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Easy Ways to Make Exercise a Habit

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on April 23, 2021

Exercise is good for your heart, bones and muscles, weight, and sleep. Staying fit can even help you live a longer, healthier life.

You’ll get more benefits from exercise if you make it a regular habit rather than a once-in-a-while burst of heavy activity. Even small amounts can do your body some good: Just 10 minutes of aerobic activity each day can lower your risk of heart disease.

If you haven’t exercised in a while, don’t try to do too much at once.  You risk muscle pain or damage, or even a stress fracture. That could prevent you from working out again. Instead, start slowly. Steadily build up how long or hard you work out over time.

How do you motivate yourself to turn exercise into another part of your normal routine? Here are a few tricks to make exercise a healthy habit:

Find Something Fun

Choose exercises you like that are comfortable for you. You’re more likely to carve time out of your day for a workout, activity, or class if you enjoy it. If music pumps you up, try a Zumba or water exercise class. If you like fresh air and trees, plan bicycle rides through the park. If you’re competitive, join a local golf or tennis league.

Tips: Pick exercises that you look forward to, not something you have to force yourself to do just because it’s good for you. Enjoyable activities are more likely to become habits:

  • Think about how and where you like to exercise: indoors or outdoors, alone or with a group, at a gym or at home.
  • You don’t have to do the latest fitness fad that you read about on social media if it isn’t right for you. If it suits you to just walk on a treadmill while you listen to a podcast, that’s great!
  • Do a variety of activities so you don’t get into a rut and quit altogether.

Make It Convenient

Exercise will become a habit when it fits into your normal schedule. If you tend to wake up early, plan to work out in the mornings before you shower. If you usually watch TV in the early evening, keep hand weights nearby so you can do some reps while you catch up on your favorite show.

Tips: Combine your workout with things that are already part of your daily life:

  • Take brisk walks with your dog.
  • Dance to pop music while you vacuum the house.
  • Climb a few flights of stairs instead taking the elevator.
  • Have a little extra time? Walk to the market or mall instead of driving.

Put It on Your Calendar

Schedule workouts just as you do other appointments. If you plan to do a morning walk or water exercise class three times a week, put that time into your schedule and let people know you’re booked.

Tips: Set up regular exercise appointments in your calendar:

  • Find a workout buddy so you’re more likely to show up and exercise.
  • Create a recurring appointment in your mobile phone or computer so it’s always blocked off as time when you’re busy.
  • Set up reminders or alerts that pop up on your phone screen ahead of your workouts.

Set Realistic Goals

You can’t form habits overnight. It’s a journey. Set realistic goals for exercises and you’re more likely to keep it up and make it a habit.

Tips: Create rewards to help you stick to a long-term workout routine:

  • Plan to do five 10-minute walks each week.
  • Write down your plan and include a reward for when you meet your goal.
  • Once you hit that goal, reward yourself. Book a massage. Download a new audiobook. Plan a picnic in the park.

Stay Flexible

Sometimes, your schedule changes. You get a new job. You have an injury. You move to a new home that’s far from your old gym. This can throw off your workout routine. Don’t give up. You can get back on track. Create new exercise habits if your old ones don’t work for you anymore.

Tips: Adjust your workout habits to fit your new normal:

  • Find a gym, park, or walking path near your new home.
  • Sign up for an exercise class that fits into your new work schedule.
  • If you’re getting over an injury or illness, start to exercise again at your new pace or fitness level. Slowly build up your stamina and strength.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Benefits of Physical Activity.”

U.S. Army: “Exercise consistency is key.”

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: “Starting an Exercise Program.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “’Good Pain’ versus ‘Bad Pain’ for Athletes.”

National Institute on Aging: “Staying Motivated to Exercise: Tips for Older Adults.”

Mayo Clinic: “Fitness: Tips for staying motivated,” “Fitting in Fitness: Finding time for physical activity.”

MyZone.org: “3 Ways to Increase Your Exercise Motivation.”

Victoria State Government Department of Health: “Physical Activity: Choosing the Right One for You,” “Walking for Good Health.”

Allegheny-Kiski Health Foundation: “The Facts Behind 3 Popular Health Fads of 2018.”

Cornerstone University: “Ten Ways Your Smartphone Can Help You Learn.”

Cleveland Clinic: “How to Break Bad Habits.”

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