Turning physical activity into a habit
Most people don't think about being active or inactive as a habit. But it is. And habits are affected by many things, including our work schedule, our home life, and our social life. When something becomes a habit, we don't think about it much-we just do it, like brushing our teeth.
The key to staying active is to make fitness a habit-something that you just do.
It might take a long time for you to form a habit. So start small, and keep doing an activity until you no longer think about it as something "extra" that you have to do.
When you slip up, don't get mad at yourself or feel guilty. Figure out what happened and how to keep it from happening again. Get right back into your physical activity routine, and don't look back.
Maintaining the lifestyle
Many of the good things about being active, such as having more energy and being in a better mood, happen soon after you become more active. But some of the most important health benefits have to do with being active over many years. If you stop being active, you lose the fitness you achieved. Being consistent makes the most sense for your health.
To help make physical activity a long-term commitment:
- Set goals. Develop and follow a specific program.
- Make it a habit. Turn physical activity into a normal, pleasant, and routine part of your life.
- Get the support of friends and family.
- Expand your fitness activities through coaching, competition, and cross-training.
- Add variety to your fitness program. Change the place, activity, and time.
- Don't let reasons such as lack of time or bad weather slow you down.
- Schedule your activity for times that you're likely to keep doing it. If you don't have time for one 30-minute walk, break it up into three 10-minute walks.
Finding what works for you
When you have decided that you want to get fit, you will want to plan a physical activity routine. Although most people think of classes and specific activities (such as jogging or tennis) as the way to fitness, there are many ways you can work physical activity into your life.
One Woman's Story:
"I realized that I had put myself on the back burner for too long and it was time for me to make time for myself, even if it was just a few minutes a day. I wrote myself a note and taped it to my bathroom mirror. It said, 'I will take a 10-minute walk during my morning coffee break every day this week.' " -Shellie
Fitness classes or groups provide a consistent approach to an activity. Local gyms, schools, and churches may sponsor a regular fitness group. Teams also provide a consistent approach to fitness but are more competitive. Many communities have physical activity programs to help adults and children get fit. They often are found within social agencies and schools.
Structured fitness has the advantage of:
- Being held at the same time and place, which may be easier for some people to schedule.
- Having a social atmosphere.
- Providing support and "healthy" peer pressure to show up and participate.
- Sometimes being led by a certified fitness professional.
Many people find an activity they enjoy, and then they create their own fitness program. Self-directed fitness gives you:
- Flexibility as to the time and place.
- The ability to try different types of exercises.
For this to be effective, you must set up a regular schedule and stay with it.
Fitness within your day
You can use "everyday" activities for fitness, as long as you do them regularly. This includes:
- Daily aerobic activity, such as raking leaves, mowing the lawn, or doing housework.
- Muscle-building exercises, such as scrubbing the bathtub, washing walls, tilling the garden, or pulling weeds.
- An outdoor interest or hobby that promotes walking or another type of exercise. For example, bird watching may require a lot of walking, and trail building may require both walking and strength to clear paths.
Preparing for slip-ups
It's perfectly normal to try to change a habit, go along fine for a while, and then have a setback. Lots of people try and try again before they reach their goals.
What are the things that might cause a setback for you? If you have tried to make changes in your activity level before, think about what helped you and what got in your way.
By thinking about these barriers now, you can plan ahead for how to deal with them if they happen.
Here's one person's list of barriers to taking a brisk 30-minute walk every day, along with some possible solutions:
"I might be too busy."
"I might get bored."
"It might rain."