10+ Best Strategies To Make Exercise A Daily Habit

— Researched and written by Dr. Sandip Roy.

One-fourth of Americans (25.3%) don’t do any physical activities. The strange thing is that they know that an exercise routine can save them from heart diseases, diabetes, cancer, and early death.

The truth is, we all hate exercising. We may pump ourselves with a Schwarzenegger-level motivation to drag our unwilling bodies to the gym. Sadly, this just lasts a few days.

So, how to make exercise a habit when your body won’t do it?

The key is to transform it into a boring discipline. So you go back to the gym even when you miss some days. So you go to the park to sit in the morning sun, even if you don’t want to walk.

Medical experts suggest that every adult should exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. And here’s how to do that.

1. Write Down A Commitment

Noncommittal intentions don’t work.

Stop promising yourself things like “I’ll start this weekend as soon as the work pressure is less” or “I must start exercising this week.” They are intentions without deadlines.

Make a written commitment to yourself. Writing down goals removes the mental blocks of “I will” and “I must” out.

People who write down a goal are more likely to achieve it than those who leave it as a wish in the wind.

Here is a simple strategy for exercise commitment:

  1. Share your intention to start exercise with a friend or family. Ask them to hold you accountable.
  2. Every night, write down an exercise plan for the next day. Be specific about the type of exercise you will do, the duration of your workout, and the exact time you will start.
  3. Set an alarm for the next morning, or a series of 2–5 alarms, if you have an ADHD brain that makes you sleep late.
  4. After your workout, enter in your diary whether you completed your exercise plan or not. This will help you track your progress and identify any areas where you need to improve.

A Sample Commitment:

Date: 2024-[month]-[day]

Exercise plan:

  • 8:00-8:15 AM: Warming up exercises
  • 8:15-8:30 AM: Jogging or running
  • 8:30-8:45 AM: Breathing exercise


  • I did 10 minutes of slow run and 5 minutes of fast run.
  • I will add one minute of jumping jacks and neck exercises tomorrow.

2. Find a Workout Buddy or Join a Group

Exercising with a friend or joining a fitness group can make your fitness routine stick.

Benefits of working out with others:

  • Accountability: When you commit to someone else, you’re less likely to skip.
  • Motivation: Others working hard can motivate you to push yourself harder.
  • Support: Workout buddies and fitness groups support and encourage you.
  • Fun: Exercising with others can be more fun than exercising alone.

Research suggests that group walks in nature can reduce depression and stress.

Ask a friend, family member, or neighbor to join you. You can also find workout buddies online, at your local gym, running clubs, yoga classes, or CrossFit gyms.

  • Look for someone with similar fitness goals and interests.
  • Find someone who is reliable and committed to working out.
  • Make sure you have fun working out with them!

If you cannot find a workout partner, make a No-Contact Exercise Buddy.

Do this: Pick someone you see jogging every day. Make a deal in your mind that you will jog today so that you can beat them in a month. Repeat it the next day.

A few tips to stay motivated while working out alone:

  • Set realistic goals.
  • Track your progress.
  • Find activities you enjoy.
  • Reward yourself for your accomplishments.
How to Build a Gym Habit - Psychological Tricks to Get Motivated

3. Set Positive, Approach Goals or “Towards-Goals”

“Towards-Goals” are more motivating, inspiring, and goal-oriented.

Research confirms that approach goals are more effective than avoidance goals (Mann, de Ridder, Fujita, 2013). This is because approach goals are associated with greater positive emotions, thoughts, and self-evaluations and greater psychological well-being (Coats & Janoff-Bulman, 1996).

  • Approach goals are positive; they help us move toward desired outcomes. They focus on gaining something positive, such as increasing stamina, looking more youthful, or getting fitter.
  • Avoidance goals are negative; they help us move away from undesired outcomes. They focus on moving away from something negative, such as decreasing tiredness, appearing less haggard, or being less sedentary.

Some examples of approach goals (“Towards-Goals”) vs. avoidance (“Away-From-Goals”) goals:

  • Approach goal: I will achieve my ideal weight of 115 pounds.
    Avoidance goal: I will lose 25 pounds.
  • Approach goal: I will get fitter by lifting 10-pound weights.
    Avoidance goal: I will stop staying unfit.
  • Approach goal: I will increase my stamina so I can run for 3 minutes without stopping.
    Avoidance goal: I must stop getting out of breath while running.
  • Approach goal: I will reverse my aging by taking the right supplements and vitamins.
    Avoidance goal: I will avoid looking older than my age.
  • Approach goal: I will only eat a healthy diet starting today.
    Avoidance goal: I will have to stop my unhealthy eating lifestyle.

