Often people forget to exercise. Even with the best of intentions, life is chaotic. Work and family plans change – sometimes we simply don’t feel like exercising. For the roughly 80% of Canadians who are not meeting the Public Health Agency of Canada's recommended exercise guidelines, the biggest challenge in fitness is to exercise in the first place.
Since lack of physical activity is one of the most common risk factors for global mortality, and is a strong causative agent of high blood glucose, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol (all among the top 5 global mortality risk factors), I've been pouring my heart and mental attention on why it is that so few people seem to be able to exercise regularly.
People say that lack of motivation is the problem. I say that motivation is an arbitrary word that isn't helping us solve any problems. Instead, I believe that lack of something I call "exercise availability" is the key issue at stake. Read below to see if this rings true for you.
Exercise Availability Helps us Move More Often and Better
Exercise availability is my way of describing the level of ease that someone has to access an exercise routine and execute it.
Here is my list of barriers which degrade exercise availability:
Lack of Urgency - Nobody needs to exercise to live for the next 48 hours, though everyone must eat food and drink water. Switching from unhealthy to healthier foods is a matter of substitution, but choosing to exercise where no exercise usually takes place is a matter of investing additional time and effort.
Lack of Triggers - Forgetting to exercise or not thinking about exercising in the first place makes it impossible to exercise.
Mental Load - Not memorizing and knowing by heart the principles of how to exercise makes it complex to get started on any single exercise session because we don't have an exercise plan that we can trust to deliver us results. Therefore we have to be bothered with figuring out what to do and how to do it, and when and where. This makes us want to avoid exercising altogether.
Physical Distance - Being far from the gym or appropriate places to exercise, change, and shower makes it likely that we don't have enough time or willingness to go through such lengths just to exercise once.
Exercise Anxiety - Being afraid of exercising, being ashamed of our physical appearances, and fears about our health or previous injuries or conditions are all contributing to analysis paralysis and an overall anxiety of exercising.
Skepticism - (My heart goes out to people who are experiencing this barrier). Some people have tried and sampled many different kinds of exercise routines and are convinced that none of them have been worth it for them in terms of time and effort for the results they got. Now they are convinced that exercise just isn't worth it for them, and that they have poor DNA/genes.
Identity Clash - People of various ethnicities, sexes, and ages have an differing ideas of what it means to exercise. For instance, men seem to focus too much on their biceps and disregard their flexibility, balance, core and legs through activities like squatting, yoga and pilates. Women have a poor rate of strength training adoption. The elderly avoid exercise because they believe that they cannot do anything about their aging state, and that exercising is bad for their health and instead they need to rest.
Imagine a perfect-storm scenario: how difficult it would be for a woman to exercise if she has with no gym membership, no knowledge of how to exercise, a deeply-seated self-concept which tells them not to exercise, and a fear of strenuous activities and shame of her own body image?
Very difficult isn't it?
The key to consistently exercising is to confront our exercise availability barriers.