The Beginner’s Guide to Making Exercise a Habit
**This post is a part of our beginner's guide to fitness series. To see all blogs in the series click here.
I think everyone is aware that exercise is good for us and we should be doing it. It’s well known that physical activity has many benefits, like a reduced risk of death from heart disease, heart-related events, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. It also can improve our mood and brain health, increase our energy, and boost our immune system just to name a few.
So if it can potentially improve our health, lengthen our life and make us feel good, everyone includes exercise in their schedule right? Nope. According to data provided in 2018 by the CDC, only 23.2% of adults in The United States aged 18 or older met the physical activities guidelines for both aerobic and muscle strengthening activity. Only 23.2%!
“To enjoy the glow of good health, you must exercise.” –
The CDC Physical Activity Guidelines recommend adults 18 and older aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise (brisk walking for example) or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous (running for example) exercise each week. They also recommend adults have at least two sessions of resistance muscle building exercises and that older adults should incorporate balance enhancing exercises as well.
150 minutes sounds overwhelming at first but it breaks down to 30 minutes five days a week. Or it can be broken down into smaller bouts of exercise like a 10 minute walk three times a day five days a week.
Many people want to exercise (or know they should) but don’t. Then there are those who are faithful to a workout routine and exercise consistently. How did they get to that point? How do you make working out a habit? How do you get exercise to be a regular part of your life?
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” –
Thanks to the CDC statistic, and a quick poll among our friends and family, we can see that knowing how and why to exercise are not enough to get individuals to workout regularly. Making exercise a habit requires more. You need the right mindset and a smart approach. Your approach should be specific to you. What makes one person keep physical activity in their day to day life won’t work for another. The following ideas can help you find what works for you to becoming a regular exerciser.
- Start Small and Build Momentum
Going from little to no physical activity to meeting or exceeding the CDC guidelines each week sounds great, but is actually pretty ambitious. It’s better to start with small goals each week and increase your activity slowly. You will be more likely to stick with it and less likely to quit or get injured. For example, start with a goal of exercising for 30 minutes twice a week and slowly increase your time from that point.
- Put It On Your Calendar
Just like you would schedule a meeting for work or a doctor’s appointment, schedule your time to exercise. Treat it the same way, just like you wouldn’t cancel a meeting or appointment, don’t cancel your time to work out. It is just as important!
Another great way to stay on track is to sign up for group exercise classes ahead of time. That way it puts the class on your schedule plus you will be less likely to cancel knowing that the club is saving your spot in that class because you signed up. (This is especially important to do with the current capacity restrictions in most group classes due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.)
- Keep Your Workout Gear Handy
Put your workout clothes in a bag that’s ready to take with you to work so you hit the gym right after. Or set your walking or running shoes in front of the door and your clothes in the bathroom so you see them right when you wake up. I’ve even heard of people sleeping in their workout clothes so they can just roll out of bed in the morning and get their workout done.
- Make it Convenient
If you want to do something more, make it easier to do. Do you pass a gym or walking path on your way home from work? Then it is more convenient to stop there and exercise rather than something across town and out of the way.
Look for opportunities in your daily routine to switch a usually sedentary time to an active time. For example, do you usually talk on the phone while sitting on the couch or at your desk? Get up and walk and talk!
- Find The Workout That is Right For You
There are so many ways to be physically active. Take the time to experiment with different modes of exercise to find what you like to do. It is more likely you will stick with something you don’t always dread! Typically we think of walking, running or lifting weights in a gym as what has to be done to workout. Those are all great, but if those don’t appeal to you, there are many other ways to exercise. Maybe a dance class, horseback riding, roller blading, swimming or hiking are more your thing. Start taking tennis lessons or take up another new sport or get back to one you haven’t done in a while. Think outside of the box for the way that will encourage you to keep movement on your schedule.
- Throw Out The All Or Nothing Mentality
Something is better than nothing. Even if you have found the workout you usually do enjoy, there are still going to be days when you just don’t feel like doing it. Expect those days and be ready for them. You may have originally planned for a thirty minute run but it turns into a ten minute walk instead. That is ok. You got movement in and you will be ready to go for your next workout. Sometimes you have to just have to do it anyway. There will also be days when life gets in the way and a workout just doesn’t happen. No matter how many workouts you missed, all is not lost, get right back to it the next day.
- Make it Social & Find Accountability
Instead of lunch or dinner with friends, go for a walk and talk or go to a fitness class together. They will help keep you accountable and it will be more fun.
Heard of a Zoom happy hour? Have a Zoom dance party. You can catch up while dancing together virtually. There are many other ways to be social while being active; including running clubs, group fitness classes or sports teams.
Having a personal trainer is another great way to create accountability and to learn how to plan your workouts safely. Knowing you have paid for a trainer to plan a workout specific for you and for their time, can help you keep your workouts in your schedule.
- Monitor Your Progress
“We manage what we monitor.” Keep a record of your workouts and progress. Research has shown that keeping track of steps does make individuals more physically active. For some this may not be enough and would benefit from sharing their daily step count with friends or a trainer for accountability and fun competition. Tracking the amount of the weights used in your workouts or time of your mile are other ideas of things to monitor so that you can see your progress. It will hold you accountable and as you look back and see that you are getting stronger and fitter, you will be more motivated to keep going with your workout routine.
Physical activity, honoring your body and taking care of your health should be a lifestyle, not a temporary event. Knowing why you are making and keeping this habit will help when motivation wanes. Find what works for you and your schedule to make exercise a consistent part of your life.