5 Tips for setting approach goals:

  1. Set a future date for achieving your goal.
  2. Be specific about what you want to achieve.
  3. Make sure your goal is realistic, yet stretches you a little.
  4. Break your goal down into smaller, more manageable steps.
  5. Track your progress and celebrate your small successes with self-rewards.

By setting approach goals, you can increase your chances of success and achieve your fitness goals.

To set such effective goals, take a look at these 3 Goal-Setting Techniques.

4. Plan Your Workouts Ahead Of Time (AOT)

Planning your workouts ahead of time (AOT) is a great way to stay focused and motivated. When you know what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it, you’re less likely to skip your workouts.

Here are some tips for creating an AOT plan:

  • Choose a mix of activities. This will help keep your workouts interesting and challenging. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recommends activities like brisk walking, using a pedometer, and combining cardiovascular exercise with sedentary activities (like exercises while watching TV)​.
  • Mix and match different types of workouts. For example, you could do a strength training workout on Monday, a cardio workout on Wednesday, and a yoga class on Friday.
  • Schedule your workouts in advance. Put them in your calendar or planner so you can’t forget.
  • Be flexible. Things happen, so don’t be afraid to adjust your plan if needed.

Specificity in AOT Planning: Set clear and detailed plans for your workouts. Instead of a vague intention like “exercise tomorrow,” specify the time and activity, to turn intentions into actions.

A sample week of an AOT (Ahead Of Time) plan:

  • Monday: Strength Training — Focus on major muscle groups with exercises like squats, push-ups, and dumbbell lifts.
  • Tuesday: Light Aerobic Activity — Engage in activities like brisk walking or a short jog to keep the momentum without overstraining.
  • Wednesday: Cardio Workout — Intense activities like running, cycling, or a high-energy fitness class to boost heart rate and endurance.
  • Thursday: Flexibility and Balance — Incorporate stretching routines or a Pilates session to improve flexibility and core strength.
  • Friday: Yoga — A calming yoga session to enhance flexibility, balance, and mind-body connection.
  • Saturday: Rest and Meditation — Dedicate this day to mental health and relaxation, with meditation and light stretching if needed.
  • Sunday: Active Recovery — Engage in lighter, enjoyable activities such as a leisurely walk, bike ride, or a fun family outdoor game.

Tips for making your AOT plan work:

  • Listen to your body. If you’re feeling tired, take a day off or do a lighter workout.
  • Don’t be afraid to change your plan. If you’re not enjoying a particular workout, try something else.
  • Find a workout buddy. Having someone to work out with can help you stay motivated.

A lack of self-confidence or motivation is one of the biggest hurdles in following through with your AOT (Ahead Of Time) plan. Here’s what to do to solve it:

  1. Practice Self-Compassion: Be gentle with yourself. Your exercise routine is a personal journey, don’t make it a competition to outdo others. Accept that slow progress and setbacks are part of the journey. Be patient with yourself as you work towards your long-term fitness goal.
  2. Adjust Expectations: Building a habit is a gradual process. Set realistic, achievable goals to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Celebrate small victories. Focus on consistency over intensity or duration.
  3. Positive Self-Talk: Engage in encouraging self-dialogue. Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations that reinforce your ability to succeed.
  4. Visualize Success: Spend a few minutes each day visualizing yourself achieving your fitness goals. This mental practice can boost confidence and motivation.
  5. Reward Progress: Set up a system of rewards for meeting small goals. This could be as simple as a favorite (healthy) snack, an episode of a TV show, or some quiet time with a book.

5. Start Slow & Small, And Build Up

When you’re first starting out, make your workout goals as small as possible. This will help you avoid getting overwhelmed and discouraged.

Here are a few tips for getting started:

  • Start with just 5–10 minutes of exercise per day.
  • Break your workouts down into smaller chunks. For example, you could do 5 minutes of walking in the morning, 5 minutes of strength training at lunchtime, and 5 minutes of yoga before bed.
  • Focus on one body part or muscle group per day.
  • Choose activities that you enjoy.

