Physical activity levels among Canadian adults have been declining over the last decade. This article discusses:
- three main reasons or barriers that may contribute to this decline; and
- some of the enablers or ways to boost physical activity levels of adults, helping them to get past the barriers.
Identifying Different Barriers
Different people identify different barriers to participating in physical activity. Here are three common reasons that adults often report as barriers to being more physically active.
- The most commonly reported barrier is “lack of time.”
- Another common barrier is being “too tired to be active.”
- Many people also suggest that physical activity is “boring.”
“Lack of Time”
This barrier can be “real” or “perceived.”
- Some people perceive (or believe, or feel) that they have no time to be active, when in fact they do have some extra time available for physical activity.
- For other people, their lack of time is more “real.” That is, they actually do not have any extra time, or very limited extra time.
Sometimes, it might feel like there is no time in the day for physical activity, but by adjusting our ideas or thinking about what physical activity is or where it takes place, we might find we have more available time than we first thought.
For instance, physical activity is often thought of as something that takes place only during our leisure time. But, this is not necessarily the case. In fact, many daily activities – such as household chores, walking to work, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator – are forms of physical activity.
Try to find a strategy that helps you include physical activity in your busy schedule. This can include finding short periods of time – as little as ten minutes – for physical activity.
Try out some of these ideas:
- Use the stairs at work, or in other locations.
- Turn your coffee breaks or work breaks into “active” breaks: go for a short walk outside! Or, walk indoors if the weather is bad.
- Use active transportation (walking, biking) to work, or on local trips to schools, stores and other destinations.
- Park a block or two from your destination when doing errands, visiting friends, or going to a social or cultural event.
Finding the time to be active can require a bit of planning. For example, public transit users can leave home ten minutes earlier and walk to a transit stop that is further from home. On your way back, get off a few stops early and enjoy the walk home.
Plan your activities to include your spouse, a co-worker or a friend. Setting up exercise “dates” with others (for a walk, a meeting at the gym, a run, etc.) is a sound strategy to help you be motivated and encouraged as you aim to add more physical activity to your life.
“I’m Too Tired”
Sometimes, we can get trapped in a cycle or lifestyle where we end up being physically inactive or sedentary for too many hours a day. Many people feel tired or that they don’t have enough energy to exercise.
The “catch 22” with that kind of thinking is that without doing some exercise or physical activities, you'll have little or no energy. So, the answer is to break the cycle! Breaking the cycle and maintaining your energy and momentum with physical activity is one of the best steps you can take.
To overcome a lack of energy you may feel, try out some or all of these suggested strategies:
- Aim to be physically active in the morning. Get up 30 minutes earlier to exercise. Step outside for a brisk walk!
- Be active at lunch hour or mid-day. Keep a pair of walking shoes nearby and take a brisk walk during your break; start with short daily walks of 10 or 20 minutes, then work up to 30 minutes or more. Or, take alternate with a short walk one day, a longer one the next.
- Be prepared. Put workout clothes on top of your dresser, socks and all. Keep a full water bottle in the fridge. Have an exercise video on hand and ready to go when you get home at night.
- Get to bed earlier. “Running on empty” can make it hard to face a full day of work, raising children, or any of life’s daily challenges. Aim to go to bed earlier to make sure you're getting enough sleep, so you can start each day fully charged.
Avoid Boredom with Fun Activities
Are you bored with the physical activities you do now? Or, do you find some of the options uninteresting?
Take a “personal survey.” Take some time to seriously think about the activities or options that may work best for you. Try these strategies:
- Choose physical activities that you enjoy. The more you like it, the more likely you will make it a healthy habit, now and into the future.
- Change it up! Rotate among several activities — such as walking, swimming and cycling — to keep you on your toes while conditioning different muscle groups. If you don’t like weightlifting, go for regular walks; if you don’t like walking, join a volleyball team!
- Make it a social! Exercise with friends, relatives, neighbors or co-workers. You'll enjoy the camaraderie and fun, and the encouragement of the group.
Your “Active” Future
Most of the time physical activity doesn’t just happen; it takes a little bit of planning, a few fresh ideas, and some self-motivation. Use some of strategies suggested in this article to help you figure out what works best for you. Then, keep moving and make physical activity one of your healthy habits; you’ll be sure to feel an energy boost along the way!
Alberta Centre for Active Living
Ways to Overcome Barriers