How to make exercise a habit
We’ve all had the experience of resolving we’re going to exercise everyday, starting tomorrow. You’ve bought the new running leggings and you feel really motivated and inspired to get cracking. Things go well for a few days but then perhaps you miss one because you didn’t sleep well or there’s a torrential downpour as you’re lacing up your trainers. As the weeks go by, your motivation dwindles… until you stop altogether.
With exercise, we can all tend to an all or nothing attitude (like if you’re not sweating it out 5 times a week at the gym, then it’s not worth bothering at all) and this can make habit forming pretty challenging.
Often our expectation of what exercise should look like for us doesn’t fit with our lifestyle or is just too much to take on at once. So when we miss one day, it might feel insurmountable to get back on track.
The best way to make exercise a habit that will last is to break it down into chunks and start small. Even small increases in how much you exercise can have benefits for how you feel in yourself and your overall health.
Use these tips to help you plan an exercise habit that will work for you long term.
How to stick with an exercise routine
Pinpoint what you enjoy
You will be much more likely to stick with a routine consistently if you enjoy it. This might sound really obvious, but lots of us feel like we should be doing a certain type of exercise – even if we find it boring or uncomfortable!
To help motivate you, focus on what you like doing – whether it’s walking, running, swimming, at home HIT workouts, climbing, tennis, yoga or anything in between. If you’re new to exercise, activities like gardening, walking, gentle stretches (or even cleaning!) are a good way to start incorporating more movement in your day.
Pick one or two activities that you find energising, rather than a bore.
When will exercise fit into your routine?
Are your weekday mornings spent trying to get everyone else to eat breakfast and get out the door? Then perhaps not the best time to expect yourself to fit in a quick run too!
Get realistic about your routine and when you have time available. When can you take time out for yourself in your schedule? And when are your energy levels the best during the day? Between these two questions, pinpoint a regular time a couple of times a week you can commit to.
Set small, cumulative goals
Small steps might not feel like the most exciting when setting goals, but they mean you’ll be far more likely to stick with it long term. Even small wins light up the reward system in the brain, boosting our motivation to continue.
Set small, extremely achievable goals for yourself. Write your goals down, and stick them up somewhere visible for you to see – and for others to see too in you want extra accountability.
Set up your environment for success
Think ahead and set your environment up to make your decision to exercise ‘in the moment’ as easy as possible.
If you decide you want to go for a short run 2 mornings a week, you might write it up on a physical calendar in the kitchen as a reminder to you and your family that you’ll be out. You might also pop your running shoes, leggings and top in a pile by your bed so you can pull them straight on in the morning. You could also prepare a healthy snack as a post-run treat as an extra incentive.
Over time the habit will become routine, but until that point, making little adjustments to reduce any motivational barriers you might have can be a big help.
Challenge your thinking
How we view ourselves, and our sense of identity, has a big impact on our motivation towards a specific goal. If I started to train for a marathon but I’d never jogged a step in my life, it might feel like a big leap for me to think of myself as a ‘runner’. And yet, even on my first jog, I am a runner.
If your sense of identity doesn’t yet match up with your goal, you could start to feel unmotivated or despondent.
When you’re picking up a new exercise habit, motivational techniques like repeating mantras and visualisation can be really helpful to get over these mindset blocks.
How much exercise should I aim for?
The NHS recommends that a healthy adult should aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. Think of it as a half hour each working day, which could include brisk walking. Alternatively, you can aim for 75 minutes of more intense exercise like running or sport. That’s the end goal, but it’s okay to meet yourself where you are right now and build up. The key is to achieve small, steady improvements over time.
If you haven’t exercised in some time, or you have a medical condition or concern, speak to your GP before you start a new exercise routine so they can guide you.
Make a commitment to yourself
Motivation can be a tricky beast, and you’re not going to feel motivated each time you come to exercise. But I can bet you that you will never regret having exercised. Expect to have moments of low motivation, and just do it anyway!
Committing to a realistic exercise habit is making a commitment to yourself. You’ll be giving yourself the gift of some time to sweat it out and blow off steam, while boosting your energy levels, mood and overall health at the same time.
If you're struggling to get into a routine and feel you could benefit from support to help you get there, book a free consultation with me to see if working together could be the right next step for you.