats, lunges, and push-ups to unique exercises like tick-tock planks and sprinter pulls, there is no shortage of ways to get active—no equipment required.”
Excuse: “My Back/Knees/ Joints Hurt.”
Reality: If a sore back or achy knees are keeping you from exercising, it may be the result of moving too little, not too much. “Being that many of us spend prolonged periods seated, from hours working at a desk to time spent commuting in a car, there are a number of muscular imbalances and associated postural deviations that can develop from the long periods of uninterrupted sedentary behavior,” Matthews says. The best solution: counter with movement. “Incorporating movements and exercises into your routine that stretch commonly tight muscles associated with extended periods of sitting (such as hip flexors and pectorals) and that strengthen and engage weakened and lengthened muscles (such as the gluteals and rhomboids) can help improve posture, minimize incidents of low back pain (something that is estimated that nearly 80 percent of Americans will experience in their lifetime), decrease risk of injury and aches, and enhance overall movement quality.”
Dorn says that specific types of exercise can help relieve common stiffness and achy joints by relieving pressure and building strength: “Swimming is a great way to take pressure off the joints and still get a good workout; strength training can help the muscles get stronger, so the muscles and not the joints can do the work.” Another idea: use props and tools to allow you to move through exercises without stressing joints. Dorn says she often uses TRX suspension training for this purpose: “I use TRX with clients in their seventies and eighties, as the straps allow them to do squats, chest press, lunges, back rows, core work, and more with support as they hold on to the straps and work through a full range of motion.”
Excuse: “Exercise Is Boring.”
Reality: There are so many ways to entertain yourself while exercising. Listen to an audio book or make an inspiring playlist. Work out with a friend or take a group class. Hike through the woods with a guidebook on birds or wildflowers. Or embrace the silence and learn the principles of moving meditation to benefit from the gift of introspection.
And, Matthews says, don’t forget to have fun, which will bring you back for more: “Finding a form of exercise that you enjoy is crucial, as the more enjoyment the activity brings, the more likely you are to adhere to a regular routine of physical activity long term.” Not happy with the classes or routine you’re doing now? Try something different to find a new love. “From a unique group fitness class like aerial yoga, to attempting a new seasonal activity like standup paddle boarding, to playing a leisurely game of tennis with your significant other, options abound,” Matthews says.
Dorn notes that “a good trainer, coach, or instructor can make exercise fun and also provide valuable motivation.” To find the right fit, she adds, “talk to your friends and neighbors about which coach, trainer, or instructor they like.”