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7 Easy Ways To Make Exercise A Habit

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We all have the best intentions. But let’s be honest: life gets in the way.

With an endless list of obligations and distractions competing for your attention, there can be little time left over for exercise and self-care.

Building a plan that works for you will help you take successful strides toward your goals.

In this article, I’ll be outlining some easy tips to help you go from yo-yo exercising to forming a sustainable plan to finally make exercise a habit!

Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes and is not medical advice. Read the full disclaimer.

1. Define your motivation

What is your why?

Decide what’s driving you to want to become more active in the first place. “Because someone told me I need to” is not usually a great motivator for long term success.

There’s no wrong reason as long as it’s something meaningful enough to you. But spend a few minutes really thinking about it. 

Increased energy. Weight loss. Reducing cardiac or diabetic risk factors. Wanting to travel or keep up with your kids/grandkids. These are all familiar sources of motivation.

I can’t tell you what your motivation should be, but I hope this question starts your thought process. It should be something meaningful to you, not just a number on a scale or an aesthetic goal.

So find your motivation and revisit it periodically to stay on track if you want to make exercise a habit.

Read How To Actually Reach Your Fitness Goals.

2. Figure out what you like to do for fitness

This sounds like such a simple question.

If you say you hate exercise, I would argue you haven’t found something you like.

Humans were made to move, but the more we sit, the less we want to do.

Don’t think your only option is to go to a gym and mindlessly plug away on a piece of cardio equipment. If you genuinely hate that idea, find something else that works for you.

Bottom line: You have to enjoy what you’re doing. If going on the elliptical for 30 min feels like a total torture session, you’re probably going to quit altogether.

Spend some time brainstorming about what you like. Let that guide you toward fitness options that you’ll actually look forward to.

Do you love walking? Dancing? Yoga? Boxing?

Guided workout apps (like Aaptiv) are even becoming a thing. Access a variety of workouts from anywhere your WiFi works, usually on the cheap.

Activity options are endless. Dig a little deeper to find out what would keep you coming back each week to stay on top of those goals.

Check out these articles to get you started:

3. Pick a time that works for you

To be honest, the best time of day is when you’ll actually do it.

There are all sorts of “scientific” articles out there saying when the best time is. That’s great, but if your schedule doesn’t allow for that, it’s going to be a #fail.

I can appreciate time for exercise will also be dictated by work and family obligations and your ideal time of day may not be an option. It has to work for your rhythm and your schedule to make exercise a habit.

Now I’m not going to stand here on my virtual soapbox and act like this is easy.

Fitting yet another thing into your day is HARD WORK. High five for reading this article and starting to carve out time for you!

Something is better than nothing and helps take small steps toward your goals.  

4. Make exercise a priority

Get some type of calendar you will actually look at and use it.

Tough love, but everything important gets scheduled. Doctor’s appointments, meetings, pick up your kids, etc. So we don’t forget. If your activity is indeed a priority for you, treat it as a priority and put it on the calendar.

A few months ago, I read an interesting article that was circulating on Facebook. It’s an excellent read for anyone who’s ever felt like they needed to defend their personal time to exercise.

Written by a business owner, the author explains how getting his exercise in the morning as a priority promotes excellence in all areas of his life, including business and personal. (Steimle, 2015).

So back to getting more organized…

Smartphones are a convenient way to schedule and remind. Lovers of old school planners, go ahead and pencil that session in! Consistency is the only way to make exercise a habit.

picture of pink weights, alarm clock, and orange juice. decorative image to illustrate healthy concept in an article about how to make exercise a habit.
image source: depositphotos.com

In 2018 the United States updated the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The new guidelines focus on the recommended frequency and intensity needed to achieve the health benefits of exercise. It’s a pretty lengthy 118-page manual. You can check it out in the link above if you’re interested.

The new guidelines for active adults include at least 150 min of moderate-intensity exercise per week (or 2 hours and 30 min) for substantial health benefits.

So if you’re currently logging 0 min, 150 may seem like a lot. You have to start somewhere and need to increase the program gradually.

Anything is better than nothing.

Sit down, look at your schedule for the week, and find two places where you can fit in some you time for exercise.

