how to start exercising

Fatigue is a workout killer. It is the number one excuse from my perspective for skipping workouts.

Getting off the couch, finding the motivation and choosing exercise over another activity are all difficult when we are extremely tired.

We are all aware of the benefits of exercise for weight loss, cardiovascular health and stress reduction but we often forget about the endorphins released during a workout. Workouts feel good, calm muscle tension and help with detoxification yet we avoid them, especially when we are tired.

Why would fatigue stop us from doing something that feels so good? There must be a reason. The most common reason is that we think (or use the excuse) that exercise is going to make us more tired than we already are. This just doesn’t hold us.

Exercise raises energy (in most situations).

Like most of the work I do we start this way – find the cause.

If we can treat this situation holistically and look at why energy is so low we can eventually get to the gym and start to feel great again.

Let’s go over where to look first:

Causes of Fatigue – Why Can’t I Workout?

In looking for reasons why a patient isn’t exercising it is important to separate mental and physical explanations for fatigue. Sometimes both can be involved. Sometimes we have to decipher which occurred first.

If you are unsure consult with someone.


  • Low Nutrient Status – Vitamin D, iron, B12, etc
  • Low Mood – Neurotransmitter Deficiency – Diagnosed with depression
  • High Inflammation – Pain, swelling, aching
  • Injury – acute or chronic
  • Low Thyroid – Cold hands and feet, low energy, hair loss, weight gain, etc
  • Low Cortisol – AM fatigue, difficulty losing weight
  • Hormone Imbalance – Premenstrual symptoms, menopause
  • Extras: dehydration, low blood sugar, low protein, carbs or fats


  • Low Motivation (usually self described as “laziness”) – the sensation of just not wanting to exercise
  • Low Self Confidence – Worried about performance
  • Lack of Drive – Not appreciating the benefits
  • Fear of Failure – Worried it won’t work
  • Weight Loss Frustration – “It didn’t work in the past – why bother”
  • Improper priorities – No time for exercise

Do any of these causes sound like you?

The importance of exercise pushes me to help everyone find their cause for postponing or avoiding workouts. Below is a brief guide to evaluating the potential causes for the lack of energy.

Physical Causes of Fatigue – How to Start Exercising

Let’s start with the physical.

Low Nutrient Status – Vitamin D, iron, B12, etc

Of course getting to know your nutrient levels is incredibly important in low energy leading to lack of ability to workout. Once in awhile, even if you aren’t sick, it is helpful to get bloodwork.

Worse energy in the winter? – Check vitamin D

Vegan without B12 supps, over 60? – Check B12

History of low iron, blood loss, heavy cycle? – Check iron

These are the most important to consider right away.

If you are experiencing nutrient deficiency this can be a quick fix. It is important to note that proper digestion is important to resolve these issues.

Low Mood – Neurotransmitter Deficiency

Low desire and lack of motivation to do your cardio? Check in with your mood.

Are you more positive or negative?

Do you look forward to things?

What makes you feel good?

Depression can come and go, can be caused by many things (from trauma to deficiency) and is treatable.

The most mild form of depression is extremely common and will inhibit the ability to workout. Exercise is one of the best remedies (research supports this).

If low mood causes someone to restrict their activities they normally would enjoy we have to consider this possible cause and find a way to make exercise happen.

High Inflammation

With soreness and pain it is easy to skip workouts. Fear of delayed onset muscle soreness doesn’t help the situation.

The fatigue from inflammation is significant. Many with autoimmune disease report extreme fatigue and difficulty with day to day activities.

Reducing inflammation is a great thing for everyone to participate in regardless of current status. It can help improve appetite signaling, speed recovery and boost mood.


Injury is a common culprit is this situation. Recovering from an injury requires energy and can often cause fatigue.

Injuries are also frustrating. Whether it be an acute situation or chronic symptoms from an accident having an injury can interrupt our routine and prevent us from exercising. It is important to work towards healing and keep your drive for when the timing is right.

