You must make exercise a daily habit. In fact, experts suggest you should exercise at least five days a week for life.
The issue is how to turn exercise into a joyful activity, like traveling on a holiday, that you look forward to every day.
The truth is, we hate exercising. So, we rely on motivation to drive us to exercise, which lasts only a few days. What works after that is a solid habit.
Even if you miss a few days, a habit will always get you back into the gym.
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So, here’s how you can create a consistent daily exercise routine, based on science.
How To Make Exercise A Daily Habit That You Enjoy
An exercise habit reduces our risk of early death.
However, one-fourth (25.3%) of Americans don’t do any physical activities. They don’t engage in exercises like running, calisthenics, golf, gardening, or walking, according to CDC data from January 2022.
Here are the 10 proven strategies to make exercise a daily habit:
1. Write: Commit To Yourself In Written Words.
It’s not that we can’t exercise; we can. The real challenge is making it a regular habit so that we can get long-term health benefits. So, how can you break over this mental barrier?
Making a written commitment to yourself helps like magic.
Psychology professor Gail Matthews studied successful goal-setting in 267 people (Matthews, Gail, “The Impact of Commitment, Accountability, and Written Goals on Goal Achievement,” 2007).
She found that one is 42% more likely to achieve your goals if one writes them down, shares them with a friend, and holds themselves accountable by sending them weekly updates.
For example, every night, write in your diary that you will go jogging from 8:00 to 8:15 am, then do practice freehand exercises from 8:15 to 8:30 am, and then walk back home while breathing slowly and deeply.
For better results, send it as a message to your partner or friend. If you find that daily messaging might irritate them, create a new email account and send it to yourself there.
Finally, set an alarm at 10:00 a.m. to remind you to note whether you exercised or not in your diary.
Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine followed 380,055 adults with an average age of 56 for 11 years. They found that people who did not exercise and slept poorly were 57% more likely to die early than those who managed to stay active by walking for 2.5 hours or running for 75 minutes per week.
2. Friend: Get A Workout Buddy or Join A Fitness Group.
This simple hack can help make your fitness routine sticky: working out with an exercise buddy.
When you exercise with a partner or in a group, you can’t always come up with a fresh excuse to skip your workout.
It works because you make an agreement with another person, as well as with yourself.
Even if you wake up with zero motivation to go out jogging, it becomes harder to break your commitment. The same holds true for others in your group.
So, invite a friend or your partner to join you in your workout. If you can’t find one, talk to one of the regulars at the community park where you go jogging to see if they’re interested.
If it’s too much to ask people whether they’ll be your workout buddy, or if they flatly decline, make a No-Contact Distance-Buddy.
It works like this: Pick someone you see jogging every day. Convince yourself that you will jog today to beat them in a month. Instead of contacting them, see them as an opponent to be defeated.
A habit is a routine that you perform without consciously thinking about it. Exercise should be a habit, not a boring chore or a difficult task. Try working out with friends; you will enjoy exercising more than if you did it alone.
3. Goal: Set “Towards-Goals” or Approach Goals.
Great goals are “towards” oriented, rather than “away-from” oriented.
When you tell yourself, “I will eat a cheese-lettuce-olives salad today,” you are moving toward a goal. Scientists call these “approach goals.”
When you say, “I will not eat any ice cream today,” you are moving away from doing something. These are called “avoidance goals.”
Avoidance goals perform poorly when compared to approach goals. So, set approach goals to increase your chances of success.
- Target increasing stamina; not decreasing tiredness.
- Aim for looking more youthful; not appearing less haggard.
- Tell yourself you are going to get fitter; not trying to be less sedentary.
- Make a goal of reaching 115 pounds (ca. 52 kg); not losing 20 pounds (ca. 9 kg).
To set such effective goals, take a look at these 3 Goal-Setting Techniques.
An August 2022 study by UK Biobank shows that 150 to 300 minutes of moderate or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week is associated with a lower risk of heart failure (HF), regardless of clinical and lifestyle factors.
4. Plan: Plan And Decide Ahead Of Time (AOT).
We took that phrase from computer science — AOT, meaning Ahead Of Time.
The idea is to keep your plans ready ahead of time — duration, types, mix, and a variety of activities. When you plan your workouts ahead of time, you are better focused and motivated to go at it.
Keep your AOT plans diverse and flexible.
- Fill in long workouts and short schedules on different days.
- Make a list of which parts of your body or muscle groups you plan to work on each day.
- Keep a day of light exercise, like taking a leisurely walk around town, once a week or two.
An AOT Plan works because you’re already executing it before the minutes pass as you imagine a variety of scenarios, such as matching your mood to the weather.
5. Start: Make Small Chunks And Start Slow.
When you first start, the goal is to exercise your body every day, even if it’s only 5 minutes of walking or just 2 push-ups daily.
Keep your workout goals as small as possible so that you do not fail.
