Exercise provides a wide array of health benefits. Working out can boost heart health, help you to sleep better, and can even improve your mood. And yet, many of us find reasons to avoid physical activity. From disliking the standard exercise options to simply having too much to do, exercise can sometimes fall off the bottom of your to-do list.
Fortunately, there are solutions to almost every challenge people face. If you want to take advantage of the mental, physical, and social benefits of working out, it might be worth thinking about the factors that stand in the way of establishing this good habit. If you can identify the roadblock, you can find a way to overcome it.
5 Top Reasons People Don't Exercise
There are many reasons people don't exercise. Do any of these issues look familiar to you? These are the most common impediments to working out, as well as ways to address each challenge.
1. Busy Schedule
A busy schedule is one of the most common reasons people don't exercise, according to a 2020 study of university students in Chile. Whether the busy schedule is due to a job, a heavy class schedule, family responsibilities, social obligations, or other demands, it can be difficult to fit physical activity into an already packed day.
However, it is possible to find the time to exercise. Here are some suggestions to add physical activity to your day:
- Write a regular exercise time in your weekly planner. Schedule a cumulative 30 minutes of exercise daily, if possible. Having it on your calendar means it won't get pushed aside for meetings and other appointments.
- Break it up into small chunks of time. You can break your exercise down into three, ten-minute walks if you can't find a 30-minute block in your day. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), you should perform moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week or at least three times a week, but it doesn't have to be all at once.
- Hire a personal trainer. Hire a personal trainer and meet for scheduled workout periods. The personal trainer can develop a workout plan for your specific fitness level, goals, and availability.
- Take an exercise class. A group fitness class can be a fun way to fit exercise into your schedule. And because it happens at a set time, you'll be able to schedule around it in advance.
2. Lack of Motivation
Many people also cite "laziness" as a reason they don't exercise, suggests the 2020 study. There are lots of other things to do on any given day, and most of them require far less energy than getting your body moving. It may not even really be laziness that causes people not to exercise but something that feels similar to laziness: a lack of motivation and energy to put toward this goal.
The key to overcoming a lack of motivation is to make exercise more rewarding. There are a few ways to do this:
- Gamify your workout. A 2018 review of the literature found that study participants were far more likely to stick to an exercise plan if the program was gamified. Video games and virtual reality-based exercise can keep exercise fun and in-game rewards might incentivize you to work out.
- Set some rewards. People tend to work for rewards, and you're the best person to know what will motivate you. Tell yourself you can buy a new outfit or go on a small trip when you've had a set number of months of working out.
- Get a workout buddy. Having a friend who also works out can help motivate you to stay on track. You can also set up a challenge where you both earn points for exercising. Many fitness trackers also allow you to connect with a community of exercisers to set up challenges and compete.
- Know your goals and track progress. If you have a specific fitness goal, it is important to do exercises that work toward that goal and measure your progress. Keep notes about weight lost, reps gained, or endurance extended.
3. Difficulty Forming a Habit
It can be difficult to create a new exercise habit. If you've tried exercising before but haven't been able to stick with a program, this can feel like a failure. It may lead you to feel discouraged. You might also feel like the exercise was ineffective.
Fortunately, a 2018 literature review on exercise habit formation found that there were several ways to make physical activity a part of your daily life:
- Put physical activity into the context of your life. There are many ways to fit exercise into your daily life, and making these moments part of your routine can help build a good habit based on cues. For example, when you see the stairs, choose to walk up to your destination instead of taking the elevator.
- Create a consistent workout plan. Put together a workout plan and commit to the workout plan for a scheduled period of time every day or every other day, keeping the activity and the timing consistent. This can help keep you focused on exercise, since the repetition may aid in habit formation.
- Be clear about your intention. Forming a habit requires a daily commitment, so it can help to create a clear intention for yourself. A statement like, "I will go for a walk every day at noon" can help you strengthen your resolve. You might even want to write out your intention and post it in a place where you can see it every day.
4. Discomfort and Dislike
When a person hates exercise, it can be because they find it boring or painful. Some people give up on exercise because of a previous injury or because the activity they are doing simply doesn't feel fun.
There are a few ways to make sure your exercise routine is pleasant and comfortable:
- Make your physical activity a hobby. Finding the right exercises that are enjoyable can help prevent boredom. Some people do best by taking up a physical activity hobby like karate or rollerblading instead of traditional exercise like classes and workout machines.
- Take time to warm up. Warming up and cooling down before and after exercise may prevent injury, although studies show that cool downs are not as important as doctors once thought. Even so, taking some time to create a transition for yourself between activity and the rest of your day may be helpful physically and mentally.
- Talk to your doctor about health conditions. If a health problem seems like an obstacle to exercise, people should talk to their doctor for recommendations on how to safely exercise. There are many low-impact or no-impact exercises, such as swimming, that are safe for many people with health problems.
- Change things up. If a person gets easily bored with exercise, changing a routine frequently can help keep them focused on exercise. Try lots of new activities to find one you really like.
5. Limited Budget
It can sometimes feel like you need a gym membership or some costly equipment to start exercising. Classes, trainers, and gear can cost a lot of money, and this can be a barrier for some people.
If a limited budget prevents you from affording a gym membership or equipment, there are other ways to get exercise without spending a lot of money:
- Look for free classes. Some recreational centers and YMCAs have low-cost or free exercise classes. You may also find these as part of your community education offerings.
- Choose activities that don't require investment. You can exercise at home without expensive equipment. Taking up running or walking provides a free cardio workout. Cheap dumbbells and an exercise mat are enough for an an effective home workout.
- Watch for deals on secondhand equipment. If you want to work out with weights or buy a bike, keep an eye out for deals on used gear. Buying pre-owned equipment can be significantly less expensive than new.
While there are many reasons that you might choose not to exercise, there are even more reasons to stick to a workout program. It is worth rearranging a busy schedule or trying new things to fit exercise in for a happier and more productive life.