How to Make Exercise a Habit

Is your fitness routine on-again, off-again—perhaps more often off than on? Learn how to make exercise a habit that will stick for life.
How to Make Exercise a Habit

"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? 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 will 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's 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 and executive vice president of the American Council on Exercise. If you sit in front of a computer, exercise can be a social thing for you. If you never see your spouse, exercise together.

If you find something that works for you on a personal level, 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 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, vice president 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."

One strategy for acquiring a new habit is to imagine the benefits of that habit. In the case of exercise, picture yourself in great shape. This will help inspire you.

Here are some other tricks for making exercise a habit:

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. Try to choose a buddy who's in about the same shape as you.

Pick an exercise you like.
Then commit to trying it consistently for at least three weeks. 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.

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