Chunking your time is an excellent way to increase your daily quota of exercise time. If you can’t find long periods of time in your day to exercise, find 3-5 minute chunks of time multiple times during the day.
These short sessions pile up without overburdening you. As a result, you are better able to stick to your exercise routine.
Now, who can fail at 2 abdominal crunches or 10 seconds of slow running in an entire day?
Find someone who can’t fit in three one-minute bursts of activity in a day, and you’ve found the world’s laziest dodo.
6. Energy: Choose Your High-Energy Times.
For most of us, our high-energy times are the mornings.
However, this could be an individual thing as well, so find your own peppy times.
Make a note of the times when you’re most alert, active, and sharp during your day. Those are your best bets for fitting exercise into your daily schedule.
A word of caution: research reveals that your odds of exercising are highest when you’re in a neutral mood — neither too happy nor too sad.
So, don’t schedule workouts when you’re likely to be bouncing with euphoria.
Nor should you try to work yourself out of your gloom.
7. Easy: Find The Path of The Least Resistance.
Try to ease your way into your daily exercise routine through the path of the least effort.
Make the journey from waking up in your bed to exercising in the park, for example, as short as possible. If you have a few chores in between, such as checking your smartphone, you are more likely to skip the workout.
When you have to make decisions like how to match your workout gear to the weather and mood, you’re more likely to experience willpower depletion and decision fatigue, while the minutes tick away.
Instead, go to bed wearing your exercise clothes, and slide your feet into your training shoes first thing out of bed.
8. Breaks: Fill In Occasional Breaks.
Include breaks, intended or unintended, as part of your monthly workout routine. There will be days when even the most conscientious exercisers among us will find a reason to skip a day or two.
Now, the most important thing to do is not to link up these occasional breaks with shame or guilt. Don’t feel you’ve failed yourself. Simply forgive yourself and restart the next day as usual.
Filling in a few breaks in your fitness plans, such as scheduling a day off every week or ten days, is a great way to remind yourself not to take life too seriously. Make a note of the no-exercise days on your calendar ahead of time.
9. Change: Change Your Exercise Patterns.
If the same regular set of exercises makes you feel bad, then change the pattern. Try these against each other:
- indoors versus outdoors
- aerobics versus anaerobic
- light versus strenuous
- weights versus freehand
- vigorous versus slow
- yoga versus dance
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 exercise routine sing that to you. Break up the monotony with a change of patterns. A handy tip: music can give you a higher amount of mood boost during cardio routines.
10. Record: Log 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 Digital You, says it in three simple words in his Forbes post The One Thing Successful People Do Every Day:
Document your wins.
10 Quick Tips To An Exercise Habit
These tips come from the Harvard School of Public Health:
- Break up your workout into pieces — exercise for 10 minutes three times a day.
- Find a companion to exercise with — let a workout buddy keep up your motivation.
- Keep your short walks brisk — whenever you have to walk through your day, walk briskly.
- Get some exercise before your meals — go through a light exercise, like a walk, before lunch.
- Record and check your daily step count — track your steps on a smartwatch; review on weekend.
- Turn off the television, laptop, and phone — cut back on your screen time and use the time for walking or jogging.
- Don’t sit in your chair for too long — set reminders to do some sitting exercises, or get up and walk around.
- Join a coaching class for a novel type of exercise — join a Zumba or yoga or dance class close to your home.
- Fix times to exercise intermittently in the day — set alarms in your daily planner to remind you to go for a walk.
- Give yourself rewards — reward yourself with a fun thing after reaching a goal, like 7 continuous days of exercise.
7 Effective Hacks To Make Exercise A Habit
We’ve all experienced how, after the first kick of motivation, discipline goes for a toss. A single day of break turns into a week. Soon, in less than a week, you end up where you started — point zero — looking for motivation again.
So, don’t wait for inspiration. Instead, employ the following seven hacks to make your exercise routine stick.
1. Exercise first thing in the morning before your energy levels lower and willpower depletes. Find an exercise buddy who is actively into a healthy routine — you will both motivate each other.
2. Do an exercise you have fun doing, such as dancing. Buy some good-looking exercise wear that makes you feel great. Outdoor activities leave you feeling more refreshed and less tense than indoor activities. A moderate-intensity workout is more beneficial than a high or low-intensity workout.
3. Piggyback your exercise routine to another daily habit. Do not let yourself do an activity you have been doing all your life — such as brushing your teeth — unless you have had your morning exercise. Another way is to set an alarm to remind you to exercise 15 minutes before having your breakfast.
4. Keep it simple, like getting out of bed and finding all your workout gear ready at hand. The night before, remember to keep your exercise gear ready at hand — shoes, clothes, exercise-cycle.
5. Sleep and wake up with a positive affirmation about exercising daily. Remind yourself that daily exercise is the best means available to us today for delaying and preventing the effects of aging.
6. Stick notes all over the house — on the fridge door and bathroom mirror — and tell everyone at home to push you. Take pictures of yourself exercising, and post them on your social media.
