The top three barriers to exercise are: “No time” (54.6 per cent), “Too tired” (12.1 per cent) and “Too lazy” (11.6 per cent).

The Lifestyle Enhancement & Fitness Improvement (LIFE) Centre from Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group, shares how you can beat them and get yourself to exercise more regularly.

Top 10 reasons for not exercising and how to beat them

1) I have no time

Change your perception. The recommended exercise duration (150 minutes) represents only about 1 per cent of your time in a week. Prioritise what is really important in your life. Use time management skills to schedule exercise during your week.

If you can’t find a block of ​30 minutes in your day, break up your exercise time into two periods of 15 minutes. Include physical activities that you can perform as part of your daily routine. For example, you could walk for 15 minutes after lunch.

2) I’m too tired

Schedule exercise at the time of the day that you feel most fresh, typically at the beginning of the day. Tiredness that prevents us from exercising at the end of the work day is mostly mental fatigue. After exercise, you will actually feel much refreshed.

3) I have family obligations

A​sk family members to help out with family obligations (e.g., babysitting, household chores) so you can make time for exercise. Another suggestion is to involve family members, so that you can spend time together and exercise as well. You can also exercise at home or during lunch breaks, so that you do not need to take time away from home.

4) I’m too lazy / I don’t have the willpower

Reminding ourselves that our family, colleagues and friends depend on us to be healthy can help us sustain motivation to exercise. Whenever you notice you’re having negative feelings about exercising, say “STOP!” in your mind then use positive statements, such as “Let’s do it” or “Stay focused”. 

Even a mantra in the form of a single word like “Focus” or “Go” can be helpful.

5) I don’t like to exercise

Choose a fun activity to develop your liking for exercise (e.g. frisbee, tennis, etc.). Include a variety of exercises to avoid boredom. For example, you could try trekking and brisk walking instead of just walking on the treadmill.

6) I've tried exercising in the past and failed

It’s normal to miss a session once in a while. It’s also alright to stop for a period of time. Our mind and body adapt quickly when we resume our exercise routine.

7) I lack confidence so why bother exercising?

Confidence can be built gradually. Set increasingly difficult yet achievable goals. Pick process goals which focus on the frequency and duration of exercise, e.g. “I will swim twice a week”.

Don’t focus too much on outcome goals like “I will have six-pack abs”. It is easier to see progress and build confidence when we track the efforts we put into exercise.

8) I feel intimidated when exercising in crowded places

Go to the gym, pool or exercise location at off-peak hours to feel less intimidated. Go to a less crowded branch. Remind yourself that others are just there to exercise and most of them will not pay you any attention. Start exercising the moment you arrive. This will help prevent your thoughts from running wild.

9) Exercising makes me feel uncomfortable

During strength training, focus on the range of movement or count the repetitions. Concentrating on the task at hand will distract you from the sensations in your muscles. During rehabilitation or aerobic exercises, listen to upbeat music to shift your attention from the soreness or breathlessness. Music also tends to improve your mood during exercise.

10) I'm unsure how to start exercising (I lack skills and knowledge)

Read up on the topic and get advice from professionals or friends. Join a beginner’s class so that you won’t feel pressurised.

Tell yourself that today is the day you'll change! Be the best version of yourself from now on so you can enjoy good quality of life in your later years. 

It's for your own benefit and your loved ones will appreciate that you care enough about them to take good care of yourself.

More tips to overcome barriers to exercise

A) Use imagery to overcome barriers to exercise

You can also use imagery to increase your willpower and motivation. This technique can be used many ways, for example:

  • You can imagine yourself using the rower or stepper in the gym more frequently.​​

  • You can imagine yourself overcoming tiredness and feeling refreshed right after exercising.

Imagery can also be helpful to help you overcome time management issues. Think about the precise time you will exercise, and how it will fit in with your other daily activities.

b) Change your mindset on what you perceive are barriers

Most if not all barriers to exercise can be overcome. Sometimes, our perception that the barriers are daunting may prevent us from taking any action (whether or not the barriers are real). It may be helpful to adopt a different perspective.

“There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don’t allow yourself to become one of them.” - Ralph Marston, US motivator

Need help adopting a better lifestyle? The Singapore General Hospital​ (SGH) LIFE Centre has a multidisciplinary team of experts who can provide you with guidance on weight management, exercise and diet.

Ref: I23​​ (ed)

Check out more articles on exercise:

5 Ways to Stay Motivated to Exercise Regularly

Brisk Walking: The Easy Way to Better Health and How to Do It Right

3 Best Exercises for the Heart

Top Exercises for Seniors