As you get stronger and more motivated, you can gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workouts.

Here are some examples of small chunks of exercise that you can do throughout the day:

  • Take a walk around the block.
  • Do a few push-ups and sit-ups.
  • Climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator.
  • Park further away from your destination and walk the rest of the way.
  • Do some stretching or yoga.

Even a small amount of exercise is better than none. So start today in a small way and gradually increase your activity level over time.

Make sure you find activities that you enjoy and that you can stick with. If your workouts are too difficult or long, you’re more likely to give up. So start small and gradually increase your activity level.

Find a person who can’t fit three 1-minute bursts of activity in a day and you’ve found the world’s laziest dodo.

Dodo in park
The Laziest Dodo, Gondova Park.

Talk To Your Doctor: You may have difficulty with certain exercises, even if they are simple to others in the gym. Don’t overexert yourself on a dare, especially if you are over 30 years of age. Consult your doctor before starting a new strenuous exercise program.

6. Exercise During Your Peak Energy Times

For most of us, our high-energy times are the mornings.

However, this can vary from person to person. Pay attention to when you feel most alert, active, and sharp during the day. These are the best times to schedule your workouts.

Also, note that your chances of exercising are highest when you’re in a neutral mood. Avoid scheduling workouts when you’re feeling too happy or too sad.

Research has shown that morning workouts are more effective for weight management than evening workouts.

A 2023 study by Tongyu and Bennett found that overweight and obese men who did a 30-minute moderate-intensity cardio workout three times a week lost more weight and had lower body fat after six weeks if they worked out in the morning.

The researchers believe that morning workouts increase metabolism (by increasing levels of norepinephrine) and reduce appetite (by reducing levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin).

Here are some tips for making morning workouts work for you:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. This will help regulate your sleep-wake cycle and make it easier to get out of bed in the morning.
  • Get some sunlight exposure as soon as you wake up. This will help boost your energy levels and alertness.
  • Eat a light breakfast before your workout. This will give you the energy you need to power through your workout without feeling too full.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout.
  • Start your workout slowly and gradually increase the intensity.
  • Listen to your body and take breaks when needed.
  • Reward yourself for completing your workout.

If you find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, try setting your alarm for just 5 minutes earlier each day. Once you’ve been getting up at the same time for a week, try setting your alarm for 10 minutes earlier. Continue this process until you’re getting up at the time you want to start your workout.

Morning workouts can be a great way to start your day and achieve your fitness goals.

7. Make Exercise Easy and Accessible

Embrace the path of the least resistance.

One great way to make sure you don’t skip your workouts is to make them as easy as possible.

Use these tips:

  • Set out your workout clothes and gear the night before. This will save you time in the morning and help you avoid any decision fatigue.
  • Go to bed in your workout clothes. Wear your jogging dress to bed, so you can roll out of bed and move into your workout without any fuss. This is a great way to remove any barriers between you and your workout. When you wake up, you’re already halfway there!
  • Choose activities you enjoy. Break the routine every week or two to do some physical activity that you really love to do (for me, it’s walking around my own city like a tourist). Try dancing or hiking or Zumba. Breaks from monotony make routines more sticky.
  • Integrate exercise into your lifestyle. Try “sneaking” more movement into daily life. Some daily movement tips — house chores, extra steps, taking the stairs, chair stretching, and moving at lunchtime.

Some daily movement tips:

  1. Dance Interludes: Do a short dance while doing routine tasks like cooking or cleaning. This adds fun to your chores and increases your activity level.
  2. Parking Farther Away: Whenever you drive somewhere, park further away from the entrance. This simple change adds extra walking to your routine, boosting your daily step count.
  3. Active TV Watching: During TV show commercials or streaming pauses, do quick exercises like sit-ups, push-ups, or jumping jacks.
  4. Walking Meetings: If possible, conduct meetings or phone calls while walking. This can be especially effective for one-on-one meetings or when on a personal call.
  5. Bike for Errands: For close-by tasks, take a bike ride instead of driving, which gives you a chance to get some fresh air and is environmentally friendly.
  6. Gardening or Yard Work: Engage in gardening or yard work, which beautifies your living space and involves physical labor that’s great for fitness.
  7. Stand Up Regularly: If you work at a desk, make it a habit to stand up and stretch or walk around every hour. This helps in reducing the risks associated with prolonged sitting.