Low Thyroid

Cold hands and feet, hair loss, low energy and weight gain are the main symptoms of low thyroid. This type of fatigue is debilitating.

Metabolism is decreased and exercise is reduced because of fatigue – a double whammy.

The good news a dessicated thyroid hormone prescription can bring your levels up to normal very quickly. Symptoms often improve within days.

Low Cortisol

Morning fatigue? Feeling tired but wired at night? Your normal cortisol release patttern could be flipped.

This is caused by prolonged high stress, improper sleep-wake cycles and/or stimulant use.

For more details Amy’s story is on the blog.

Support the adrenals so energy can return – then get to the gym.

Hormone Imbalance

If you have been described as having estrogen dominant symptoms, are currently going through menopause or have significant premenstrual symptoms the fatigue could be hormonal.

PMS and estrogen dominance and cause water retention, cramping and irritability (and subsequent fatigue). In menopause the broken sleep from night sweats and extra emotional days can cause major fatigue.

A holistic approach to balancing hormones can be very effective for all types of imbalance. Energy levels can come back from these changes.

Mental/Emotional Causes of Fatigue – How to Start Exercising

Sometimes the problem is not physical. Sometimes it is due to a state of mind, a belief or a lack of willingness to see the benefits.

These types of causes of fatigue can occur with the physical cause or on their own. This list isn’t exhaustive.

The treatments will vary.

The important thing is to recognize where we fall.

I have a history of placing exercise lower on my list of priorities than other daily tasks. When this occurs I notice a difference in my mood and energy levels (further worsening the situation).

When I get back to my routine I again become disciplined about making time for exercise. Its worth is so easy to feel because the benefits are so immediate.

Consider the list below and why these feelings may be coming up. Keeping with the theme “treat the cause”.

  • Low Motivation (usually self described as “laziness”) – the sensation of just not wanting to exercise
  • Low Self Confidence – Worried about performance
  • Lack of Drive – Not appreciating the benefits
  • Fear of Failure – Worried it won’t work
  • Weight Loss Frustration – “It didn’t work in the past – why bother”
  • Improper priorities – No time for exercise

How to start exercising when you are too tired

Now that we have discovered what the cause of our fatigue is we can move forward with treatments.

First, consult with someone about how to heal. Track energy levels and make sure benefit is occurring quickly.

Then plan your first exercise. Make it for 10 minutes of cardio – walking, elliptical or bike but not intense. Just moderate.

When you get to 10 minutes consider extending to 15. Then stop.

Track your energy levels for the rest of the day (every 3-4 hours) and then try exercising again the next day. Again, not intense.

Now that we are treating the cause, exercising and tracking energy levels we can start to look for benefits from the exercise. These are important to think about because they increase motivation for more exercise.

Benefits of Exercise

When you notice these write them down.

  • Less anxiety
  • More energy
  • Better mood
  • Less pain
  • Improved sleep
  • Weight loss
  • Body composition improvements

Feed off the changes and use that motivation to continue. Always check back in with the cause to stay on a path of healing.

What has helped you get back into exercising?

For me, circadian rhythm intermittent fasting has helped me pick up my fitness routine.

The mornings don’t work for me and my schedule (and I’m not currently interested in making them work) so I usually do my workouts at night. The problem has been that after dinner fatigue would set in.

I was filling that time with my to-do list and relaxation. They were my priorities.

Since starting this type of fasting I have had to have my larger meal at lunch because I don’t have time at night (I am done eating at 6:30 PM but I get home at 6).

My nighttime energy has skyrocketed.

I am now working, exercising and relaxing at night.


Dr. David Duizer is a co-founder of and a Naturopathic Physician practicing in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is a passionate, driven, motivated leader in integrative medicine focused on optimal wellbeing, holistic healing and natural health.

To learn more about Dr. David Duizer Click Here. Connect with David on Twitter @davidduizer, Facebook, and Google+.