Overcoming barriers – is it you, or just how you’re seeing it?

What's stopping you from getting healthier? Find ways around the most common barriers with our guide to exercise

July, 2017


Identifying barriers and tackling excuses: the difference between “I can’t exercise” and “I won’t exercise”

If you’ve ever heard yourself saying, “I know I should do more exercise but…” then you probably fall under one of two groups of people:

  • People who have been advised by medical professionals to do only limited, specific forms of activity in order to avoid pain or worsening health problems. i.e. a few special cases.
  • People who, deep down, don’t really want to exercise. i.e. most of us.
“My doctor tells me not to exercise”

If you’re in the first group, follow the advice of your doctor, because it’s been tailored exactly to you. This applies to people with Type 2 diabetes, who would be well advised to always check with their doctor before launching into an exercise regimen that could end up doing more harm than good. For example, overly strenuous exercise can sometimes actually raise your blood glucose levels. Or, you might be on medication that, combined with exercise, could make your blood glucose levels dip too low.

“I don’t want to exercise”

If you’ve talked with your doctor about doing more exercise and they’ve given you the go-ahead or advice on what type of exercise is suitable for you, you face a new challenge. Motivating yourself to actually DO it. And then, when you’ve let another week go by without doing anything, because it was cold/you couldn’t find your running shoes/you were home 15 minutes late – that’s when, like most human beings, you fall into the second group of people: the reluctant exercisers and the non-exercisers. A lot of us are guilty of putting more effort into finding excuses to NOT exercise than we would just doing it. The trick is to work out the difference between a barrier to exercising and an excuse. In other words, do you really have to avoid exercise, or don’t you?


Barriers are practical things that get in the way of exercising. This includes worrying about getting a low blood glucose level (hypoglycaemia). It also includes things like your working hours, having young children, being injured, or being ill. With a bit of ingenuity and a lot of perseverance, there are ways to overcome almost every one of the most common barriers. Remember, it’s about doing something positive for yourself, for your health and quality of life.


Excuses are thoughts that our brain puts forward, disguised as good reasons for staying on the sofa. They include things like not having any time, being a bit tired, not liking to be sweaty, not having any money, not being good at something, feeling self-conscious or not having the right “kit”.

Man with TV Remote
“But with Type 2 diabetes I’ll never lose weight”

The world seems to be full of magazines and websites and TV programmes about impossibly beautiful people with bodies that look like they’ve been carved out of solid wood. It might be inspirational for people who pretty much look like that anyway, but for the rest of us it’s off-putting rather than encouraging. So we fall back on trusty excuses and shy away from dreams of having a perfect physique, thinking, “I’ll never achieve that, so why bother trying?”. And when you have Type 2 diabetes, it’s easy to think that it’s extra difficult for you to lose weight. But having Type 2 diabetes doesn’t have to mean that you gain weight

It’s important to remember, though, that you are not in competition with other people. Let Mo Farah worry about running 10 kilometres in under half an hour – the only person who can take charge of your fitness is you. The only person who can get your heart fitter and your muscles stronger is you. The person who will benefit from you doing some exercise is… guess who. And the person who will suffer most if you don’t do any exercise is… Well, no prizes for guessing that one. Exercise is something that will do YOU good, in so many ways, that depriving yourself of it is no reward, really. Living with Type 2 diabetes can be as healthy, rewarding and fun-filled as you make it!

What exercise can do for you

Below are some ideas to help you overcome some of the common barriers to exercise, and also some ways to think about the most common excuses.

“I don’t have approval from my doctor”

You’ll need to have the go-ahead from your doctor before taking up a new exercise regime, because when you have Type 2 diabetes there may be reasons why you really shouldn’t exercise, or to take extra care if you do. If you HAVE discussed exercise and your diabetes with a medical professional, and they’ve given you specific advice, it’s best to follow that advice.

“I haven’t got time to exercise”

If you want to compete in international athletics, you’ll need to train for several hours every day. But if you just want to make progress with your health, even a few minutes here and there can be a step in the right direction. Exercise can be built into most days of the week – whether it’s going for a 10 minute walk at lunchtime, or following a YouTube exercise video.

“I can’t exercise – I have kids”

If you can’t get out to an exercise class because you have little ones that need watching, you’ve got two options. One is to exercise at home once the kids/grandkids have gone to bed. The other is to get active with your kids/grandkids – going swimming or exploring together, playing a game of kick-about, cycling to nearby places instead of driving round. They all count as exercise for you AND the kids/grandkids.

“Exercise is painful”

If you’ve got an injury that prevents you exercising, you should follow your doctor’s advice. However, in some cases you can find alternatives that will still do you good without causing pain. For example, if standing is a problem, there are some exercise classes you can do sitting down. Or if your joints hurt after running, you could try swimming instead.

