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3 ways to make exercise a habit

I really should start exercising

Does that sound familiar? You know that exercise reduces the chance of chronic illness, helps with mental health, helps you sleep better and helps with weight loss. You know that the US Department of Health recommends people exercise 150 minutes a week. You can even find different 340 million exercise routines in a single Google search. Yet, you are still staying “I really should start exercising.”

Why don’t people exercise?

First things first, 0.0625% of the population have a medical condition that means they can’t exercise at all. For the rest of us, if we consult with a medical or fitness professional, we can find some form of exercise that we can do. The first hurdle to exercise is the excuses we tell ourselves.

“I hate exercising.” 

If you hate exercise you need to find a different exercise. Exercise should be fun! If running on the treadmill at the gym isn’t enjoyable, find something that is! Join an ultimate frisbee team, start mountain biking, get a dog. Anything that gets you moving is exercise. If you enjoy the activity, you are far more likely to make it a habit.

“I don’t have time to exercise.” 

Exercising doesn’t have to be time consuming. You don’t have to do your 150 minutes of exercise in one go (Infact you shouldn’t!) You don’t even have to do your 30 minutes of exercise a day in one go. In fact research has shown that doing 10 minutes of exercise three times a day is as good as doing 30 minutes once a day. Even just 10 minutes has noticeable benefits. 

“I’m too tired to exercise.” 

As strange as it sounds, exercising actually makes you feel more energized. Making exercise a habit will help you do it even when you don’t feel like you can.

“I am too unfit to exercise.” 

The key to building any habit is to start small and build up. If you don’t do exercise at the moment and you start parking at the back of the parking lot when you go to the store – guess what, you are exercising! Start so small you can’t not do it – and then slowly increase it. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Just because someone else can run a marathon doesn’t diminish your accomplishment of going for a 10 minute walk. You both had to work hard. Congratulate yourself for small wins.

Before you start

If you haven’t exercised in a while:
  • Consult a medical professional to make sure your exercise routine is safe for you.
  • Remember to warm up before you exercise.
  • Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
  • Listen to your body.
  • Start small and celebrate small wins.

How to make exercise a habit

Remember the 3 parts to every habit: reminder, routine and reward.

Set yourself a reminder.

Make sure you have a mechanism to remind you to exercise. Don’t rely on memory and certainly don’t rely on motivation. Block out time in your calendar. Set a reminder on your phone. Leave your walking shoes on the drivers seat of your car. Link exercising to something you already do. Every habit starts with a reminder – and if you aren’t reminded, guess what – you won’t do it.

Pick a realistic routine.

As you are deciding what form of exercise to start, ask yourself “what could get in the way of me doing this?” When either take steps to counter that, or tweak your routine accordingly. Start so small you can’t not do it. Remember any amount of exercise is better than no exercise. Yes you might want to go for a 60 minute walk, but if 15 minutes is all you can do – then that’s OK. As a former boss used to say “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

Reward yourself

Find a way to “reward” yourself for exercising. Keeping track of your progress is a reward in and of itself. Reward yourself with a hot bath if that’s your thing. Or get yourself a nice cup of starbucks. Or allow yourself to watch one episode of Real Housewives of Jersey Shore after you have exercised. Just find something nice to reward yourself with.


Everyone can exercise – even you!
Start so small you can’t not do it.
Make your exercise realistic.
Reward yourself.