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Overcoming Obstacles to Exercise

Overcoming Obstacles to Exercise

We all have that little voice inside our head that tells us our “barriers” to exercise can’t be overcome.  While the barriers are real, there are answers to most excuses we can come up with.  Here are a few of the most common road-blocks patients share with me on their journey toward a regular exercise routine and my suggestions for how to overcome each one.

#1: (The BIGGIE) “I don’t have the time!”

The pace our lives go these days is mind-boggling and trying to fit one more thing in can seem impossible…especially when it’s something like exercise.  The good news is that the current exercise recommendations issued by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) says that 30 minutes, 4 to 5 days per week, coupled with an active lifestyle, is all we need to invest to reap the benefits of exercise.  You don’t have to have 60 minutes or more each day to have an effective exercise routine.  It’s also important to note that not all 30 minutes have to be performed at the same time; it’s ok to split your time into two sessions of 15 minutes per day.

Shorter bursts of higher intensity exercise (i.e. climbing stairs, fast-paced walking, jumping jacks, jumping rope, etc) are a great way to get the same calorie-burn and cardiovascular training effects as 30 minutes of more moderate-paced exercise.  Higher intensity exercise is equivalent to a pace that puts you out of breath and unable to hold a conversation; something you can only sustain for 10-15 minutes.  Moderate-paced exercise is equivalent to a pace that is challenging but does allow for labored conversation while exercising.  Very few of us do not have two 15-minute “windows” in our day to take a break from work, studying, cleaning, etc and exercise.  The easiest way to take advantage of these “windows” is to plan for them.  Assess what you have planned for the week and write in your exercise sessions on your planner/calendar so you are more likely to commit to them.  Set a repeating reminder on your computer at the same time each day to pop-up and tell you to exercise.  Take your athletic shoes to work so you can walk at lunch time or during a morning/afternoon break time.  Pull out a step stool at home in the evenings while you’re watching television and step up and down for 15 minutes.  Allow yourself to get creative with when and where you can exercise and I think you will find you have the time.

#2: “It’s too hot/humid/rainy/cold/snowy to exercise”

Consider these calorie-burning indoor options:

• Walk your local mall – most malls open the outside doors an hour before the stores open to allow people to exercise without the shopping “traffic”

• At work, walk your building’s hallways and stair wells during your lunch or coffee break

• Pop in an exercise video or DVD rather than a movie on the weekend

• Check with your cable/satellite TV provider for fitness programming and use your DVR to have access to the programs on your schedule

• Purchase an aerobic step from a sporting goods store to have at home.  Set it up in front of the TV and step up and down for the first 30 minutes of the evening news/drama/reality TV show you are about to watch

• Consider joining a gym – there are a lot of 24/7 fitness centers showing up that offer lower monthly fees and shorter contract lengths (if any) to commit to

• Check with local churches or schools for after-hours access to group fitness classes or exercise equipment

• Take the stairs whenever possible everywhere you go

#3: “My Exercise Partner Quit!”

Utilizing the buddy system is a great way to find accountability and motivation for exercise…but ALWAYS depending on someone else to get you to exercise is bound to fail eventually!  If you have a workout buddy but it’s impossible to meet every day for exercise, set the goal to meet one or two days a week.  Commit to check-in with each other EVERY day via email, phone call, or text to stay accountable to your exercise goals.  There are a myriad of smartphone apps that work as a virtual exercise partner that will not cancel or quit on you, simply search the app store for a list of those available in your smartphone market.

If I find I am having a hard time with accountability to my exercise or diet, I’ll email a friend about it and ask them to check in with me the next day and ask me about how “XYZ” went.  That way, I know someone is going to follow up with me and I better stick with my plan.

#4: “I Am Bored” (insert sigh)

We have all been there…that place of deep boredom while exercising that leaves us thinking about the one million OTHER things we would rather be doing than exercising.  The best ways to overcome this obstacle are to pay more attention to how your body is responding to the exercise session and make it more challenging, if needed.  Frequent self-analysis during an exercise session can help us crank up the intensity when we realize the “movement” has become monotonous and we are counting down the minutes until we are finished.  Boredom is the body’s first response to “this is no longer challenging.”  Change up the routine by using a different piece of cardio equipment (stair climber, elliptical, rowing machine, etc.), choosing a different pre-set program that varies the intensity for you, or choosing a different walking/jogging route outside that incorporates hills or different scenery.  No one wants to feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day during our exercise session; knowing every turn and bump in the road, every car that drives by, or every neighbor that waves hello as we painstakingly will ourselves to “enjoy” what we are doing.  Adding variety and tuning-in can help ward off boredom and provide a more effective workout.

#5: “I am not seeing results”

The visual benefits of exercise (i.e. a firmer/more toned appearance) can take time to see, about 8-12 weeks.  Focusing on the non-visual benefits of exercise can be a way to measure improvement while waiting for the scale to change or the muscle definition to appear.  Focus on how stamina has improved (“I can now climb 2 flights of stairs without feeling winded!”), or how much better you are sleeping or managing anxiety/depression.  Do you just feel better? Another suggestion is to perform a self assessment every 6 weeks to measure your strength and cardiovascular improvements.

For a strength assessment, start by getting a baseline of how many push ups you can perform in a row before having to stop.  Then set a timer for 60 seconds and count the number of crunches you can perform.  Record both numbers and repeat the assessment 6 weeks into your strength training program.  For a cardiovascular assessment, simply time how long it takes you to walk a mile (or ½) and then time it again 6 weeks later.  These assessments are a great way to keep track of all the improvements you are making and keep you from focusing solely on the number on the scale or the fit of your jeans.  Exercise is about health, not just body weight!

Rebecca Johnson, ACE-CPT

Exercise Physiologist

New Life Center for Bariatric Surgery

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