10 Barriers To Exercise And How To Overcome Them

most common barriers to exercise

A barrier to exercise refers to any factor that prevents or deters individuals from engaging in physical activity. These can include both personal factors (such as lack of knowledge about how to exercise, lack of motivation, or health problems) and environmental factors (such as cost, lack of transportation, or lack of suitable facilities).

The most common personal barriers to exercise, as reported by James H. Rimmer from the University of Illinois at Chicago, were not knowing how to exercise (46%) and not knowing where to exercise (44%). The primary barriers also varied by income group, with cost being a major barrier for nearly 80% of the lower income group. The least common barrier to exercise among the participants was “lack of time” (11%).

The effects of barriers to exercise are significant. They can prevent people from engaging in physical activity, which in turn can lead to functional decline, limit their ability to work, recreate, and engage in community events, and limit the transfer of walking skills obtained during rehabilitation to the community.

The study suggests that understanding and addressing both personal and environmental factors is crucial to overcome these barriers. For example, providing education on how to exercise, creating accessible and affordable fitness programs, and addressing health problems that prevent exercise could help overcome some of the most common barriers.

This article explains the 10 most common barriers to exercise listed below, and ways to overcome them.

  1. Don’t know how to exercise
  2. Don’t know where to exercise
  3. Lack of energy
  4. Lack of motivation
  5. Exercise won’t improve my condition
  6. I’m too lazy to exercise
  7. Health concerns prevent me from exercising
  8. Exercise is too difficult
  9. Cost of the Program
  10. Lack of time

1. Don’t Know How To Exercise

Knowing how to exercise means having the understanding and knowledge of how to perform different types of exercises correctly and safely.

It includes the awareness of how to use exercise equipment, how to structure a workout session (such as warming up, cooling down, and the actual workout), understanding the correct techniques and forms to avoid injuries, and knowing how to modify exercises to match one’s fitness level and health condition.

Not knowing how to exercise is the most common barrier to exercise, according to the 2008 Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development. It refers to a lack of knowledge or understanding about how to perform exercises correctly or how to incorporate exercise into a daily routine.

This barrier implies a perceived complexity of exercise or a lack of familiarity with different exercises, possibly leading to a fear of injury or inefficiency in workouts.

The most realistic and cost-effective solution to this barrier for adults is education and guidance about exercising.

This could take the form of free or low-cost community exercise classes, online instructional videos or workout plans, or consulting with a fitness professional or physical therapist. Incorporating simple and low-impact exercises into their daily routines, like walking or bodyweight exercises, can also be a cost-effective solution. This video from the Bumrungrad International Hospital shows how to exercise at home without any equipment.

2. Don’t Know Where To Exercise

Knowing where to exercise refers to knowing suitable, comfortable, and accessible places or environments where one can engage in physical activity or exercise. This includes places like gyms, parks, sports clubs, home gyms, walking tracks, swimming pools, community centers, and more.

According to a study by James H. Rimmer, the second most common barrier to exercise is not knowing where to workout. This refers to the feeling of being unaware or uncertain about suitable locations or spaces where one can engage in physical activity or exercise.

This could be due to a lack of awareness about local amenities or accessible facilities, or lack of suitable space at home.

The easiest solution to this barrier for adults, during winter, can be using their own home or apartment as an exercise location. There is a multitude of at-home exercises and routines available online, many of which require minimal or no equipment. Public buildings, like community centers, often offer indoor classes or have spaces available for individual workouts.

During summer, outdoor locations like parks, running tracks, or even a yard, offer an excellent venue for various types of exercises like walking, running, cycling, and group sports. Many cities also have outdoor exercise equipment in public parks that are free to use.

3. Lack Of Energy

Energy, in the context of physical exercise and health, refers to the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity. Your body can do work, and it also encompasses your feelings of health and vigor.

Lack of energy is another common personal barrier to exercise (39%), according to Dr. Rimmer’s study. It reflects a state where you feel physically and/or mentally tired, which prevents you from engaging in consistent physical activity or exercise.

If you’re tired all the time, it’s important to take a look at your lifestyle. Are you getting enough sleep? Is your diet balanced and nutritious? Make sure to prioritize a good night’s sleep and a balanced diet filled with whole foods.

It might sound counterproductive, but regular exercise can boost your energy levels. You could start with low-intensity exercises like walking, yoga, or stretching, and gradually increase intensity as your energy levels improve.

