You know that physical activity is good for your health, mood, and well-being. You have heard about the benefits of exercise for preventing and managing chronic diseases, improving your mental health, and enhancing your quality of life. You may have even set some goals for yourself to be more active and fit.
But somehow, you find it hard to stick to your plan. You have a busy schedule, a lack of motivation, a fear of injury, or a lack of support from your family and friends. You feel like there are too many obstacles and challenges that prevent you from being physically active.
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Many people face similar barriers to physical activity, and they can be very frustrating and discouraging. But the good news is that you can overcome them with some strategies and tips that I will share with you in this article.
In this article, I will explain what are the common barriers to physical activity, why they matter, and how you can overcome them. I will also provide you with some examples and resources that can help you along the way. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of how to overcome the barriers to physical activity and achieve your fitness goals.
What are the barriers to physical activity?
Barriers to physical activity are factors that make it difficult or impossible for you to engage in regular physical activity. They can be external or internal, and they can vary from person to person. Some of the most common barriers to physical activity are:
- Lack of time: You may feel that you have too many commitments and responsibilities, such as work, school, family, or social obligations, that leave you with little or no time for physical activity. You may also have a hectic or irregular schedule that makes it hard to plan and stick to a routine.
- Lack of motivation: You may lack the interest, enthusiasm, or confidence to start or continue physical activity. You may not see the benefits or value of physical activity, or you may have unrealistic expectations or goals that make you feel discouraged or overwhelmed. You may also have low self-efficacy, which is the belief in your ability to perform a specific task or behaviour.
- Lack of enjoyment: You may not find physical activity fun, enjoyable, or satisfying. You may have negative associations or experiences with physical activity, such as boredom, pain, fatigue, or embarrassment. You may also have a limited range of options or preferences for physical activity, or you may not like the environment or setting where you exercise.
- Lack of support: You may not have the encouragement, assistance, or companionship from your family, friends, or community to be physically active. You may feel isolated, lonely, or pressured by others who have different views or expectations about physical activity. You may also lack the access or availability of resources, such as facilities, equipment, programs, or transportation, that can facilitate physical activity.
- Fear of injury: You may be afraid of getting hurt, injured, or sick from physical activity. You may have a history of injury or illness that makes you cautious or hesitant to exercise. You may also have a lack of knowledge or skills on how to perform physical activity safely and effectively.
Why do barriers to physical activity matter?
Barriers to physical activity matter because they can prevent you from achieving the recommended levels of physical activity for optimal mental health and well-being. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adults aged 18-64 years should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both, per week. They should also do muscle-strengthening activities involving major muscle groups on two or more days per week.
Physical activity can provide many benefits for your physical, mental, and emotional health, such as:
- Improving your cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and diabetes
- Enhancing your musculoskeletal health, preventing or delaying the onset of osteoporosis, sarcopenia, and arthritis
- Boosting your immune system, lowering the risk of infections and cancers
- Regulating your body weight, preventing or managing obesity and metabolic syndrome
- Elevating your mood, reducing the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress
- Increasing your cognitive function, preventing or delaying the decline of memory, attention, and executive skills
- Promoting your social well-being, improving your relationships, communication, and cooperation with others
- Enriching your quality of life, increasing your satisfaction, happiness, and self-esteem
Therefore, overcoming the barriers to physical activity is essential for your health and well-being, and it can also help you achieve your personal, professional, and social goals.
How can you overcome the barriers to physical activity?
Overcoming the barriers to physical activity may seem challenging, but it is not impossible. You can use some strategies and tips that can help you overcome the barriers to physical activity, such as:
- Make time for physical activity: You can prioritize physical activity in your schedule by setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals. For example, you can set a goal to walk for 30 minutes, three times a week, after work, for the next month. You can also plan ahead and prepare for potential obstacles, such as bad weather, traffic, or emergencies, that may interfere with your physical activity. For example, you can have a backup plan to exercise indoors, use public transportation, or reschedule your physical activity. You can also integrate physical activity into your daily routine, such as taking the stairs, walking or cycling to work, or doing household chores.
- Increase your motivation for physical activity: You can increase your motivation for physical activity by finding your intrinsic and extrinsic reasons to be physically active. Intrinsic reasons are those that come from within yourself, such as enjoying physical activity, feeling good, or improving your health. Extrinsic reasons are those that come from outside yourself, such as getting rewards, recognition, or social support. You can also use self-regulation techniques, such as self-monitoring, self-evaluation, and self-reward, to track your progress, compare your performance, and celebrate your achievements. For example, you can use a fitness tracker, a journal, or an app to record your physical activity, review your results, and reward yourself with a treat, a compliment, or a break.
- Choose enjoyable physical activities: You can choose enjoyable physical activities that suit your preferences, interests, and abilities. You can explore different types of physical activities, such as aerobic, anaerobic, flexibility, or balance exercises, and find out what you like and dislike. You can also vary your physical activities, such as changing the intensity, duration, frequency, or mode of exercise, to avoid boredom, monotony, or plateau. You can also customize your physical activities, such as adding music, games, or challenges, to make them more fun, engaging, and satisfying.
