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Overcoming exercise blocks

Motivation is the key to sticking to regular exercise. It will come easier when you start feeling the benefits of being more active, like losing weight and gaining energy. But in the early weeks, while you're still building an exercise habit, you may need some strategies to help you kick along.

Smart ways to stay motivated

Set concrete goals

“I want to lose weight” or “I want to get fitter” are good goals to have but they’re vague. Fitness experts say that it’s better to have a more specific and measurable goal to aim for — such as “in six weeks time I want to be walking for 30 minutes five days a week” or “in 10 weeks time I want to be able to jog for 20 minutes”.

The next step is to break up your big goal into little goals that you can tick off as you meet them, such as “in two weeks time I want to be walking for 30 minutes twice a week” and “in four weeks time I want to be walking for 30 minutes four times a week”. Reaching these smaller goals gives you a sense of accomplishment that helps you keep going.

Some people also find it helpful to sign up for community fitness events like a fun run or a fundraising walk and use that as their goal – it’s not only a concrete goal but a commitment too.

Make goals realistic

Goals need to be achievable – don’t set the bar so high that you set yourself up for failure. Many exercise coaches say it’s better to spend a few weeks building a small, achievable habit such as walking for 20 minutes a few times a week rather than aiming for 45 minutes or an hour. As you get fitter, you can stretch the time you spend exercising.

Link the benefits of exercise to a meaningful goal

It could be as simple as wanting to be more active with your children or grandchildren, to be fit enough for adventure travel, to drop a dress size or to tackle a health problem like rising blood pressure. When your motivation falters, focus on this goal. You could try visualising yourself achieving this goal in some small way, like zipping up a smaller pair of jeans, kicking a soccer ball with your eight-year-old or the doctor writing down a lower, healthier blood pressure. This can help keep you committed to regular walks or workouts and act as a motivator on days when you feel like skipping an exercise session.

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you skip an exercise session

Some people take an all-or-nothing approach to exercise and eating. They feel that if they slip up and eat too much chocolate or miss a day or two of exercise, they’ve blown it. Missing a regular walk (or eating chocolate) is no disaster – you can always keep going tomorrow.

Overcoming exercise barriers

“I don’t have time”

This is one of the most common barriers to a regular exercise habit. Before you start any exercise program, look at your weekly schedule and see where you can make time for exercise.

  • Try carving out time in your schedule by sacrificing an hour of TV time or delegating domestic tasks such as making dinner to other family members so you can fit in an evening exercise session. You could even use lunch breaks for regular walks or TV ad breaks for small activities such as sit ups or skipping.
  • Make exercise sessions a priority, not an afterthought. Schedule them in your diary as you would any other commitment.
  • Have a ‘quickie’ and give it all you've got! Only have 20 or even 15 minutes to exercise instead of 30 minutes or an hour? Make it really count. Go for a really brisk walk or jog/walk, include a hill or two in your route or find a set of stairs and walk up them two at a time.
  • Combine exercise with spending time with family or friends. Plan bushwalks, or try a new adventure together such as hiring kayaks or scaling the beginners’ climbs at your local climbing gym. Or you could catch up with a friend over coffee and a walk.

“It’s too hot / it’s too cold / I’m too tired”

Learn to talk yourself into exercise – not out of it. The trick is to predict the excuses you’ll make and have a counter-argument ready:

  • “It’s cold, but I can put on extra layers of clothes and walking will make me feel warmer”
  • “It’s hot, but if I wait until late afternoon and walk in the shade it’ll be easier”
  • “I’m tired, but a brisk walk will energise me.”

“Exercise is boring”

Doing the same thing all the time can get boring – the solution is to mix up your exercise activities or try to make your basic walking/jogging routine more interesting. You could:

  • Try a new form of exercise — check out the local gym or community centre and find out what classes or fitness activities are on offer (many gyms offer casual classes so you don’t have to commit to a membership)
  • Change your walking route
  • Exercise with a friend
  • Listen to your iPod when you walk.

Further information

Go for your life


Mayo Clinic. Barriers to fitness: Overcoming common problems. [online] Mayo Foundation for Medical Research and Education. c1998-2010 [last updated 21 Feb 2009, accessed 16 Aug 2010] Available from:

National Ageing Research Institute (NARI). Challenging barriers to undertaking physical activity amongst CALD groups. [online] Parkville, VIC: NARI. Sept 2008. [accessed 16 Aug 2010] Available from:

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This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

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Last published 31 October 2010