How to Make Exercise a Habit
Oh, exercise. While it's a pretty well known fact that it's good for us, and we're frequently reminded of how we "should" do it, why does it seem next to impossible to make a habit of it? You begin your day with good intentions, maybe even laying out your gym clothes the night before, and setting your alarm to give you plenty of time. But for some reason, you hit snooze a few times too many and before you know it, you're rushing just to get to work on time. Or maybe you plan to hit the gym after work, but the stress of upcoming deadlines and the fact that you have to figure out dinner and maintain a social life afterwards makes it feel like getting to the gym is not only an inconvenience, but an impossibility. Tomorrow. You tell yourself you'll try again tomorrow, just to repeat the cycle.
So how do we break out of the no-exercise rut, and create a habit out of this beneficial behavior? Start by focusing on the benefits outside of aesthetics and weight management. Exercise has a countless number of positive effects on us physically, mentally, and emotionally:
- Increases our energy levels.
- Strengthens bones and joints.
- Reduces risk of diseases, such as diabetes, COPD, and multiple forms of cancer.
- Improves symptoms of arthritis.
- Boosts cognitive function and memory.
- Releases endorphins, making us happier.
- Decreases stress levels.
- Encourages creativity and self-confidence.
The American Heart Association recommends that adults get 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week, or 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week, and moderate to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days per week. As of now, about 20% of adults meet the minimum requirements above.
In my personal and professional experience, there are a couple of common roadblocks people encounter when they're trying to create a habit of exercise:
- They overcomplicate the process.
- They start out too intensely with the wrong expectations.
I've had to overcome both pitfalls myself (fitness professionals are human too), and I can tell you, I'm much more successful when I focus on simplicity and consistency. Our bodies are designed to move, and it's up to us to decide how often we do it.
So before you get lost in a sea of conflicting articles making a case for why "This Workout" is the most effective, let's get back to a few basics:
1. Do something you enjoy
Exercise doesn't have to be miserable. In fact, you'll be more successful in the long run if your exercise of choice is something you actually enjoy. And the better you become at an activity, the more you'll enjoy it. So ask yourself a few questions: What kind of physical activity have I enjoyed in the past? What is something I wouldn't mind trying now? And remember, if you're attempting something new, give yourself time to learn the activity. So if you want to try yoga, start in a beginner's class and don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Fitness professionals are there to help, and they love guiding you along your new pursuit. Side note: Developing new skills can help increase our levels of self-efficacy and self-esteem, so don't be afraid to try something new!
2. Make it as convenient as possible
Believe it or not, proximity matters. In fact, convenience is one of the largest factors as to why people skip workouts. Try to find a fitness studio/facility that is close to or on your way to work and/or home. Also, if you know you're not a morning person, scheduling a 6am workout will most likely set you up for failure. Instead, find some time when you can do it later in your day. Do a daytime audit and see if there is any space you could fit one in. For me, that time is 6-7pm. Usually, I'm done with work for the day and once I get home, I completely veg out during that hour. So instead of heading home, plopping down on the couch, and spending the next hour on social media, I'll head straight to the gym to get a workout in before I get ready to relax that evening. Click here for a few workouts you can do anywhere!
3. Prepare for obstacles
This is a big one, and it could be the main reason why many struggle to make working out a habit. When we start mentally preparing for things to get in our way, we can formulate alternative plans and break out of our self-sabotage cycle. Say you have a work meeting that goes too late and causes you to miss your favorite workout class, but instead of throwing in the towel altogether, you had a backup plan to do a quick at home workout instead. So think about what has stopped you from exercising in the past. What's likely to come up and get in your way of exercising this week? Now what can you do if/when that happens? What back up plan can you create that will supplement the original if necessary? Most of the time we fail because we don't prepare for things outside of our own control. With a backup plan in place, we're far more successful at handling our obstacle with patience and we can capitalize on those types of "wins".
4. Set behavior goals
There are a couple types of goals: outcome goals and behavior goals. In coaching, we largely favor the latter. Outcomes are great, but somewhat uncontrollable. Behaviors are choices we make each day. So you want to feel strong, increase your energy, or run 3 miles without walking? Great! Those are the outcomes. Behavior goals are what help you get there. So what actions can you put into place this week? How can you make this week more successful than last week? Write them into your schedule. I always suggest increasing slowly. This way, you integrate this new behavior at a realistic rate, one that's doable and will keep you motivated to move forward. Success breeds success, so I highly recommend you set yourself up for quick wins! Click here to learn how to correctly set goals.
5. Enlist Accountability
When it comes to success, accountability is a much needed factor. It's not easy to make a change alone, and I believe we are designed for community. There are multiple ways you can do this: Scheduling a class ahead of time can give you financial accountability. Knowing you've already paid for the class makes it more likely for you to show up, even when you really don't feel like it. Hiring a trainer or instructor gives you both financial and human accountability. Private sessions aren't cheap, for good reason, and you're more likely to show up and put in the work when you've made a valuable investment. Also, not wanting to negatively affect someone else's schedule can also act as an accountability check. (Click here to read how to find a great personal trainer). If you're not ready to make a financial commitment, making plans to exercise with a friend can decrease the likelihood of you bailing last second.
When you are successful, pay attention to the rewards in terms of how you feel physically, emotionally, and mentally. Maybe you feel proud of yourself, more confident in your ability, and excited about being successful! Or maybe you notice how good you feel post-workout, how your stress levels have decreased, and how you have more energy to accomplish all the things!
What kind of exercise or movement do you enjoy the most?
Photo by Kelsey Cherry