Then there’s “habit stacking” to push you further on your path of the least resistance.

Habit Stacking means adding a habit to another pre-existing routine. Linking habits can help solidify your new exercise routine. Some examples:

  • Before breakfast, do a short cardio session, like jumping jacks or a brisk walk, to help kick-start your metabolism.
  • After returning from work, do a stretching or yoga session as a way to decompress from the day and shift into home mode.
  • Before your usual nighttime activities like reading or watching TV, a light exercise, like Tai Chi, can help you relax and improve your sleep quality.

8. Integrate Regular, Planned Breaks

Even the most conscientious exercisers need to take breaks from time to time. There will be days when you’re not feeling up to working out, or when you have other commitments that take priority.

Remember that exercise is a journey, not a race. If you miss a day or two, it’s not the end of the world.

Self-Forgiveness For Missed Workouts

Missing a workout is not a failure, but it is a small part of life. If you skip a day, avoid self-criticism and aim to get back on track the next day. Your goal is long-term fitness, so self-forgiveness can go a long way in maintaining a sustainable approach.

Be forgiving of yourself and do not link occasional breaks with shame or guilt. Simply pick up where you left off the next day.

In fact, scheduling occasional breaks into your fitness routine can be a good way to stay motivated and avoid burnout. It can also give your body time to rest and recover.

Here are a few tips for filling in occasional breaks in your fitness routine:

  • Plan your breaks ahead of time. This will help you avoid skipping workouts on impulse.
  • Schedule a day off every week or ten days. This will give your body time to rest and recover.
  • Listen to your body. If you’re feeling tired or sore, take a break. Don’t push yourself too hard.
  • Find other ways to be active. If you’re not feeling up to a hard workout, go for a walk, do some yoga, or play with your kids.

Of course, the most essential thing is to stay consistent with your exercise routine. But don’t be afraid to take breaks when needed.

9. Vary Your Exercise Patterns

There’s a song by King Prawn called Lick of the Flame which has these lines:

Mundane monotony is all you have to offer me.

Don’t let your workout become a mundane, routine activity that you end up dreading. Try changing it up. Here are a few ideas:

  • Change the environment. Exercise indoors or outdoors, depending on your preference.
  • Change the type of exercise. Alternate between aerobic and anaerobic exercises, or between light and strenuous exercises.
  • Change the equipment you use. Lift weights instead of doing freehand exercises, or vice versa.
  • Change the intensity of your workouts. Try vigorous workouts one day and slow workouts the next.
  • Try a new activity. Take a yoga class, go for a dance lesson, or try a new sport.

Changing up your workout routine can also help you challenge yourself and improve your fitness results.

10. Keep A Record of Your Achievements

Write them into a diary or store them digitally for review from time to time. You could use a digital notepad for this.

William Arruda, the author of the great book Ditch, Dare, Do, says it in three simple words in his Forbes post The One Thing Successful People Do Every Day:

Document your wins.

10 Tips To Make Exercise Habit - 10+ Best Strategies To Make Exercise A Daily Habit - 1
How To Make Exercise A Daily Habit (Infographic)

Can Prolonged Sitting Increase Your Risk of Dying?

  • Did you know that researchers have found that those who sat for more than 8 hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to that posed by obesity and smoking?
  • Recent research shows that even regular exercise may not make much of a difference if you spend the rest of the day planted on a chair.
  • An international group of experts published an article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that says we should start standing up at work for at least 2 hours a day — and work our way toward 4 hours.
  • Columbia University Medical Center researchers found that five minutes of gentle walking every half an hour can offset the harms of prolonged sitting.

Why Is It Difficult To Exercise Daily?

The first exercise barrier is that we don’t like to exercise; in fact, we hate it.

Other reasons that stop us from building a daily workout habit are:

  • Old habits die hard. We are creatures of habit, so it’s hard to break old patterns. It is easier to sit for hours and do what we have always done, rather than get up from our chair every and do a little exercise. Exercise is a new habit that strategies, willpower, and effort.
  • Time is too precious to spend on exercise. Creating a new habit requires time. We need to find time in our busy schedules to exercise regularly. This can be challenging, especially if we have other commitments, such as work, family, and social obligations.
  • Knowledge doesn’t guarantee execution. We may know the benefits of exercise, but we don’t always act on that knowledge. We may be too lazy to exercise, or we may find excuses not to do it. Remember, actions speak louder than words. We need to bridge the gap between knowledge and action.

