Exercise is a very different experience for each of us. For some, the idea of working towards a more active lifestyle can feel quite daunting. This may be due to current fitness levels, childhood experiences, age, lack of confidence, limited time, depression and anxiety, or mobility issues.
Current NHS guidelines state that 'any activity is better than none, and more is better still'. At Second Nature, this is the mindset we suggest you adopt on your journey towards a healthier lifestyle. It's our mission to help you break down any barriers and build confidence in working towards achievable exercise goals.
When we exercise, our body releases endorphins which can improve mood, relieve stress, boost self-esteem, and provide us with an overall sense of wellbeing. The physical and psychological benefits of exercise are undeniable for everyone.
The benefits of exercise don't discriminate
We might have difficulty seeing how exercise can play a part in improving our health and wellbeing, especially if we're over a certain age, live with mobility issues, or struggle with our mental health. However, by taking a look at the research, we can see just how much of an impact exercise can have on both our physical and psychological health and wellbeing, regardless of where we're starting from. For example:
- For people over the age of 75, following a 12-week resistance exercise programme can rejuvenate 20 years worth of lost strength. If we look at this in percentage terms, the improvements seen in older people are the same as those seen in younger people.
- Yoga has been found to be extremely effective for relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety, which include sleep troubles, pain, raised cortisol levels, and a loss of energy
- For those who can't bear weight independently, seated exercises and movements have been shown to improve cognition, strength, spinal flexion, and overall quality of life
- For those at increased risk of having a fall, there's strong evidence that the combination of strength and balance-based exercise can prevent risk of falls by up to 42%.
These examples only touch the surface of how exercise can transform our lives.
In the table below, we've outlined some of the common barriers people experience when starting exercise and solutions to overcome these.
You can also find a range of exercise workouts in the 'Exercise Toolbox' in the app. These include beginner workouts, Tai chi, chair exercises, dance, strength, and pilates. We'd also recommend speaking with your health coach if you'd like more tailored workout resources.
Remember, it's never is too late to start experiencing the benefits of regular exercise.
Overcoming barriers to exercise
“I’m too old to exercise”
Exercise has been shown to improve functional wellbeing and physiological markers of health, and that's no different for older adults. The prevention and alleviation of symptoms from a range of diseases including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, osteoarthritis, and osteoporosis can all be experienced through specific types of exercise.
If you're feeling nervous or have any concerns about starting, that's completely normal. You can always find ways to get started that are within your comfort zone. Exercises like yoga and Tai Chi make excellent starting points as they include gentle movements you can focus on while building up your core strength and confidence. These exercises can be enjoyed seated or standing, so if you have any nerves about your balance or find it difficult to weight bear, they make a good choice.
“I don’t have enough time to exercise”
If you have a busy lifestyle, it may feel as though you can't fit a full workout into your schedule. However, there’s plenty of research to show that short bursts of activity can be just as effective in supporting a healthy lifestyle. Remember, any activity is better than none!
You could also consider introducing ‘exercise snacking’ into your day, which are short bursts of exercise. This could be jogging on the spot, doing squats, lunges, resistance exercises with a band, dumbbells, or even convenient items around the house such as bottles or tinned foods. These can also be done seated or standing.
If you work at a desk, you can try installing ‘Break Timer’ on Google Chrome, which will allow you to set reminders to do exercise snacking at a frequency that suits you (e.g. every hour).
“Is it normal to feel pain after a workout?”
It's normal to experience some level of pain after a workout. This is known as 'delayed onset muscle soreness' (or DOMS) and usually kicks in one or two days after exercise. This is caused by tiny microscopic tears in your muscle fibres, which lead to inflammation and soreness. These microscopic muscle tears aren't bad for your body, but can actually help to build stronger muscles by encouraging the body to repair the tiny tears.
You're more likely to experience DOMS if you're new to exercise. However, over time your body will adapt and you'll feel less sore after each exercise session. Don't worry if you do experience some muscle soreness, and try a warm bath and gentle stretches to reduce symptoms.
It's important to note that if you experience any acute pain (e.g chest or joint pain), cease exercise and get in contact with your GP.
“I struggle with my mobility”
When you struggle with your mobility, it's completely understandable that you'll face challenges in knowing where to start with exercise. Not only this, but many people feel a lack of confidence, especially if they're concerned about having a fall.
