One of the most common questions I get as a trainer is, “How do I make exercise a regular part of my life?” I am aware there are many individual circumstances that challenge this possibility, however, there are also some simple steps that can help anyone to try and create a more healthy and active lifestyle for themselves. Below are 10 steps that I think they are some of the more important and effective ones to put into practice (especially if you are new to exercise).
- Realistic and Intentional Goal Creating
First of all, it is important to have an idea of where you want to be with exercise. To start with, this should be a realistic and attainable small goal. If you are currently not exercising at all, starting with a goal to walk 15 minutes, 3-4 times a week is totally reasonable. Start with focusing on making exercise (even the smallest amount) something you do 4+ times a week and then increase the duration or resistance. Once you have achieved your first goal you can reevaluate and add to it to challenge yourself.
It is also good to have bigger/more long term goals to know where you are trying to go. For example, a big goal could be to go on a 6 mile hike by the end of 4 months. Your first short-term goal would be to walk 2 miles a day, 3 times a week. Once you’ve reached that goal, try making your next goal increasing your speed.
If you aren’t reaching your goals it is good to ask yourself why? Is there a “road block” or barrier that is stopping you from doing what you want? Are your goals just a little too hard to achieve right now?
Making your goals attainable allows you a chance to succeed. Once you succeed in one goal you are more likely to be encouraged to try to reach your next goal.
- Make a Plan
Planning ahead is really helpful in being able to create a new habit. Lack of perceived time tends to be a major reason many people do not exercise in the United States. Sitting down at the beginning of the week and planning days/times you will try to exercise allows you the ability to know what potential barriers may arise to keep you from attaining this goal and make a plan if those do happen. It also allows you a concrete idea of when this “exercise” is going to happen and what you may need to do to encourage yourself to do it. Do you need to set your alarm a little earlier, pack a gym bag and leave it in your car, make sure you have someone to watch your child while you attend an exercise class, or check the weather to know days you will enjoy a walk at lunch?
It is impossible to hold to a plan 100 percent of the time. It’s ok and necessary to be flexible if things come up that hinder your ability to workout. However, planning can sometimes allow you a chance to eliminate some of those problems.
- Find Something You Enjoy
If working out is torture, and there is no part of it you like, then chances are you will never succeed in making it a regular part of your life. There are so many ways to get exercise. If you don’t like gyms try walking or biking outside, if you like being with people try a class, if you have delicate joints try swimming. Find something that is either kind of fun, or at least not a torture and do that! Use exercise as a way to release frustration or stress, count it as a way to give back to your body and self. Then you will start to see it in a more positive light and may even find yourself looking forward to your workout times.
Be creative and find a way to enjoy what you do to stay healthy.
- Find Accountability
Finding someone to encourage you to workout can help motivate you when you don’t want to as well as eliminate any discouraging thoughts about whether you should invest in working out. You can use online tracking tools to be linked into friends that are trying to stay active as well. You can also find someone to actually work out with you, making it a team event!
- Use Rewards:
This can mean many different things depending on each individual. Basically, find what motivates you. If you love shopping, encourage yourself by buying a cute outfit after completing one of your goals. If you love friends, sign up to do an event or sport with others so you can spend time with people you like when you work out. Motivating yourself by rewards is not bad, especially when trying to encourage a new habit. Why do you think we often times use dessert to encourage our kids to eat their vegetables?
- Practice, Practice, Practice
New activities can be scary, especially if you worry about who sees you trying to do the new activity. Want to know my secret? In your mind, decide you are good at whatever you are doing, then forget about everyone watching and go at it. No, you will not be perfect the first time you try something. But do it again and again and then again. Eventually, it will feel less awkward, then maybe a little better, then eventually you might even feel a little natural at it. Putting in the time to do something over and over is the way to master it.
- Find your Barriers
Still having trouble committing to regular exercise? Reevaluate why that is. Look back at the last week(s) you have planned or tried to exercise and find out why. Then come up with a plan of how to get around that barrier (and maybe create more realistic goals if you need to). This may be a time to find more helpful accountability or have a conversation with your spouse about how to make this a realistic part of your life.
- Ask for Help
Creating a new habit can be daunting and sometimes confusing. If you are at a loss of how to make exercise a part of your lifestyle ask a trusted friend or professional for help. Find a personal trainer to help you make a plan or write an exercise program for you, join a community or class of people exercising. Not only will helpful information encourage you but the support will also make it easier to get active.
- Remember Why
Remember the reason you are exercising in the first place. Have a reason you are trying hard to make this part of your day. Do you want to be healthy for now and life-long? Do you want to do your part to avoid unnecessary health costs by reducing the risk of disease or injury? Do you want to set a good example for your family? Do you want to be able to physically do more with friends? Whatever the reason is, write it down and put it somewhere visible. Then when you are discouraged it will remind you why you are trying so hard in the first place!
10. Be OK with You
You are a unique person. Your body is unique. There are things you can do (and do them well) and there are things that are probably hard or impossible for you to do. Find out what exercise works for YOU and be proud of yourself for doing that. Don’t waste time or energy comparing yourself to people on the trail or on Facebook. Also know that at different phases of your life exercise will look different. As a young mom, I am happy with a 15 minute focused workout. Set realistic expectations for yourself and be happy with who you are and what your life allows you to do. Celebrate your victories (no matter how small) and be a positive support for others around you!
Now is the time to start the ball rolling and have a positive change in your life. Don’t wait till tomorrow to live the way you want to! If you need more help or advice, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I would love to be a part of your journey to getting and staying healthy!