Updated: Aug 18
I have written in the past about how difficult it can be to start or restart exercise but one area I did not touch on was fear - being afraid to start. For some people this can be perfectly legitimate reason to avoid exercise, especially after a long period of inactivity. It can stem from various factors both physical and psychological.
Here are a few common reasons why people may experience fear or hesitation to start:
Self-consciousness: After a long break from exercise, individuals may feel self-conscious about their physical appearance or fitness level. They might worry about being judged by others or feeling embarrassed while exercising in public or in a group setting.
Perceived difficulty: The memory of past exercise experiences, especially if they were challenging or uncomfortable, can create fear of the difficulty associated with starting again. The anticipation of physical exertion and potential discomfort can be daunting.
Unrealistic expectations: People often set high expectations for themselves when returning to exercise after a long break. They may compare their current abilities to their previous fitness levels or to others around them, leading to feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure.
Lack of motivation or discipline: Long periods of inactivity can make it difficult to regain motivation and establish a consistent exercise routine. The fear of not being able to maintain discipline or stick to a regular schedule can prevent individuals from taking that initial step.
Fear of discomfort: Exercise, especially in the beginning stage, can be physically demanding and uncomfortable. The fear of experiencing muscle soreness, shortness of breath, or fatigue can deter individuals from starting or continuing their exercise journey. The physical environment, heat or the cold all can play a role.
Past negative experiences: Failed attempts, exercise used as a punishment or feeling overwhelmed during exercise, can create a fear of repeating those experiences. These memories can instil doubt and apprehension about starting again.
Fear of injury: When someone has past injuries to contend with, been sedentary for a significant period, their body may have lost strength, flexibility, and endurance. The fear of pushing their bodies too hard or experiencing pain or discomfort can be intimidating.
Personal Safety: Concern about personal safety in outdoor or unfamiliar exercise environments may create anxiety about exercising alone, especially during early morning or late evening hours.
It is important to acknowledge and address these fears in order to overcome them. Setting realistic expectations, starting with gentle and achievable exercises (appropriate to one’s existing level of fitness, not past standards) and seeking professional guidance can help mitigate the concerns related to injury and difficulty. Finding a supportive and non-judgmental exercise environment, such as working with a personal trainer or participating in beginner-friendly fitness classes, can alleviate self-consciousness.
When working with our clients we focus on building a positive mindset around exercise and physical activity, we explore the benefits of exercise and celebrate victories along the way. We also analyse why things sometimes go wrong, as inevitably they will. When it comes to exercise everyone has to start somewhere and progress is made step by step. For some the focus might be on experimentation, to find an exercise or activity that they can enjoy. Often this means finding exercises that don't involve a gym, finding the time to walk and making it fun! Others might have a clearer idea of where they want to start based on their past, positive experiences. These are all important factors that can combat fear and enhance motivation.
With patience, perseverance and – importantly - self-compassion, individuals can overcome their fear of starting exercise and embark on their personal journey of health and wellbeing.
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