Overcoming Barriers to Exercise

WomenExerciseClass300X200We all know exercise is good for us. In fact, if the positive effects of exercise could be put in pill form, it would be—by far—the most powerful drug on the market, preventing nearly every major chronic disease. But fitting exercise into our busy lives can seem impossible. Getting the recommended minimum amount of exercise takes determination and a little creativity. By shifting your outlook, you can build some healthy habits over time and be on your way to a healthier and more active 2017.

First let’s talk about how much exercise is recommended. Health professionals, including those at the Centers for Disease Control, suggest people get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week. This equals 30 minutes, 5 days per week of “cardio.” Cardio gets you breathing harder, your heart beating faster, and breaking a sweat. The talk test is a simple way to measure this. In general, if you’re doing a moderate intensity activity you can talk, but not sing, during the activity. Examples include walking briskly, water aerobics, riding a bike on level ground, and gardening.

Now that you know what’s recommended, let’s address how you fit these workouts into your life. People cite a list of common barriers or reasons they don’t exercise as much as they know they should.

Time. We are all very busy, and many people say that they can’t find the time to exercise. One of the easiest way is to get up 30 minutes earlier. Time that you would usually be sleeping offers few appointments or other distractions. Note that you may need to go to bed earlier too, to ensure you get enough sleep.

If the morning workout doesn’t work for you, try getting three 10-minute sessions, instead. You could walk during a lunch break, ride a stationary bike during commercials while watching a favorite show, or have a mini dance party while waiting for dinner to cook (kids, especially, are eager to join in on this one!) These are just a few examples of 10-minute spans of time you could use to reach your 30-minute goal. Use your imagination!

Motivation. For many people, the type of exercise they choose and the people they are exercising with need to be fun and engaging. Consider joining a local running, skiing, or hiking group, or a bowling league. Plan social activities involving exercise, including a family hike, sledding party, or snowshoeing adventure. That way, it is not just exercise; it is exercise and entertainment. And exercising with people you enjoy is good not only for physical health but social and emotional health, too. The more benefits you see, the more likely you are to do it!

Technology offers new tools people use to stay motivated. Explore the many fitness and activity trackers or smartphone apps, like Map My Run, which offer fun and interactive challenges and help you see the progress you’re making. And don’t underestimate a great playlist of your favorite music to keep you moving.

Money. You may be thinking, “I don’t have the money for all this!” Many forms of exercise—including walking, climbing stairs, jogging, and running—require little equipment other than a good pair of sneakers. Join a free exercise class like Bone Builders, offered at sites throughout Bennington County. If you are a Vermont woman, contact Ladies First, a program that provides free gym memberships and other benefits to low and middle income women who qualify. Plus, many gyms offer discounted rates based on income or for residents, families, seniors, and employees of the area’s major employers. You may need to make a small investment, but it is worth it!

Weather. Winter in Vermont can seem to last forever. There are many ways to stay active when it’s cold or rainy. If you enjoy walking outside in the summer, walk laps at a local mall or large store (locally, Walmart, Hannaford, Price Chopper, or Home Depot). The Bennington Fire Station and Sacred Heart Parish Center allow walking laps indoors on certain days and times for free. Alternatively, just bundle up and go! The streets can be very peaceful in snowy weather, and the resistance snow provides, like sand on a beach, actually improves your workout.

Fear of Injury. For those with injuries in their past, exercise can seem risky. But, for almost everyone, the health benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks of getting hurt. If you have an injury or chronic disease, talk with your doctor about your concerns. He or she likely will give you tips and encouragement to get started or recommend a specialist who can help you on your way. For instance, if you are struggling with arthritis, back pain, musculoskeletal injuries, or impaired balance, a referral to a physical therapist can help you develop ways to be as active as you can be and establish an individualized home exercise program.

Those with trouble breathing might benefit from a pulmonary rehabilitation program, which combines exercise and education specifically for people with chronic lung conditions. Those with a history of heart disease may qualify for cardiac rehabilitation. In both programs, highly skilled clinical professionals monitor your vital signs to ensure you are exercising safely and give you confidence to exercise on your own.

Now, with the knowledge to overcome the most common barriers to exercise, you are ready to make an exercise plan that will work for you. Remember, physical activity is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug. All it takes is some creativity and determination. Here’s to a happier, healthier and more active you!

Caitlyn Boyd, DPT is a staff physical therapist and the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program Coordinator at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, VT. For more information about community exercise options and physical therapy, cardiac rehabilitation, or pulmonary rehabilitation services, please contact Caitlyn at (802) 447-5140 or Caitlyn.Boyd@svhealthcare.org.