How to Make Exercise a Habit

Is your fitness routine on-again, off-again — perhaps more often off than on?
Published November 5, 2015

"I don't think exercise will ever be an 'easy-come' habit for me," says one community user.

"More like a necessary evil. Some days I like it, some days I hate it but I feel so much better because of it. That's what keeps me going."

Sound familiar? All but the part about keeping it going, perhaps? For many, exercise has a perpetual position at the bottom of the to-do list, occasionally rising to the top for two-or-three-day bouts of good will. You know you have to do it. You know it would help you lose weight faster. You know you need it for good health.

But, at the risk of sounding like a whining four-year-old, you just don't like it. Don't worry. We can help.

Forget the Myths
First of all, these common misconceptions about exercise may be what are holding you back:

Myth # 1. Exercise is never fun.
Not only can exercise be fun (do you hate playing catch with your kids? walking through the woods?), it can help fill gaps in your life.

For example, "if you're around people all day long, you can choose an exercise that allows you some alone time," says Robyn Stuhr, exercise physiologist. If you sit in front of a computer, maybe exercise can be a social thing for you. If you never see your husband, exercise with him.

Find something that works for you on a personal level, too, and that will make exercise more fun. Plus, you'll be more likely to do it if you look forward to it.

Myth # 2. Exercise is a major disruption.
"The bottom line is that exercise, unlike diet, is something you have to make yourself do," says Stuhr. "Everybody has to eat every day, but you have to purposely set aside time to work out. And it's very easy to let other things get in the way."

But there's a bonus to working out that you won't notice until you do it. When you exercise, you get more energy. And when you stop (like many of us yo-yoers do), your energy level starts to drop, so it's even harder to jump back in. Sticking with it helps, even if that causes scheduling problems in the short term.

Make It a Habit
Making anything a habit — from exercise to eating right — is a matter of having enough "want power," says Palma Posillico, general manager of training and development for Weight Watchers International. "Life gets in the way, so unless you do something proactively, it's very easy to make excuses."

Try these tips to help you replace bad habits (in this case, being sedentary) with good ones:


  • First identify the habit you want to change. Maybe you want to stop being a couch potato.
  • Picture yourself involved in the negative habit; make the image as unattractive as you can.
  • Then, in the lower-right-hand corner of your mind, put a picture of the new you, the way that you would rather be. Make it a bright, colourful picture of you walking, for example. (It works sort of like a picture-in-a-picture TV screen.)
  • Make the ugly one big and bright and the good one small and dark, then switch them. Then switch five times more. Do it really fast, and clear the screen after each switch.

Understand that you have to start slowly
An hour-long power aerobics class on your first day will only discourage you, maybe hurt you, and send you back to square one.

Find an exercise buddy
A workout partner can be immeasurably helpful, because you have a responsibility to your friend not to talk yourself out of exercising. Make sure you choose a buddy who's in about the same shape as you, though.

Pick an exercise you like
Then commit yourself to trying it consistently for at least three months. If you still think you hate it after that amount of time, give yourself permission to say, okay, this isn't working. Then pick something different and repeat.