For this reason, it makes sense to get started with seated exercises to build confidence. You can work on all components of fitness from a seated position. We have a range of seated workouts in the Exercise Toolbox which will help with building strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness.
"I'm too tired to exercise"
Often after a busy day, we feel like we don't have the energy to exercise. But did you know that exercise can actually increase our energy levels!
If this is a barrier you often face, we recommend aiming for a short session instead of trying to commit to longer workouts. This might be a quick walk around the block or a form of exercise snacking like 20 squats or star jumps. Generally once you get started with the exercise, you might find you're able to keep going for longer.
If you notice your energy levels are lower at the end of the day, perhaps consider moving your exercise to the morning or lunch time instead.
Remember, any activity is better than none, and you'll be surprised how you feel after doing something small.
"I've had bad previous experiences with exercise"
We're sorry to hear you've had negative experiences with exercising in the past. Exercise is an important part of a long-term health journey, but it will look very different for each of us. We should try to avoid feeling pressured to participate in stereotypical forms of exercise if they're not suited to us.
In order to rebuild a positive relationship with exercise, it's important to find something you enjoy doing and feel confident with. Try to think outside of the box! This might be walking in nature, Zumba at home, swimming, cycling to work, or skipping. Some people also find that exercising with a friend or buddy who's starting with the same fitness level as themselves can be reassuring and fun!
"I've not lost enough weight yet to exercise"
To lose weight sustainably and gradually, it's really important to consider all aspects of your lifestyle, including sleep, stress, nutrition, and exercise. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine can help you work towards your health and weight loss goals. Also keep in mind that the benefits of exercise extend far beyond weight loss.
If you feel self-conscious or nervous about exercising in front of others, perhaps try a home workout instead. Remember that exercise doesn't have to be a long, hard session to be beneficial. Walking, yoga, or pilates are all lower-intensity and low impact. Even chair-based or simple body weight exercises are great for your physical and mental health.
"I can't exercise because I have to look after the kids"
We understand the pressures of parenting and the constraints that children can have on your free time. Getting the kids involved in your workouts is a great way to make sure you can still be active while also spending quality time with your children.
We have a great kid-friendly workout with one of health coaches Olivia that you can try at home.
If your children enjoy dancing, here's a great video that you can also join in with. It's around 30 minutes long, but you could break it down into 5-10 minutes sessions if you're short on time (or the kids are short on attention span!).
You could also try fitting in a wind-down yoga session once the children are asleep. Here's a 15-minute evening yoga workout you could try.
"I don't enjoy exercising"
There are many forms of exercise, other than the typical running, cycling, swimming, gym, or weight lifting. Exercise is simply any type of movement that gets your heart rate up. It might be dancing, yoga, a team sport, a home workout, hiking, boxing, rock climbing, or skipping. Find something that works for you! Research suggests that if we enjoy our exercise, we're much more likely to do it.
To help you find an exercise you enjoy, ask yourself the following questions:
There are also other ways to make exercise more enjoyable, like working out with a friend or taking the dog for a walk.
"It's too cold or dark to exercise"
The autumnal and winter weather can dampen our motivation to exercise, especially when all we want to do is stay warm and cosy indoors. But did you know there are actually additional benefits to exercising in cold weather? Exercising in colder conditions can lead to a lower heart rate increase, lower resting blood pressure, and lower sweat rate compared to increased temperatures. This makes winter the perfect time to start a couch to 5k!
Alongside this, fresh air also has many positive benefits to our mental health. The fresh air can help to clear our mind, lower our cortisol (stress hormone) levels, eliminate mental fatigue, better manage anxiety and depression, and improve our focus.
But if this still doesn't take your fancy, a simple solution is to exercise inside. Here are some great exercises you could try at home with little to no equipment or space needed!
"I don't feel like walking is enough"
Walking is a great way to improve your overall health. We cover the benefits of walking in more detail here. However, for some people, they don't feel like this is enough to bring about the benefits of exercise.
If you want to increase the intensity of a walking workout, why not try our 'Lamp-post HIIT' (high intensity interval training) walking session:
You could also include some resistance exercises along your walking route. For example:
If you want to step it up another notch, why not try the Couch to 5k challenge? This is a great programme that helps you to gradually build up to a 5km run.
