“Inactivity is the greatest public health threat of this century and it is almost completely preventable.” Dr. Frank Booth

Here’s a sobering statistic. According to a study from the CDC, 97 percent of Americans fail to meet ‘healthy lifestyle’ criteria that can help prevent heart disease, the number one cause of death in the US. It’s not a coincidence that those who become very sick and die from COVID-19 (over 1 million people in the US) are largely people with preventable chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. According to the CDC, “People who do little or no physical activity, or exercise, are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19 than those who are physically active.”

Despite all the available research on the benefits of daily physical activity and eating wholesome foods, most people in our country struggle with making healthy lifestyle changes. There are a number of personal and environmental barriers that help explain our unhealthy behaviors. Three of the most common personal barriers to physical activity are: a lack of time, lack of energy, and lack of motivation. Having a better understanding of these barriers, and coming up with strategies to help us move more throughout the day, can significantly improve our health and quality of life as we age.

Suggestions for Overcoming Physical Activity Barriers

Lack of time

  • Monitor your daily activities for one week. Identify at least three 30-minute time slots you could use for physical activity.
  • Add physical activity to your daily routine. For example, walk or ride your bike to work or shopping, walk the dog, gardening, take the stairs instead of the elevator, sit on the floor (on a pillow) while you watch TV, park farther away from your destination, etc.
  • Select activities requiring minimal time, such as walking, jogging, or stair climbing.

Lack of energy

  • Schedule physical activity for times in the day or week when you feel most energetic.
  • Convince yourself that if you give it a chance, physical activity will increase your energy level; then, try it.

Lack of motivation

  • Plan ahead. Make physical activity a regular part of your daily or weekly schedule and write it on your calendar.
  • Invite a friend to exercise with you on a regular basis and write it on both your calendars.
  • Join an exercise group or class.

Learn more about other barriers to physical activity.

Aside from the well-known health benefits of daily physical activity (e.g. better sleep, mood and cognition, immune system, etc.), adherence to an exercise program will make daily activities easier and your quality of life will improve as you age. In order to stick with a regular exercise routine, it’s important to approach the activity with right mindset.

There are many immediate benefits of pursuing an active lifestyle that transcend long-term goals such as losing weight or making health improvements. Finding the right activity or fitness routine that you enjoy, and paying attention to how you feel before and afterwards, can help you remain active throughout your life. If you’re lacking motivation, find a friend or fitness class that agrees with you. When leading my group fitness classes I try to encourage the intrinsic joy of movement that every person is capable of experiencing, and make it relevant to their lives. Check out this video that demonstrates how our Functional Fitness classes can relate to everyday activities.

Fear of injury and a lack of confidence in athletic abilities can also derail an exercise program, so when beginning a program take small steps to build confidence and adherence. Also, Constrained Action Hypothesis suggests our bodies know how to move better than our conscious minds do.  The more we concentrate or consciously tell our bodies what to do, the less fluid and efficient our movement becomes. This seems counterintuitive to the many coaching cues I give during classes, e.g. align your posture, hinge your hips back, screw your hands into the ground, breathe in through your nose, etc. However, these are cues that mostly apply to newer participants to prevent injury and improve their functional movement skills, hoping it develops confidence and adherence.

Finally, to truly reap the benefits of a weekly exercise program, you should establish a habit of daily physical activity that is not formal “exercise”. Again, that could be a long walk, or working in your garden, or doing your favorite recreational activity. For those with low activity levels it could mean just getting up from your chair each hour to walk, clean the house, dance, stretch, prepare and cook a meal, or anything else to break up sedentary behavior. And remember, don’t be hard on yourself if you get sidetracked on your wellness journey. There’s no “X” on the map where the trail ends, so, it’s never too late to muster the courage and try again.

Share Your Wellness Thoughts: What is your biggest barrier to moving more throughout the day, and what strategy could you take to overcome it?