While we all know that regular exercise is important for good health, making exercise happen can be challenging. Whether it’s finding time in your schedule, being overwhelmed by information overload, or just trying to stay motivated, there are multiple barriers that can lead to failure. Here are 10 tips to get past these barriers so you can reap the benefits of exercise in your life.

1. Focus on the present

Let go of guilt and regret. This suggestion might seem counterintuitive – doesn’t guilt motivate? – but feeling guilty or regretful that you aren’t exercising can drain your emotional reserves, which isn’t helpful. It doesn’t matter how often you have tried to start exercising, because then isn’t now. So, let the past go because you can’t change it. What you can change is now and tomorrow. Set your sights forward. Focus on what you can do today and what you want down the road.

2. Clearly identify your motivation 

Starting something new is difficult. Having a clear reason why you want to do it can mean the difference between success and failure. Your motivation is yours alone, so it can be anything. To be successful, identify something that is: 

  1. Positive or empowering (e.g., “So I can…” instead of “So I don’t…”).
  2. Important enough that it will get you up and moving even on those days when you really, really don’t want to.
  3. Likely to last long term. If your strongest motivator is short term, then replace it each time it expires (e.g., feeling better/healthier is a motivation that won’t stop being relevant, while fitting into a new outfit for a special event will pass).

Once you identify your motivation, write it down or find a picture to represent it and post it where you see it daily. Move the reminder around or change its appearance occasionally to keep it present in your mind.

3. Set small and achievable short-term goals 

Your motivation is the why, but your goals are the how. A goal is not an endpoint, it’s a waypoint. Start simple, understanding that each goal is a small step in the right direction. 

Set yourself up for success by setting goals that: 

  1. Are realistic – comfortably within the range of what you can accomplish now 
  2. Can be achieved in a relatively short period of time – one week to one month 
  3. Require a reasonable amount of effort – a small increase from your current state 

This strategy gives you an opportunity to succeed early and often, which reinforces your effort and creates a habit of success. Having several wins under your belt, even if they’re small, makes it easier to deal with setbacks that come along. 

Associate your goals with the exercise itself instead of the outcome

You are much more likely to succeed at the goal of walking 20 minutes three days a week than to lose five pounds in a month. Weight loss is fickle and difficult to predict, but getting up and walking is something you can control. So instead of goals related to your body, set goals related to your new exercise habit.

4. Track your progress

You get what you measure. Now that you have a goal, track its progress. There are plenty of apps to choose from, although some goals might not fit apps well. Charts and checklists can track anything and can be a fun and creative part of your new habit (use gold stars or stickers!). Parents can get their kids involved, too. It might seem silly at first, but it’s surprisingly helpful to physically see your progress. Use any tool that works for you.

And remember, whether you hit your goal or not, if you’re tracking you can use that information to help set your next goal and be proud of the progress you did make. 

5. Make an appointment to exercise 

Finding time to exercise is the most common reason to not do it, yet we find time to do many other things, often because we make appointments to do them. Create a space in your schedule for exercise and put it on your calendar. A daily appointment can help you build a habit of regular exercise. Choose any schedule that works for you. 

If your calendar is too full, then increase your intensity level during normal tasks or set a timer to get up and move a few minutes several times per day. Even five minutes of increased activity each hour will improve your health.

6. Find a workout buddy or accountability partner

For some of you it’s enough to make a decision and hold yourself accountable, but most of us are more likely to do something if we are accountable to someone else in some way. This is a big reason why people go to gyms, sign up for exercise classes, or get a personal trainer. If any of those things would help you achieve your goal to exercise more, then go for it!

If that’s not your scene because of COVID-19, your schedule, or lack of interest, that’s okay. You can achieve the same effect by involving someone you trust in your journey. Having someone to exercise with or talk to about your goals and your progress (or setbacks) who will be supportive and encouraging (and who will know if you don’t follow through) can help you stay on track and not give up. 

7. Choose exercise wisely and often

Building a new habit is hard, so whether you like exercise and got side-tracked by life, or you detest exercise but know it’s good for you, set yourself up for success by choosing activities you are at least somewhat interested in doing. When deciding what type of exercise to do, consider:

  1. The kinds of physical activities you like (or dislike less)
  2. The time you have to work with
  3. The spaces you can use for exercise
  4. The equipment you have available

Pick an activity that fits your goals within those parameters and change it up whenever you feel like it. There isn’t one particular type of exercise that is best for everyone all the time, so choose something that will make it easier, not harder, to do it.

8. Start slowly

A common mistake when beginning to exercise is to start off too enthusiastically and getting injured or too sore to continue, which keeps you from building the habit. So, if you haven’t run a significant distance in 10 years, then it’s probably not a good idea to run 10 miles on your first day.

Keep in mind that you can’t achieve dramatic physical changes in one go, and that hurting yourself only sabotages your goals. Start with something comfortable and work up gradually to where you’d like to be.

9. Warm up and cool down

Getting injured is a quick way to derail your efforts. Besides taking it slowly, a simple way to avoid a common cause of injury is to set aside time to warm up and cool down when you exercise, especially with strenuous exercise like running or weightlifting.

Although it is tempting to “hit the ground running,” abruptly switching from inactivity to activity is hard on your cardiovascular system, as well as your muscles and joints, and increases your risk of injury. Warming up and cooling down helps your body transition safely in and out of exercise mode.

Start with a brisk walk or a lighter version of your planned exercise and gradually reach full intensity. Gradually decrease intensity at the end. Add gentle stretching after the warm-up or during the cool-down.

10. Support your body

An amazing feature of your body is that it tends to respond to challenge by getting stronger. The micro-damage caused by exercise actually results in improvements in your muscles and your cardiovascular system, as well as in your brain and bones!

Making sure you get plenty of water and balanced nutrition is critical to supporting recovery, as well as the improvements in health and performance you are trying to achieve through exercise.

Although it’s best to get the majority of your nutrition from your diet, supplements can fill in gaps and boost specific nutritional areas without adding a substantial number of calories. Thorne offers many products that will support your exercise efforts. Here is a Top 5 list to cover the basics:

  1. Multi-Vitamin Elite includes a daytime formula that supports energy and a nighttime formula that supports sleep and recovery.* Both formulas include magnesium, an often overlooked essential mineral critical for many body functions.* Magnesium is important for muscle relaxation that helps avoid cramping.*
  2. FloraSport 20B® provides support for your gut, which can be temporarily disrupted when your activity level changes and your organs experience more movement than usual.*
  3. Catalyte® is a great hydration option before, during, or after a workout.* Replacing electrolytes lost during exercise helps reduce soreness and fatigue, especially in hotter weather.*
  4. Whey Protein Isolate provides optimal amounts of the amino acids that support lean muscle, which contributes to a healthy metabolism and weight.* If you’re avoiding dairy, Thorne offers other high-quality protein powders. Check out VeganPro Complex for a great all-in-one option.
  5. Meriva 500-SF helps reduce muscle and joint soreness associated with exercise by supporting a healthy inflammatory response in the joints and muscles and providing antioxidant benefits.*

Finally, remember to be both patient and persistent in your effort. It takes time to build a new habit. Remember that it is okay to adjust as you go. Remember that muscle weighs more than fat and that progress is best measured in weeks or months, not days. Most importantly, remember that you can do this, and before you know it, you’ll be feeling the benefits.