7. When you don’t feel like it, tell yourself you’ll only do it for 2 minutes, and get down to doing it straightaway. Doing some exercise is better than doing none. It maintains the chain. So, engage in any physical activity to improve your health.
Why Is It Difficult To Make Exercise A Daily Habit?
The main reason why it is hard to stick to a regular exercise schedule is that we simply despise working out. It’s more comfortable to sit around than to exercise. We are terrible at breaking a familiar and relaxed pattern of behavior and replacing it with a new one.
A new habit necessitates a chunk of your time. You spend that time doing things like scrolling through your social media feed. You have to cut that time and use the saved hour to exercise. Of course, you’d despise it!
We are all as good as anyone else on this one. We could do a hundred challenging things in a day, like repeating from memory the holiday destinations of all our Facebook friends we envy.
And yet, we would not start an exercise habit!
Scientists have been telling us for decades: Regular physical activity, aerobic or anaerobic, can produce long-term health benefits. We believe their words. But we do not follow them.
Funnily, not all of us face this problem. Some find it ridiculously easy to take up a new habit or break a bad one. Ask a chronic smoker, and they will tell you how simple it is to stop their smoking habit. They have done it so many times that they are an expert at it.
Knowledge doesn’t guarantee execution. You may be the most well-informed person in your social circle, and phenomenal at advising everyone about the benefits of exercise. Even so, you may not be doing it yourself.
The truth is, you despise working out. That’s why you can’t maintain your exercise habit. You simply fail on your promise to show up the next day after a break.
Every so often, our goals are too ambitious, but we won’t admit it. Setting audacious goals makes us feel powerful. As that famous life coach told you in a hall full of thousand raving fans: “You absolutely must not sell yourself short.”
It’s another one of our human flaws. We are not good at predicting our future selves.
We don’t tally it in how many parts of our lives we have to change to climb to the magnificent goal of losing 50 pounds (ca. 23 kg) within 50 days of exercise.
How Long Does It Take To Make Exercise A Sticky Habit?
Many researchers have dived in deep to answer how long it takes to form a new exercise habit once and for all. Unfortunately, they haven’t reached a consensus yet. Experts differ fantastically — 21 days to 66 days.
We hope this has a simple and straightforward answer. It could have helped us stick to a good habit forever once we have done the activity for that magic number of days.
You may be puzzled at how widely they disagree on the optimum time frame. Read what some of them have to say on how long it takes to make any new activity as exercising a regular habit:
• 21 Days
Maxwell Maltz, a cosmetic surgeon in America in the 1950s, laid it out for generations of self-help experts that 6 weeks or 21 days is the magic number for any new habit.
In his bestseller Psycho-Cybernetics, he 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.”
• 49 Days
Ryan Brooks, the developer of the habit & goal tracker app 7 Weeks, has this to say:
Scientists believe the sweet spot for developing a habit is right around 7 weeks. 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.
• 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.
Did we mention that this number is not exact, but an average of 18 to 254 days?
Ryan reached his magic number by combining information from two sources — Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit and the X Effect Method of Completing Goals.
Why do you fail to stick to an exercise routine?
Because you cannot seem to turn it into a daily habit. But, to reap maximum benefits from exercise, you have to make it an automatic habit. Your body hates to work out. Exercise pushes you out of your comfort zone. So, you miss the gym the day after a break. That one day turns into a week. And soon you abandon your fitness routine.
How often should you exercise every day?
At least three institutes — the NHLBI, the ACSM, and the CDC — recommend moderate-intensity physical exercise for at least 30 minutes each day, five days per week. 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]
Is it OK to exercise every day?
A day of rest once a week is often recommended in a typical adult’s workout routine. The NHLBI, ACSM, and CDC all recommend two days of rest per week. Exercising every day is fine as long as you are not exhausting yourself, injuring yourself, or becoming obsessed with it.
[NHLBI = National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; ACSM = American College of Sports Medicine; CDC = Center For Disease Control]
What are some shortcuts to building a new habit?
Here are 3 shortcuts to form a new habit:
1. First make time for it and then train yourself on a consistent schedule, come rain or shine. You have to 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 a bad habit with another similar behavior, which is somewhat different but better. Then keep repeating it until it sticks. For any kind of success, persistence outperforms motivation every time.
• Download the PDF: How To Make Exercise A Daily Habit
To live a long and healthy life, a daily workout is your best bet.
Exercise is beneficial for you, whatever your age, sex, or physical condition. It boosts your mood and energy, increases your immunity and fights back a horde of diseases, and even increases your life.
In 2012, the National Cancer Consortium in America measured the effect of exercise on overall health. They found that if you walk for at least 75 minutes a week, you can add up to one and a half years to your life.
We’d be thrilled if this post helped you build and maintain a daily fitness routine!
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Exercise is perhaps the most effective way of increasing the quality and quantity of life. Exercise not only makes you healthier, but happier too.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental wellbeing, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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