On busy days, try incorporating physical activity into your daily routine. Go for a walk during your lunch break, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or have “active” meetings where you walk and talk. Break your exercise into shorter sessions throughout the day if you don’t have a long chunk of time available.

Short bouts of exercises, such as 10 minutes of jumping jacks or a quick walk, can add up throughout the day and can help increase your energy levels too. This video shows 7 tips for people who don’t have time to exercise.

4. Lack Of Motivation

Motivation is a psychological state that drives you to act towards achieving a certain goal. It involves your desire, willingness, and reasons to commit to a particular behavior, like exercising. It can be extrinsic, coming from outside rewards (like improving appearance or health), or intrinsic, coming from inner rewards (like feeling good or enjoying the process).

According to a 2021 study by Aurélie Baillot from the University of Québec en Outaouais, a lack of motivation is a common personal barrier to exercise, as reported by 62.5% of people. This means that you may not have enough mental drive or desire to engage in regular physical activity. It often stems from an absence of clear goals, a lack of perceived value in the exercise, or discouragement due to slow progress.

If you’re not motivated, start by setting small, achievable goals that can give you a sense of accomplishment and encourage you to continue. It could be something as simple as walking for 30 minutes a day or doing 10 push-ups.

Hiring a trainer could be a big helping hand. A trainer can provide a structured workout plan, motivate you, track your progress, and help you stay accountable. However, make sure this fits your budget as hiring trainers can be pricey.

Getting a workout partner can massively boost your motivation to exercise. Enlist a friend, family member, or co-worker to exercise with you. Not only can you both motivate and hold each other accountable, but it can also make your workouts more enjoyable and social.

5. Exercise Won’t Improve My Condition

Improving health condition is the process of enhancing one’s overall health status through various means, including exercise, a balanced diet, regular health check-ups, medication when necessary, and adopting a wholesome lifestyle.

It involves bettering parameters like fitness levels, body weight, physical strength, mental health, and resilience against diseases.

According to Dr. Rimmer’s study, the belief that exercise won’t improve one’s condition is another common personal barrier to being physically active. This misconception, held by 36% of people surveyed, leads individuals to believe that physical activity won’t have any positive impact on their overall health or help manage their existing health conditions.

It might stem from a lack of understanding of the wide-ranging benefits of exercise or previous unsuccessful attempts to improve health through exercise.

If you have underlying health conditions, hiring a physical therapist can be a monumental first step. A therapist can provide you with a personalized workout plan aligned with your specific health conditions and physical capability. They can guide you through each exercise, ensuring your safety and gradually increasing your physical capacity.

Education about the numerous benefits of exercise is also a game-changer. Learning how regular physical activity can help manage and improve your health conditions, reduce your symptoms, boost your immune system, and enhance your overall well-being can motivate you to get started.

6. I’m Too Lazy To Exercise

Being lazy generally means a state of unwillingness or lack of desire to engage in physical work or mental exertion. It often involves a preference for inaction or idleness and could be due to various factors, such as lack of motivation, lack of energy, or the habit of procrastination.

A study conducted by the University of Illinois Chicago found that “I’m too lazy to exercise” is another barrier to physical activity, reported by 33% of participants. This barrier refers to a state of reluctance or disinterest in engaging in exercise and is often caused by a lack of motivation or the perceived effort required for physical activity.

One solution for combatting laziness is setting small, manageable goals to start your exercise journey. Don’t overwhelm yourself with an intense workout routine right away. Start with something as simple as a 10-minute walk around the neighborhood or doing light stretching exercises at home.

Build an exercise routine that is as convenient and enjoyable as possible. This could be finding a workout style that you enjoy, like dancing, yoga, or biking. Making the exercise fun can motivate you to stick with it.

Try integrating exercise into your daily activities. For example, you can take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further away from your destination to get a bit of a walk-in, or do some light exercises while watching Netflix. This video shows several insights on how to exercise when you feel lazy.

7. Health Concerns Prevent Me From Exercising

Personal health concerns refer to worries or fears related to an individual’s health condition. These could include concerns about existing health conditions, potential risks of physical activities, fear of injury, or worries about exacerbating a medical condition.

As per a 2008 study from the University of Illinois Chicago, 28% of individuals mentioned “health concerns prevent me from exercising” as a common personal barrier to physical activity.

This refers to situations where individuals are worried about their health condition or fear that exercising may lead to injury, which ultimately discourages them from engaging in physical activity.

A way to overcome this obstacle is by having thorough conversations with your doctors or healthcare providers. They can give you accurate information about your health condition, explain the advantages of exercising, discuss any potential risks, and provide guidance on how to exercise safely based on your circumstances.