“How can I exercise when I’m ill?”

Aching all over, being sick, or feverish? Best leave the exercise for a few days. But once you’ve recovered, you might find that some gentle exercise can help you feel better – especially if you can get outside. There’s no need to drag yourself off your sickbed to stagger round a gym and exhaust yourself: remember that having Type 2 diabetes can make illnesses worse AND illnesses can make your diabetes worse, so it pays to be cautious. Once you are feeling better, though, it’s good to get back into exercise and not slip back into old habits. Being fitter can also help to prevent you getting some illnesses in the first place, and could help you recover more quickly when you do.

“I get out of breath so quickly, I daren’t do exercise”

OK, well do two minutes and catch your breath, and then do another two. Work up to five, then ten minutes at a time. It doesn’t have to be a case of “double marathon or nothing”.

“I don’t like sport”

Finding an activity you enjoy is half the battle. You’re more likely to do something regularly enough to get the health benefits if you WANT to do it. Some people like to do “distracting” exercise: where you’re so focused on what you’re doing, you almost forget that it’s exercise. Dance is great for that. As is walking with a friend – you go for the chat, but are also doing your body a lot of good.
Why not look out for a class where you can focus on learning a new skill and making friends while your body does the work:

  • Dance class (ballroom dancing, kick dancing, zumba)
  • Pilates and yoga
  • Walking groups
  • Geocaching groups
“I’m too tired to exercise”

Fit people have more energy. Doing some exercise, over time, should help you feel LESS tired. Partly because exercise contributes to helping you sleep better, and partly because if your muscles, heart and lungs are stronger, it takes less effort to simply get through the day

“I’m too embarrassed to exercise”

Feel self-conscious when you’re exercising? You’re not alone. For some it’s worrying about how they’ll look in their fitness gear. Others worry about not doing it “right” – falling over, not being able to do a particular exercise, turning the wrong way in a dance class. You know what? So what. You’re not doing it to impress anyone but yourself, and you’re doing a damn sight better than everyone sitting on their behinds at home. Let other people worry about themselves, you’re doing this for YOU.

“I’m too busy, too stressed and too fed up to exercise”

You’ve had a long day, with everything going wrong. The thought of going to a cheery up-beat zumba class when it’s raining outside is less than appealing, while the delicious cold beer in the fridge is calling your name. But you may just find that a bit of exercise can actually help you feel better – not just physically but mentally too. People who are active are generally less likely to be depressed, anxious or tense. Exercise, particularly when it’s fun, is thought to affect your brain chemicals in a positive way, helping you get and stay in a good mood.

“I can’t afford to exercise”

Joining the gym and going to exercise classes costs money. You might think of it as “investing in your health”, but if you really can’t stretch to or justify the cash needed to go to an organised activity regularly, there are still lots of things you can do that are free:

Overcoming barriers to getting healthy
  • Walking the dog (or borrow someone else’s!)
  • Just walking
  • Jogging
  • Dancing round your living room
  • Climbing the stairs
  • Cycle to places instead of driving
  • Exercising at home – you can do press-ups anywhere, for example
  • Playing in the park with the kids
  • “Trim Trail” outdoor activities in parks
  • Park Run, free weekly outdoor group runs
  • Exercise DVD at home
  • Cleaning the house
  • YouTube online workouts
“I don’t like getting sweaty”

If you don’t like getting hot or messing up your hair, it’s tempting to write off exercise. However, there are still several low-intensity forms of exercise that give you many of the health benefits of more strenuous forms. Ideas include:

  • Tai chi
  • Yoga
  • Aqua Aerobics
  • Walking
“I haven’t got any exercise equipment”

“I haven’t got a racquet”, “I haven’t got expensive trainers”, “I need a bike to do cycling”

Truth is, although there is a lot of kit associated with most sports, unless you’re aiming to compete in the Commonwealth Games you simply don’t need to buy all the top-of-the-range equipment. A decent pair of trainers is worth paying for, but there are plenty of bargains to be found at sports outlet shops, so you don’t have to break the bank. All you really need for most forms of exercise outside of a specific sport (classes, the gym, jogging, dance) is:

  • A pair of trainers
  • A t-shirt
  • Loose, comfortable trousers or leggings
  • For ladies, a proper sports bra

And for walking, all you need is comfortable shoes.

“I hate exercise. Exercise is just not for me”

Do you know the real difference between you and those people who exercise? They’re doing it and you’re not. They don’t have any special powers or abilities, they weren’t born super-fit, they’re not fundamentally different to you in any way. All you have to do to BE an exerciser is to do something. Anything. And do it today. It doesn’t have to be a lot; any exercise you can do when you have Type 2 diabetes is a move towards feeling fitter, inside and out.