Facts don’t get us to act. We’re great advisers, but poor doers.

  • Setting unrealistic goals. If we set our sights too high, we are more likely to get discouraged and give up. It is better to start with small, achievable goals, such as exercising for 20 minutes three times a week. As we get stronger and more motivated, we can gradually increase the duration and intensity of our workouts.
  • Starting something we don’t enjoy. If we don’t enjoy our exercise routine, we are less likely to stick with it. It is important to find activities that we find fun and challenging. There are many types of exercise, so there is sure to be something that everyone enjoys.

It’s really the follow-through that falls through.

exercise improves sleep - 10+ Best Strategies To Make Exercise A Daily Habit - 2

How Long To Make An Exercise Habit Stick?

To form a new exercise habit, it can take anywhere from 21 to 66 days, say experts.

  • 21 Days: In Psycho-Cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz wrote, “Many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”
  • 66 Days: Phillippa Lally, a researcher in health psychology at University College London, carried out a study in 2009 that said it takes a little more than 2 months (or 66 days) for a new habit to take root.
  • 49 Days: Ryan Brooks combined Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit and the X Effect Method to reach the figure of 49 days. He says, “So, once you have completed 49 days straight with little slip-ups, you can be sure to have developed a positive habit, or broken a bad habit.”
Make exercise a habit by using a paper calendar or palnner
X Effect Method to make or break a habit, using a paper calendar or planner

Interesting FAQs

  1. Why do you fail to stick to an exercise routine?

    1. Two main reasons are having unsustainable motivation and setting unrealistic goals. Both are somewhat related. When we start with too ambitious workouts, the motivation dips sharply in a few days. The whole routine becomes unenjoyable, making us give up.
    2. Moreover, a new exercise habit poses a challenge to become a part of our busy lifestyle. After a few days, other priorities (that are less physically taxing) take over.
    3. Finally, a lack of immediate results can be quite discouraging, which can be a big demotivation.

  2. How often should you exercise every day?

    We should do moderate-intensity physical exercise for at least 30 minutes per day, five days per week, according to the three most reputed institutes — the NHLBI, the ACSM, and the CDC. They also recommend that every adult use this 30-minute x 5-day guideline as their long-term exercise goal. Heed their advice for a healthy life.

    [NHLBI = National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; ACSM = American College of Sports Medicine; CDC = Center For Disease Control]

  3. Is it OK to exercise every day?

    It is not okay to exercise all days a week, as our bodies need time to recover. The experts at NHLBI, ACSM, and CDC all recommend two days of rest per week.
    Moreover, we need more time to recover as we grow older. Beyond 40 years of age, three days of exercise per week works the right balance between exercise and recovery.
    Exercising strenuously every day can exhaust your system, injuring you and even causing death. Recently, 45-year-old cyclist Anil Kadsur, who rode 100 kilometers every day for over a thousand days, died of cardiac arrest.

    [NHLBI = National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; ACSM = American College of Sports Medicine; CDC = Center For Disease Control]

  4. Are there some shortcuts to building a new habit?

    Here are 3 shortcuts to form a new habit:
    1. Allot time for it, and push yourself consistently, come rain or shine. Show up regularly until it becomes an unalterable part of your day.
    2. Give yourself a reward each time you stay on your schedule. This is a scientifically proven strategy to reinforce a new behavior into a habit.
    3. Replace an unhelpful behavior with another similar, but somewhat better, one. Keep repeating it until it becomes a natural part of your life.

“For any kind of success, persistence outperforms motivation every time.”

Final Words

Download the PDF: How To Make Exercise A Daily Habit (PDF). I hope this helps you build and keep up a daily fitness routine.

Here are three takeaways:

  1. Start small. Don’t try to change too much too soon. Start with a small goal, such as exercising for 20 minutes three times a week. Once you have achieved that goal, you can gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workouts.
  2. Make it easy. Make it as easy as possible for yourself to exercise. For example, put your workout clothes out the night before so you can easily get dressed in the morning. Or, find a workout buddy who can help you stay motivated.
  3. Be patient. It takes time to form a new habit. Don’t get discouraged if you slip up occasionally. Just pick yourself up and keep going.

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Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher.

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