- Seek support for physical activity: You can seek support for physical activity from your family, friends, or community. You can invite them to join you in physical activity, or ask them to encourage, assist, or accompany you. You can also join a group, a club, or a program that offers physical activity opportunities, such as a gym, a sports team, or a fitness class. You can also seek professional help from a health care provider, a fitness instructor, or a coach, who can advise, guide, or train you on how to be physically active safely and effectively.
- Prevent or manage injury from physical activity: You can prevent or manage injury from physical activity by following some safety guidelines, such as:
- Warm up before and cool down after physical activity, to prepare your muscles, joints, and cardiovascular system for exercise and to prevent stiffness, soreness, or cramps.
- Wear appropriate clothing, footwear, and equipment, to protect your body from injury, discomfort, or infection.
- Learn and practice proper techniques, postures, and movements, to perform physical activity correctly and efficiently.
- Start slowly and gradually, and increase the intensity, duration, frequency, or mode of physical activity as your fitness level improves, to avoid overexertion, fatigue, or injury.
- Listen to your body, and stop or rest when you feel pain, discomfort, or fatigue, to prevent further damage or complications.
- Seek medical attention, if you have any signs or symptoms of injury or illness, such as swelling, bruising, bleeding, infection, fever, or difficulty breathing, to get proper diagnosis and treatment.
Examples and resources to help you overcome the barriers to physical activity
To help you overcome the barriers to physical activity, I have provided some examples and resources that you can use or refer to. These are not exhaustive or definitive, but they can give you some ideas and inspiration to start or continue your physical activity journey.
Examples of SMART goals for physical activity:
- I will walk for 30 minutes, three times a week, after work, for the next month.
- I will join a yoga class for 60 minutes, twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, for the next three months.
- I will swim for 45 minutes, once a week, on Saturdays, for the next six weeks.
Examples of self-regulation techniques for physical activity:
- I will use a pedometer to measure the number of steps I take every day, and aim for 10,000 steps per day.
- I will use a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) scale to assess the intensity of my physical activity, and aim for a moderate level of 4-6 out of 10.
- I will use a calendar to mark the days I complete my physical activity, and reward myself with a movie night at the end of the month.
Examples of enjoyable physical activities:
- I will dance to my favourite music for 20 minutes, four times a week, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, for the next two months.
- I will play tennis with my friend for 60 minutes, once a week, on Wednesdays, for the next eight weeks.
- I will hike on a scenic trail for 90 minutes, once a month, on the first Saturday of each month, for the next four months.
Examples of support for physical activity:
- I will ask my partner/friend to join me in walking every evening after dinner, and to remind me of my goal and progress.
- I will join a local running club that meets every Saturday morning, and to make friends with other runners who share my passion and challenges.
- I will hire a personal trainer who can design a customized workout plan for me, and to motivate and instruct me on how to exercise properly and effectively.
Examples of safety guidelines for physical activity:
- I will do some dynamic stretches, such as arm circles, leg swings, and lunges, before I start my physical activity, and some static stretches, such as hamstring, quadriceps, and calf stretches, after I finish my physical activity.
- I will wear comfortable and breathable clothing, such as a t-shirt, shorts, and socks, and supportive and cushioned footwear, such as sneakers or running shoes, when I exercise.
- I will learn and practice the correct techniques, postures, and movements for my physical activity, such as keeping my back straight, bending my knees, and breathing deeply and evenly.
- I will start with a low intensity, duration, frequency, or mode of physical activity, such as walking for 10 minutes, once a day, on a flat surface, and gradually increase them as I get fitter, such as jogging for 20 minutes, twice a day, on a hilly terrain.
- I will listen to my body, and stop or rest when I feel pain, discomfort, or fatigue, such as a sharp or dull ache, a burning or tingling sensation, or a shortness of breath or dizziness.
- I will seek medical attention, if I have any signs or symptoms of injury or illness, such as swelling, bruising, bleeding, infection, fever, or difficulty breathing, and follow the advice and treatment of my health care provider.
Resources to help you overcome the barriers to physical activity:
- The WHO website provides information and guidelines on the benefits, recommendations, and types of physical activity for different age groups and populations.
- The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) website offers resources and tips on how to start and maintain physical activity, such as the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q), the Exercise is Medicine initiative, and the ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website features tools and programs to help you overcome the barriers to physical activity, such as the Physical Activity Planner, the Move Your Way campaign, and the Active People, Healthy Nation initiative.
- The Mayo Clinic website provides articles and videos on how to overcome the barriers to physical activity, such as the 7 benefits of regular physical activity, the 10,000 steps a day challenge, and the 10 tips to stay motivated.
- The Healthline website shares stories and advice on how to overcome the barriers to physical activity, such as the 13 tips to make exercise a habit, the 11 best fitness apps, and the 9 ways to find your exercise motivation.
Physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health and well-being, but it can also be one of the hardest things to do. You may face many barriers to physical activity, such as lack of time, motivation, enjoyment, support, or fear of injury, that can make you give up or avoid physical activity. However, you can overcome these barriers with some strategies and tips, such as making time, increasing motivation, choosing enjoyable activities, seeking support, and preventing or managing injury. You can also use some examples and resources that can help you along the way. By overcoming the barriers to physical activity, you can achieve your fitness goals and enjoy the benefits of physical activity for your physical, mental, and emotional health.