Write it down and stick to it. You’re worth it.

5. Set realistic & meaningful fitness goals

You’ve probably figured out by now that I love to exercise.

If I had nothing but time, I would exercise 7 days a week. In real life, it’s more like 5-6. And that doesn’t need to be everyone’s goal. That’s my goal and that’s what makes me feel good.

But if you’re doing nothing right now and you want to get started with something, reaching for the stars with a 5 day a week plan is a setup for failure (and injury.)

Resist the urge to jump right back into old workouts.

Let’s say you used to run 5 miles, but you haven’t run in 5 years. Don’t start with 5 miles! That’s an awesome way to get hurt AND discourage yourself. Same rules if you have never been an exerciser.

Set small, attainable goals.

Many people fail at exercise program because they set unrealistic goals. To help make exercise a habit, set realistic and meaningful fitness goals and focus on slow and steady progress.

Manage your expectations and respect the level you’re at today. Understand that this is a long game for long term success.

Once this becomes like second nature or you’re craving more, you can add to that schedule. It takes time to form habits, and this is no exception. Keep it manageable, so you don’t burn out too fast and end up right back where you started.

Taking a walk for 15 min is better than sitting in front of the computer for 15 min.

Those little goals add up. At the end of the week would you rather have done something or nothing?

When you have days that there is literally no time for activity, try to inch toward your goals in other ways, like making healthy food choices.

woman outdoors looking at her fitness watch
image source: depositphotos.com

6. Location is key

Your activity (gym, class, studio) needs to be convenient to either a home or work location. Don’t set additional barriers in front of you. Convenient fitness options will help you make exercise a habit.

Home exercisers this is a double win for you! No commute time = more personal time!

If you’re always short on time, try fitness apps that you can use at home and get your daily workout in the time would have taken you to drive one way to the gym.

Check out some of these crowd favorite fitness apps to keep you moving no matter what!

Read my full review of Aaptiv for more details on why it’s one of the best apps to stay consistent with fitness and gives tremendous value for your money!

7. Try a fitness watch

I’ve been wearing a fitness watch for exercise for over 15 years. Before they were cool.

I started with a Polar watch linked with a chest strap for accurate heart rate and calories.

Back then fitness trackers weren’t a mainstream thing, but I really enjoyed seeing my heart rate and calories in real-time while I was exercising. It was a great motivator.

Fast forward to the world of fitness trackers and smartwatches, I’ve been through several and have mixed reviews as compared to my gold standard Polar watch, which tracks via a chest strap.

Currently, I’m using my Apple watch paired with the Polar H10 Heart Rate Sensor.

It keeps me on track seeing real-time progress. To me, if I didn’t track it on my watch, it didn’t happen.

Obviously, that’s not true, but that’s how much I love my watch.

Big surprise, results are still mixed as to if fitness trackers actually make people more active. Again, lots of factors to consider here. So I say if you like data, numbers, and real-time results, then a fitness tracker might be for you.

I take a deep dive into fitness tech in The Ultimate Guide to Fitness Trackers.

Bonus tip – get injuries checked out early

There’s nothing like an injury to throw a monkey wrench into your fitness plans. If you notice pain starting to slowly creep its way into your workout, get to your physical therapist and have your symptoms checked out early.

Addressing pain early not only helps you avoid stopping exercise altogether, but it’s also easier to fix. Once an injury becomes chronic, it starts to affect other areas as well and takes longer to heal.

Wrapping up

Many people fail at a consistent fitness program by choosing the wrong activities, setting unrealistic goals, and failing to understand how to move their bodies in the right way. This can lead to difficulty being consistent with a fitness program. But you can change all that!

Physical activity has so many wonderful benefits to support your lifestyle and it’s not too late to start prioritizing your health. Don’t be afraid to start small, just start somewhere and keep showing up.

Related articles:


United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/pdf/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf

Steimle, J. (2015, April, 22) Why Exercising is a Higher Priority than my Business. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/245244

Cadmus Bertram L.A., Marcus B.H., Patterson R.E., Parker B.A., Morey B.L. (2015). Randomized Trial of a Fitbit Based Physical Activity Intervention for Women. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 49(3):414-8. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2015.01.020

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