"I don't want to do exercise that won't help me lose weight"
We discuss the relationship between exercise and weight loss in detail in our article 'Exercise and weight loss' in week 4 of the programme. The bottom line is that increasing the amount of exercise you do without making other changes to your lifestyle (like diet, sleep, and stress) might not result in weight loss. But it will help to build and retain your muscle mass and burn fat.
These changes will have a more positive impact on your long term health compared to the number on the scales. Importantly, exercise also has many positive effects on the body and mind. So any type of movement, whether it be walking, yoga, swimming, or running, can help you to improve your overall health, which is far more important in the long run.
"I'm ashamed of my size and worried about working out in front of other people"
Many of us feel self-conscious when it comes to exercise, particularly exercising in environments with lots of people, like gyms or an exercise class.
Any action which forces us outside of our comfort zone can cause stress and anxiety. However, often it's the act of moving beyond that comfort zone that allows us to grow and develop self-confidence. It helps us to realise that we're capable of so much more than we initially thought.
To help overcome these feelings of self-consciousness about our body shape or size while exercising, we can try to move away from focusing on how the exercise makes our body look, and instead focus on how the exercise makes us feel.
You can take small steps towards this by:
"I'm struggling with my motivation to exercise"
We all experience times where our motivation might be low. It's actually very unrealistic to expect ourselves to be 100% motivated all the time.
This is why forming healthy habits is so important. Building a habit to be active means that you don't need to rely on motivation or willpower to exercise. Instead, it becomes an automatic part of your weekly routine.
Here are our top tips to forming exercise habits:
'All or nothing' mindset
Sometimes we can think that unless we do exercise every single day of the week, we won't make any progress. This couldn't be further from the truth.
While we should always set realistic goals, remember that some exercise is better than none. If we've set a goal of four workouts a week and only manage two, this doesn't mean we've failed. Instead, we should celebrate and give ourselves credit - this is still two more workouts than if we'd set no goal at all.
Many people find 'elastic habits' are a helpful strategy to overcome 'All or nothing' thinking. Elastic habits are where you give yourself a bit more flexibility with your goals. Rather than doing your planned workout on an evening when you feel exhausted, you could instead decide to go for a short walk. By being more flexible in your approach, you'll be less likely to skip exercise altogether on that particular day.
"I don't have enough space at home to do a workout"
We'd all love lots of space to workout, but sometimes this isn't possible. The good news is, we can adapt home workouts to suit any size or space. We can also use other areas of the house as well, like a stairwell, landing, hallway, balcony, garden, or lounge.
Let's use a stairwell as an example. Two movement adaptations are push-ups and squats. Push-ups can be completed against the wall or on the stairs. Squats can be done where you sit onto the stair. If you want help with adapting other exercises to a confined space, reach out to your health coach.
Remember, a lack of space doesn't mean you can't exercise, you just have to adapt what you do and how you do it.
"I work shifts, so I find it difficult to exercise"
Sticking to a good routine is really important when working shifts. Here are our top three tips for exercising while working shifts:
Build your confidence to get started
Starting something new is never easy, but we have a few tips to help you on your way with exercise:
Take the time to consider different exercises that you can try. Perhaps these are exercises which you may have enjoyed in the past, or those that you may have always wanted to try. Maybe there are certain exercises that you feel hold more intrinsic value to you in relation to your own personal health goals. If walking is suitable for you as a starting point, you can always consider setting yourself a steps goal, and building on that by either increasing the amount of steps gradually, or working towards a more brisk walk.
Speak with your health coach
If you're really unsure about where to start, you can always discuss any personal barriers or goals with your health coach. They may be able to help direct you towards an exercise workout that will work for you.
Have a look through our in-app exercise workouts
By clicking on the ‘Toolbox’ section in the app, followed by ‘Exercise’, you'll see a range of different exercise workouts for inspiration, which include both seated and standing. This is something that we'll be continuing to build on in the future.
If you’re giving something a try for the first time, stay positive and open minded about the experience. You could always consider doing some exercise with your family or a friend to make it more enjoyable or use it as an opportunity to socialise.
Now that you’ve given something a try for the first time, you can reflect on the experience. How did you feel during and after? Did it provide you with a sense of achievement? What might progress look like for you in the long-term? This is a great strategy for creating an incentive, especially if you’re wanting to start building this into more of an exercise routine.
Written by Andrew Latimer and Tom Martin, Second Nature health coaches