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The no-excuses guide to personal fitness

You can come up with plenty of reasons to avoid exercising. Learn how to overcome them so you can get the best results.

You want to get in shape, stay healthy, and feel great in your body. First, some good news: That’s 100% possible. But here’s some semi-bad news: To stay in shape, stay healthy, and get those sculpted biceps you’ve always wanted, you’ve got to stick to it. And above all, you can’t make excuses.

That’s the definition of “easier said than done,” right? But getting over that excuse hump might be easier than you realize.

It starts by changing your approach, says Julia Buchanan, Ph.D. She’s an assistant professor of health promotion and education, as well as the program coordinator of exercise science, at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio.

First: Don’t even call your excuses “excuses” anymore. Call them “barriers” instead. “The term ‘excuse’ implies judgment and can lead to self-criticism and blame,” Buchanan explains. “Using the term ‘barriers’ is a more objective approach. Although they present challenges, we can still work around them.”

Second: Realize that changing your habits takes time and that you’ll have ups and downs along the way. “Sometimes you need to just start and have the mindset that there will be barriers but that you will be solution-focused,” says Buchanan. “When a barrier is anticipated, we can already have a plan in place to work around it.”

And finally, Buchanan also recommends that you break down your goal into smaller steps that increase in size over time. “A smaller step can be started immediately, doesn’t require motivation or willpower, is safe, and – over time – is transformative,” she says.

When you deal with setbacks, keep moving forward. “Embrace all of these phases as learning opportunities and stay the course,” says Buchanan. “Consistency is key.”

Now that you’ve got the steps for shifting your approach, it’s time to put them into action. Below, find 7 common barriers to knock down on your road to exercise success.

Exercise Barrier #1: “I’m too tired to exercise after work or dealing with my family.”

For this barrier, try experimenting a bit. Figure out when you have the most energy each day and exercise then. “Could the exercise be done in the mornings or midday, as opposed to waiting until the end of the day?” asks Buchanan.

You could also split your exercise routine into smaller chunks throughout the day or combine it with other activities. For example, go out for a jog in the morning before you get settled at work and then hit the weights in your basement after hours. “Are there ways that you can be active with your family or while at work so you can make the most of your time?” asks Buchanan.

And remember: Regularly working out starts a positive energy loop. You’ll feel less tired the more you do it.

Exercise Barrier #2: “I’m not motivated.”

Buchanan recommends creating ways to help you stick to your habit, such as making a fun workout playlist, shopping for new athletic clothes, or tying exercise to activities you enjoy like meeting a friend afterward. Even better, maybe you can play pickup hockey or attend a yoga class with your friends. “And celebrate,” Buchanan adds. “Taking time to focus on the positive emotions that the movement brings will build self-efficacy over time.”

One thing you can always find motivation for? Good health. Find out what health insurance plan might be right for you by checking out your options here.

Exercise Barrier #3: “I don’t have enough time.”

Start by outlining your daily schedule and priorities. If you know your day is going to be busy from your first virtual meeting to your little one’s last kiss goodnight, try to sneak in a mini workout in the morning.

Getting up an hour earlier may feel impossible, but remember: Start small. Set the clock 15 minutes earlier and do a quick yoga set. Once you’ve got that down, set it back another 15 minutes, and so on. Again, maybe you can break up your exercise into smaller sessions throughout the day.

Buchanan offers ideas like “a 10-minute walk in between meetings or while waiting for your kids to get done with practice” or “parking further away from the store,” which forces you to put in more effort to get from point A to point B. You could also exercise first thing in the morning, before your day gets busy. You could even go on a walk or a light jog for half of your lunch break.

Exercise Barrier #4: “I hate it.”

Buchanan suggests a word swap again: Stop calling it “exercise” and call it “movement” instead. “There are so many creative ways to move that don’t need to be labeled as exercise,” she says.

It’s all about finding physical activities that you enjoy doing. “Whether it’s taking a walk in nature, attending weekly group exercise classes, doing yoga at home, joining a running or cycling club, performing community service, lifting weights, or training for fitness competitions, if you can find what brings you joy, you will be more likely to sustain the behavior over time,” says Buchanan.

The key is to keep trying new activities until you find your movement match.

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Exercise Barrier #5: “I’m too embarrassed to go to the gym.”

“There are so many ways you can be active at home, outdoors, or in other fitness spaces such as studios, as opposed to a traditional gym,” Buchanan says. If you do want to try a gym, she suggests starting small. For example, bring a friend, get to know the gym instructors and staff, and have them show you around. “The more your surroundings become familiar to you, the less hesitation you will have about going,” she adds.

Exercise Barrier #6: “It’s too expensive.”

The great news is that there are tons of options that don’t cost a penny. “For instance, you can walk outside or at the park, exercise at home with items found around the house, or find a fun dance video to do on YouTube,” says Buchanan. “Movement, in its very nature, is free.”

Although finances are a real problem for some, if there’s something you really like, consider its value and see if you can prioritize it in your budget. If you see fitness as a “need,” not a “want,” you might be more willing to invest in your health.

Exercise Barrier #7: “It’s too cold, hot, rainy...”

If you exercise indoors, you usually won’t have to worry about the elements. But if you exercise outdoors, consider what you can do safely. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of having the right gear for the weather, especially when it comes to cold or rain,” says Buchanan. “In the heat, you could try going to areas with plenty of shade or doing your workout in the early morning.”

Bottom line: There are an infinite number of barriers you can set up to avoid movement. To break them down, start small and work your way up. In no time, you’ll be working out regularly and feeling healthier, too!

Staying healthy may start with the right health insurance plan. Learn more about your options.

This advertisement contains information compiled by UnitedHealthcare. UnitedHealthcare does not represent that these are statements of fact. Please consult directly with your primary care physician if you need medical advice.


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