The biggest problem with exercising is how to make it a daily habit. Can you change that? How can you build an exercise habit that sticks for a long time?
Experts tell us if we walk for only 7½ hours a week throughout the year, we could add up to 4½ years to our lifespan. To get that advantage, have a daily exercise regimen. We share the best insights and tips here.
These are the best practical ideas that actually help. Even if you were to follow a few of them, you would be miles ahead of others in the game.
∇ This epic post covers almost everything on creating a daily exercise habit. Free ebook (PDF) is at the end (no email required).
10 Proven Tips To Make Exercise A Daily Habit
1. Commit To Yourself In Writing
The issue for most of us is not that we cannot exercise; we can. The real problem is making exercise a well-ingrained daily habit so we get long-term health benefits. So, how do you fight this mental barrier?
Making a commitment to yourself in writing helps almost like magic. Psychology professor Gail Matthews studied successful goal-setting in 267 people. She found you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down, share them with a friend, and hold yourself accountable by sending them weekly updates.
So, every night, write in your diary you are going to go out jogging from 8:00 to 8:15 am, then do freehand exercises from 8:15 to 8:30 am, and finally, 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 and send it there.
Finally, set up an alarm on your at 10:00 am reminding you to log into your diary if you exercised or not.
2. Get A Workout Buddy Or Join A Fitness Group
Now, this simple hack can make your workout habits sticky. When you go for an exercise with a partner or a group, you can not devise a new excuse every day to skip your routine.
In a study of 117 adults, those who worked out with friends enjoyed the exercise more than those who did it by themselves. Group walks in nature can reduce depression, as well as be an excellent stress-busting routine.
So, get a friend or your partner to go with you. If you find no such person, then talk to one of the regulars at the community park you go to for jogging. If you think it is too much to ask them, or they decline flat out, you make a no-contact distance-buddy – someone who jogs there in the park.
3. Set ‘Towards-Goals’
Great goals are ‘towards’ oriented, rather than ‘away-from oriented. We call these approach goals (as “I will eat a cheese-lettuce-olives salad today.”). The opposite type comes under avoidance goals (as “I won’t eat any ice cream today.”).
Your goals could be in the lines of reaching 115 pounds — not losing 20 pounds. 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.
How to set goals? Check out the 3 Highly Effective Goal-Setting Techniques.
4. Plan & Decide Ahead Of Time
We took that phrase from computer science – AOT, meaning Ahead Of Time. If interested, find out more about how AOT produces machine-optimized code.
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.
Since you do not plan out the best activities to match the weather and your mood that day, you are already doing it before the minutes (and perhaps the hour) tick away.
5. Start Small And Slow
Even if it is just 5 minutes a day of leisurely walk. If you cannot find long chunks of time in your day to exercise, find 3-5 minute slabs several times during the day. These multiple small bouts add up without overburdening you, and you’re more able to continue your exercise routine.
Find a guy who cannot find 3 slices of one minute each to exercise on their packed day, and you will have found the laziest dodo on earth.
6. Choose High-Energy Times
For most, this is morning. However, this is more of an individual thing. So, find out your chipper periods.
A little caution: according to science, your odds of working out are at their greatest when you’re in a neutral — neither happy nor sad — mood. So, don’t fix exercise times when you’ll probably be bouncing with euphoria. Nor try to exercise yourself out of your blues.
7. Find The Path of Least Resistance
Try to find your way into your daily exercise routine through a path of least effort.
For example, make the route between waking up on your bed and jogging out in the park the shortest. If you set up a few responsibilities in between, as checking your smartphone, then you have a good chance of missing the workout.
If you’ve to go through the decisions of how to match your workout gear to the weather and mood of the day, then you’re likely setting yourself up for decision fatigue and watching the minutes tick away. Instead, for example, go to bed dressed in your jogging or gym wear.
8. Fill In Occasional Breaks
Include breaks, intended or unintended, as part of your ritual. 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 and guilt. Don’t feel you’ve failed yourself. Simply forgive yourself and restart as usual.
Better still, fill in a few gaps in your exercise schedule, such as marking a day off in a week or ten days. Mark on your calendar the no-exercise days ahead of time.
9. Change 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 greater amount of mood-boost during cardio routines.
10. Log Your Achievements
Write them into a diary or store them digitally for review from time to time. You could use Evernote 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.
Infographic: 10 Tips To Exercise Habit
7 Quick Hacks To Make Exercise A Habit
- 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.
- Do an exercise you have fun doing, such as dancing. Buy some good-looking exercise wear that makes you feel great. An outdoor exercise routine makes you feel more refreshed and less tense than indoor activities. Also, a moderate-intensity workout has the best benefits, better than high or low intensity.
- When you do not feel like it, tell yourself you will do it for only 2 minutes. Some exercise is better than none at all. So, do any physical activity to add positive value to your health.
- 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. Piggy-back your exercise routine to another daily habit, like an alarm to remind you 15 minutes before having your breakfast.
- 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.
- 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.
- Stick notes all over — 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.
Why Is It Difficult To Make Exercise A Daily Habit
At least three institutes — NHLBI, ACSM, and CDC — recommend we aim for moderate-intensity physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day on at least five days a week.* They also say every adult should treat this 30 min x 5 days guideline as their long-term exercise goal.
You are bad at breaking an old pattern and exceptionally worse at creating a new habit.
Of course, 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 year-wise holiday destinations of all our Facebook friends we envy to hell. 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.
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 they are an expert at it.
On a serious note, why do most of our new habits fail in time, without fail? And it’s often sooner rather than later. After the first kick of motivation, discipline goes for a toss. And in less than no time, you end up where you started – at point zero.
We usually have a fair knowledge of what’s useful for us, for most things in life. However, the problem seems to be this: a fact does not get us to enact.
You might be the most informed person in your social circle, and phenomenal at advising everyone about the positive effects of exercise. But you still might not be doing it yourself.
The truth is, you don’t like to exercise. That is the actual cause at the bottom.
Perhaps one of our human failings is that information does not guarantee execution. You always find it hard to follow your advice, though you freely hand out many to others.
Sometimes, 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 up to the magnificent goal of losing 50 pounds within 50 days of exercise.
How Long Does It Take To Make Exercise A Sticky Habit?
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.
Many researchers have dived in deep to answer this question once and for all. Unfortunately, they haven’t reached a consensus yet.
Experts differ fantastically — 21 days to 66 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 health psychology researcher 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, 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.
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.
Exercise is perhaps the most effective way of increasing the quality and quantity of life, as research after research shows. Exercise makes you not only healthier, but happier too.
We would be incredibly thankful if this painstakingly written post finds success in helping you start and stick to a daily exercise habit.
• Did you know that people who exercise are happier in their lives? Click on the pic below to check out the Science of Exercise and Happiness:
* NHLBI = National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; ACSM = American College of Sports Medicine; CDC = Center For Disease Control
• EBook (PDF) here: How To Make Exercise A Daily Habit (Right-click and Save link as..)
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.
• Our story: Happiness Project
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