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Make exercise a habit that sticks

Become fit for life

This article was last updated on Feb. 18, 2020.

For many of us, the toughest part of exercise is making it a habit and sticking with it for the long haul.

Our motivation lasts for a short period of time before it fades, or other tasks or responsibilities crowd it out.

What’s more, most of us don’t have hours to spend in a gym. And we’re not exactly looking forward to an activity that could potentially be monotonous, boring or painful.

“It’s so easy to procrastinate, delay or put off exercise for another time,” says Gina Ryan, program manager of the Well for Life Center at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “That’s why it’s important to change our overall approach.”

For most of us, moderate exercise is the most beneficial for good health. Most adults require at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, according to recent recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Opens PDF. You’ll get there by exercising for 30 minutes, five times a week. Can’t find 30 minutes in your busy schedule? It’s okay to break things up. Two 15-minute workouts or three 10-minute workouts can be just as effective.

Double up on your interests

Sure, you want to stay fit. But you also want to read books, watch television, have more alone time or talk with friends.

Stacking exercise with habits you look forward to might be all the motivation you need. For example, if you enjoy:

  • Movies or television, run or walk on a treadmill while you watch your favorite show.
  • Reading books or listening to podcasts or music, download your favorites and save them for that walk, run, or trip to the gym.
  • Meeting new people, sign up for group exercise classes.
  • Getting together with friends, opt for workout time together instead of lunch or coffee dates.
  • Outdoor adventures, plan new biking, walking or running routes you can try.
  • Alone time, use exercise as time to get away from it all, focus on your breathing and clear your mind from distractions.

Schedule your exercise

Put it on your calendar and commit to it.

Talk to people who might be affected by your schedule, so they know what to expect.

“This may require creative thinking, prioritizing and schedule shuffling, says Ryan, “but it can help you stay committed.”

It’s also important to have a backup plan. For example, if you can’t make your morning workout, make time to play outside with your kids later in the day, run while you watch a television show in the evening or walk while your daughter is at soccer practice.

Stop all-or-nothing thinking

Don’t let bad decisions keep you from your workout.

“I see this one all the time,” says Ryan, who adds that it’s perfectly normal to mess up occasionally.

“Taking a day off doesn’t ruin your whole week. Taking a week off won’t ruin your month,” says Ryan. “No matter how bad you mess up, don’t use it as an excuse to give up your exercise habit altogether. Pick yourself up and make the next decision a good one.”

If you don’t have time for a full workout, don’t write it off completely. Shorter spurts of exercise, such as 10 minutes of walking spaced throughout the day, offer benefits too.

“Some is always better than none,” says Ryan.

Let a fitness gadget be your coach.

If it’s accountability you’re looking for, a wearable health-tracking device could help. The latest fitness gadgets, such as the FitBit® or Jawbone®, can track your fitness goals and progress.

“The great thing about this technology is that it's pretty simple to use, and can really help you stay motivated,” says Ryan.

With most fitness gadgets, you can set daily goals, such as how many steps to take in a day. Most offer challenges, providing an incentive for competitive types.

“They are a huge motivator for a lot of people,” says Ryan. “It’s hard to slack when you're competing with others. It’s also pretty fun.”

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