It has been said that it takes just 21 days to make anything a habit, but with the struggle that most Americans go through of starting and sticking with an exercise program, you have to wonder if this saying applies to exercise. Most of us don’t have a hard time starting an exercise program; it is the problem of starting it over and over and over again.
But there are some ways to keep it going. Many people have committed to their own high level of fitness by exercising everyday and eating the right foods. Regardless of schedules, energy levels or desire, these gym regulars are on a first name basis with club owners. How do they do it? What is their secret? Based on my research and observation, here are the things they do consistently to make exercise a habit:
- The location of the gym (or other resource) is extremely convenient. With a gym on just about every other corner these days, this is easy to do. For most people that use a gym, it is located no further than about 5 miles from home or work, or it is located on their employer’s premise itself so that lunch work outs are easily scheduled. It also makes it easier when the gym is located between home and work so that you don’t need to pass your house to get to the gym—the temptation of stopping in to grab something ‘real quick’ could easily turn into skipping your workout that day.
If you don’t have a gym membership, it is important to have something in your home to work with like exercise videos or equipment (e.g. treadmill or elliptical machine), or near your home like a walking or biking trail. The more time it takes to start exercising will lead to finding an excuse not to do it at all.
2. Exercise first thing in the morning. A lot of people prefer this since you usually feel refreshed and energized and it is hard to allow other activities to invade on this early timeframe. For people with children, this time is considered valuable ‘me time’ before the kids wake up and grab your time and attention. Even if you don’t have kids, you will feel good about the rest of your day knowing that you have already squeezed your workout in.
3. Do it no matter what. No matter what! Easier said than done, but necessary. Without this kind of attitude, you will let any and everything interrupt your schedule and it should be non-negotiable. Being disciplined is definitely part of the equation since there will be days that you simply don’t feel like doing it but this is no excuse. If something comes up that is unavoidable (i.e. you get sick or injured), get right back on track as soon as you can. Ease into it a little slowly if you’ve been down for a while, but make it a priority to get right back into the routine that you set before you stopped.
4. Tell somebody about your commitment. Sounds simple, right? Well it is simple to tell them, but it becomes more challenging to actually do what you said you would do. By telling someone that you are going to start working out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays every week and then asking them to hold you accountable, you are more apt to actually do it. For some people, this could be as simple as telling your partner or spouse, a friend or relative. But for others that have a much harder time sticking with it, a personal trainer could be a viable solution since a trainer needs you to do what you said you would do to comply with your exercise program and get results.
5. Vary your workouts. For most people that have been able to make exercise part of their daily activities, variety is important to helping them stick with it. If you keep walking on the treadmill or jogging on the same path, you may eventually get bored and stop. So try a new step class or that salsa class. You are still exercising and having fun in the process. Keep your workouts fresh and fun and you will find that sticking with it is a lot easier. Not to mention you should continually challenge your muscles in new ways with different modalities.
6. Reward yourself. Whenever you reach a certain milestone, it is important to recognize your progress and congratulate yourself. These milestones could be as simple as getting through 2 weeks without missing a workout or as big as losing 15 pounds. Obviously the reward should fit the milestone like buying yourself a massage for small triumphs or a piece of furniture or electronic device for larger ones. You should be proud of your accomplishments no matter how small they are!
You know yourself better than anyone, so use what strategy you know will work for you. Perhaps morning is not the best time of day for you to exercise, so choose a different time of day and stick with it. Or maybe you just love your new elliptical machine and don’t want to change just yet. That’s ok too, as long as you recognize the first signs of boredom and act promptly. Doing something is better than doing nothing so stay on that elliptical (or whatever it is that you like) if its working for you.
Just remember that exercise falls into the same category as everything else when it comes to taking 21 days to develop a habit. And with a healthy activity like exercise, you definitely want it to be a pattern that you can stick with for the rest of your life. So mark it in your calendar and don’t negotiate that timeframe for something else if you can help it. Make it a priority and it will become a habit over time if you make it part of your everyday routine.
Kim Farmer is a Certified Personal Trainer and Clinical Exercise Specialist working in the Denver metro area. Visit her website at www.milehighfitness.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org