Why Is It So Hard to Exercise?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 31, 2016

Anyone can have a hard time making exercise part of their routine. But throw kids into the mix, and it can almost feel impossible.

Why is it so hard for busy parents to exercise? Often it comes down to motivation.

“Parents typically don’t get enough sleep and spend their days constantly responding to needs of another human being,” says Dominique Wakefield, a personal trainer and wellness coach based in Berrien Springs, MI. “That combination is emotionally and physically draining, which leads to less motivation for physical activity.”

It’s easy to put exercise on your “wouldn’t it be nice” list, but fitness is too important to keep on the back burner.

“There are so many health benefits that come from being physically active, like reducing your risk for chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease, but it’s especially important for parents to stay fit,” Wakefield says. “Plus, working out can give you more energy and reduce stress -- extra benefits that parents especially need.”

Another reason to be an active parent: You'll set a great example for your kid. “Children learn behavior by what they see around them, and it starts early,” Wakefield says. “So when kids see their parents exercise, they become likelier to be active as adults.”

Try these four tricks to tap into some surprising sources of motivation, making it easier than ever to reach your fitness goals.

Become an early bird. Willpower isn’t an unlimited resource -- the more you use it throughout the day, the less you have left at night to force yourself to go to the gym. That’s why some people get in their workouts in the morning, when their drive is at its maximum levels.

And that’s not the only reason to become a morning exerciser. “If you wait until later in the day, it’s a lot likelier that things will pop up and get in the way of working out,” Wakefield says. “Your kids go to bed early, so do the same. That way you can wake up and work out, knowing that you’ve already done something for yourself that day.”

Get other people involved. “Parents love family time, which is why that often gets priority over exercising,” Wakefield says. Combine the two and you’ll be motivated to move since you’re doing something you love -- spending time with your kids. There are a lot of physical activities that are good for all ages. Go play Frisbee in the park, play tag, go on a bike ride, or work in the garden.

If you want to do something that isn’t kid-friendly, find a friend who likes the same things you do, like running or spinning. “It provides accountability,” Wakefield says. “You won’t want to let the other person down by not showing up to exercise. Plus, chatting with a friend makes working out more enjoyable!”

Set smaller goals. “Most of the time, people don’t work out because it seems like an intimidating, daunting task,” says Erin McGill, senior director of product development for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. “But you don’t have to spend an hour at the gym to be active -- there are lots of little ways to make everyday activities and chores just a little harder. And it’s so much easier to fit 10 minutes of movement into your day every few hours than find a larger chunk of time in your schedule.”

A few ideas: Take one bag of groceries in at a time from the car, do sets of 10 squats or pushups in between loads of laundry, or take stairs two at a time to get your heart rate up.

Keep equipment front and center. Sometimes a simple thing like putting your workout gear in your living room can be key to feeling more motivated.

“Out of sight, out of mind is true, but so is the opposite,” Wakefield says. “Put things like resistance bands or an exercise ball in a visible place, and you’ll get that extra nudge to actually use them. Every time you see them, you’ll get reminded.”

Show Sources


Dominique Wakefield, director of university health and wellness, Andrews University.

Baumeister, R., Self and Identity, 2002.

Erin McGill, senior director of product development, National Academy of Sports Medicine.

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