Like a healthy diet or healthy oral care, healthy exercise must be applied in a consistent, regular manner for it to be most effective. It must be something that’s a lifestyle, not just a fad that’s as easily started as it is quit. In other words, it must become a habit.
Research complied by Len Kravitz, PhD, at the University of New Mexico suggests that around 50% of those that begin an exercise program will quit within the first six months. The most common reasons for quitting include:
• Fear of failure.
• Self-esteem / self-consciousness.
• Lack of time.
• Lack of energy.
• Lack of partner.
• Lack of motivation.
• Lack of facilities or equipment.
• Poor health.
However, most everyone will have at least one of the above justifiable reasons as to why they’re not exercising, which is why exercise must be viewed as part of your activities of daily living – a habit, a must-do, verses something optional. Here are seven tips on how to make exercise a habit.
1. Mix Up Physical Activities That You Enjoy.
A lot of people immediately associate exercise with only a gym membership or piece of fancy exercise equipment. Experts disagree, and they are shifting the health-needs focus from regimented exercise to physical activity.
This new mindset about fitness allows individuals more freedom in choosing physical activities that can be enjoyed through various weather conditions, any time of day, on any budget, and with or without an audience.
The point is to get a certain amount of aerobic exercise in each day, and this can be mixed and matched with a variety of activities you personally enjoy and have access to, such as walking, running, climbing stairs, dog walks, tennis, cycling, professional aerobic classes, at-home exercise video, kickboxing, swimming, etc.
Research by Health Psychology was recently published by Time Magazine. The study actually showed that forcing yourself into doing the exact same exercise pattern each day can be counterproductive to sticking with exercising long-term.
2. Form Instigation Habits.
The Health Psychology study also showed that individuals who made exercise a habit formed by a specific cue became the most consistent exercisers.
It’s called an instigation habit, and it’s formed by cues like automatically associating your alarm with your morning run or the presence of anxiety and stress with heading to a yoga class. The activity eventually becomes a habit that you don’t think about, deliberate on, or weigh whether or not you should do when you hear the external or internal cue.
Simply decide what your reoccurring cue will be and begin hinging your exercise on that cue. Before long, that cue will make the exercise a habitual subconscious decision.
3. Find An Equal Partner.
An equal exercise partner can be the encouragement and motivation you need to form the habit of exercise. Much like a social engagement, if you know that someone is there waiting for you and depending on you, then you’re more apt to push through the ‘I don’t feel like it today’ mentality.
The importance of picking the right partner should be noted. It’s ideal to pick someone who’s equally committed, positive, and shares similar exercise goals and capabilities. If your partner is a Cross Fit champion, for example, and you’re at the beginning of trying to get physically fit, then this type of partnership may be more discouraging and frustrating than it is motivating.
4. Try A Fitness Coach.
Unlike a fitness partner, you do want your fitness coach to be an ‘expert.’ They should be trained, knowledgeable, and experienced. Fitness coaches can help you get the technique of various exercises correct to prevent injury. They’ll also help you develop an exercise plan that fits your goals and schedule. Under the right care, you’ll feel motivated and empowered to exercise confidently and safely.
5. Establish Clear And Realistic Goals.
One of the biggest mistakes made by those exercising is in having unrealistic goals that are either impossible to reach or impossible to reach in a healthy manner. It’s not only discouraging, it can be downright dangerous.
Work with your doctor and/or fitness coach to develop a set of goals that are realistic for your age, physical health, and body type. And, don’t measure your own goals and progress by those around you. Everyone progresses at different rates based on a variety of factors from metabolism to secondary health conditions. Compete with yourself, not your neighbor.
As you reach one health and fitness goal, set a new one. Your goals should evolve with your fitness level so that they’re both achievable and challenging.
But, you can make it fun, too. Runners have a common game where they try to metaphorically run to some exotic location. They’ll figure the miles between themselves and the destination. The miles they actually run each day are added and added to see how long it takes them to metaphorically make it to Paris or Madrid.
6. Log Your Activity And Progress.
Keep a daily log of your activity. Don’t discount your routine daily activity, either. If you make a fitness choice to climb the stairs verses ride the elevator or walk verses ride to work, then log it.
Each proactive fitness decision you make can be used to establish a pattern that you can use to form habits and routines. It also transcends the notion of failure. Perhaps you really didn’t have time to make that Pilates class, but you made use of what time you did have to walk with your yogurt and banana during lunch. A log helps you focus on that good choices verses the feeling of failure from missing a class.
Keep a daily log of your progress. Maybe you were only able to handle half the stairs at work at first. A month later, you’re now able to climb two more flights. Three months later, and you’re now able to take the stairs the entire way. That’s progress. That’s achievement. And, don’t forget the other results – maybe your blood pressure checkup was better, you lost a dress size, you’re sleeping better, or feel more energized throughout the day.
7. Checks And Balances.
Most people want rewards for the work they accomplish. While many people exercise with the big idea to improve health or lose weight, and those rewards are slowly achieved, research shows that the most motivation for establishing exercise habits comes from immediate reward. Dr. Michelle Segar, director of the Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center at the University of Michigan, suggests reframing your mental rewards on the here and now, such as the way you feel if you skip exercise.
Likewise, some may need more tangible motivation. If so, then set up a reward system where you only get something you want if you accomplish your fitness goals for the week or month.
There you have seven easy ways to help you establish an exercise routine for the long-term. Remember, everyone is bound to have slips in their habits. We’ve all likely skipped a bath at one time or another, right? But, you don’t just quit taking a bath because you skipped one. Think of exercise as the same must-do habit.