Kelsey Graham by Kelsey Graham
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A body in motion stays in motion—until life gets in the way. Despite your best intentions, situations out of your control can hinder your ability to stay active. Even the most devoted fitness enthusiasts face challenges with exercise adherence.

To avoid a fitness relapse, it’s helpful to recognize potential barriers to exercise and develop plans to overcome them. Here are some of the biggest obstacles you may face in maintaining a physical activity regimen and strategies to avoid them.

Time

The most common barrier to exercise is lack of time. Jobs, kids, social obligations and other responsibilities frequently add up to shrink your available time for exercise. When time is tight, physical activity is easily pushed aside.

Overcoming this obstacle requires mental shifting and planning. Human bodies are meant to move, and viewing exercise as a necessary part of a healthy human existence makes creating time for it is easier. Plan exercise into your schedule and mark it on your calendar as you would any other obligation. This way, you have to plan time to be active in advance, as opposed to hoping you’ll find a few minutes to squeeze it in.

If you still find lack of time is an issue, start with five minutes of activity daily. These five minutes will add up to modest health improvements, but more importantly, they will instill a habit of regular exercise you can build upon.

Stress

When life gets hectic and you’re feeling overwhelmed, exercise might seem burdensome. Though most people know exercise is a powerful stress-buster, it isn’t easy to act on that knowledge during high-stress times. Moreover, because exercise is a stressor on the body, intense exercise during tense periods may be unwise (not to mention unenjoyable).

To reap the stress-reducing benefits of activity and avoid relapse during chaotic times, focus on movement that is enjoyable and rejuvenating. If a high-intensity fitness class or an 8-mile run feels overwhelming, it may be. If exercise feels like an additional stressor, you’re far less likely to do it. Decide which modes of movement feel energizing and/or relaxing to you, and focus on these when stress levels rise.

Weather

When the sun is shining and the birds are chirping, it’s easy to get out and move. During rainstorms or when temperatures drop to single digits, it’s much harder. Instead of waiting for sunnier days, plan a strategy for the change in seasons. While your normal routine may take you outdoors or to the gym, your inclement weather sessions might look different. Determine a safe, warm and dry place you can move during winter months. This may be in your basement with an exercise video or walking laps at the mall. Remember that all movement counts when planning strategies that take weather into account. If you always wait for perfect weather, you’ll be inactive much of the year.

Plateaus

Even with a well-structured exercise routine, you will reach fitness plateaus. If a change in physical appearance or a certain number on the scale is your only reason to be active, this can quickly lead to frustration and relapse. To prevent this, create non-weight-related goals to drive your exercise behavior. Make a list of all the benefits you perceive from exercise, such as increased energy and stamina, better sleep, enhanced mood or simply the joy of moving your body. When you’re struggling through a plateau, pull out this list and reconnect with your intrinsic motivations for being active.

Injury or Illness

Sometimes you just can’t (and shouldn’t) exercise due to injury or illness. To prevent this setback from turning into a full-on fitness relapse, focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. Sprained your ankle and can’t run? This could be the perfect time to start swimming or to focus on upper-body strength training. Have a cold and feel totally wiped? Step outside for a short walk and breathe some fresh air. The key component during illness or injury is to keep up your momentum with some kind of activity, so as not to break your regular exercise habit.

The Long Haul

When your fitness routine starts to backslide, take inventory of what’s getting in the way and employ targeted strategies as needed. Most importantly, remember that there’s no end goal in the game of fitness and health. Rather, it is a continuous process of learning, growing and improving your health and well-being through movement.

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