Joining an online community of individuals who have similar health concerns can also provide support and motivation. You can share experiences, advice, and encouragement which can greatly reduce your fear and build confidence to start exercising.

8. Exercise Is Too Difficult

Physical exercise encompasses a wide range of activities that promote physical fitness, overall health, and well-being. From running and swimming to weightlifting and yoga, there are countless ways to incorporate exercise into your life. Regular physical activity is widely recognized as a key component of a healthy lifestyle.

However, many people cite the belief that exercise is too difficult as a barrier to their fitness journey. This perception may arise from attempting exercises that are too advanced or challenging for their current fitness level or a lack of knowledge on how to properly perform certain exercises.

It’s important to find exercises that suit your abilities and gradually progress as you become more comfortable and confident. With the right guidance and understanding, exercise can become an enjoyable and achievable part of your daily routine.

If you believe exercise is too complex, start with simple exercises. Engage in basic physical activities like walking, light jogging, or basic home-based exercises. As your fitness level improves, gradually incorporate more complex exercises into your routine.

There are plenty of online tutorials, videos, and apps that provide step-by-step instructions for a wide range of exercises. These resources can simplify the process and help you understand and perform exercises correctly.

9. Cost of the Program

The cost of participating in an exercise program refers to the financial investments required to engage in regular physical activity. This can include expenses such as gym memberships, fitness classes, personal trainers, workout plans, home exercise equipment, and appropriate workout attire.

According to a 2012 study conducted by Nicola W Burton from The University of Queensland, the cost of the exercise program is a common personal barrier to exercise, with most of the participants reporting it as a significant factor. This highlights the perception that maintaining an exercise routine can be financially burdensome. Interestingly, the study also found that 78% of participants expressed a preference for low-cost or no-cost activities.

While the cost of an exercise program can indeed be a concern, it’s important to remember that there are various options available that can fit different budgets. Exploring affordable alternatives and creative solutions can help make exercise more accessible and manageable for everyone.

To overcome this financial barrier, opt for free or low-cost exercise options, such as walking or running outdoors, calisthenic exercises (like push-ups, squats), or activities like dancing in your living room are completely free and can be effective workouts.

10. Lack of Time

Time to exercise is a dedicated period in your daily schedule that is specifically allocated for engaging in physical activity or workouts.

The length and timing of this period can vary depending on factors such as your work schedule, family obligations, personal preference (morning vs. evening workouts), and fitness goals.

According to a 2022 study by Megan Ewens from the Western University of Health Sciences, “lack of time” is one of the top two personal barriers to exercise. It refers to the perception that one does not have enough time in their daily routine to incorporate regular physical activity.

This feeling of time scarcity often arises from busy work schedules, family responsibilities, or a lack of effective time management strategies.

To tackle the lack of time barrier, plan and prioritize exercise just like any other important appointment in your day. Include workout time in your daily schedule and make it non-negotiable.

Optimize available time and if you cannot set aside a long period for exercise, break it up into shorter periods spread throughout the day. For example, three 10-minute bouts of physical activity can be just as effective as a continuous 30-minute workout.

What Can a Person Do To Prevent Barriers to Exercise?

To prevent barriers to exercise, a person can take the following actions based on the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention recommendations.

  • Monitor daily activities for one week and identify at least five 30-minute time slots that can be used for physical activity. This will help ensure that there is dedicated time for exercise.
  • Incorporate physical activity into daily routines by walking or riding a bike to work or shopping, organizing activities that involve physical activity, walking the dog, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, exercising while watching TV, or parking farther away from the destination.
  • Select activities such as walking, jogging, or stair climbing that can be done based on the available time slots, whether it’s 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or 20 minutes. This allows for flexibility in fitting exercise into the schedule.
  • Utilize any physical activity facilities or programs available at the workplace. This can include using on-site gyms, participating in walking meetings or conference calls, or incorporating movement during phone calls.
  • Explain the interest in physical activity to friends and family and ask for their support. Invite them to exercise together or plan social activities that involve physical activity. Developing new friendships with physically active people can also provide motivation and support.

How Can Exercise Benefits Motivate People To Start?

The numerous benefits of regular exercise can act as powerful motivators to start and maintain an active lifestyle. Regular physical exercise helps control body weight by burning excess calories that would otherwise be stored as fat. It is reported that regular moderate-intensity exercise can burn between 150 to 500 calories per session, depending on the intensity and duration.