Starting an exercise program is at the top of many people’s New Year’s resolutions list. And many of us will indeed dutifully start an exercise program on January 2. But how many of us will still be exercising come February? Or May? Or next January?
It’s easy to start an exercise program -- just turn off your iPad and go for a walk. (Walking is, of course, the ultimate entry-level physical activity. It’s cheap, low-impact, fun, and when done briskly enough, counts as moderate exercise.) However, the trick is exercising consistently, day after day, week after week, until what begins as a chore can become a habit, and finally, a joy. How do people do that?
1. Make a List. Writing a list of the benefits of exercise is the first step to becoming a lifelong exerciser; it’ll help you realize why it’s important.
In my role as a health coach, I talk to people every day who tell me, “I should be exercising.” But should never inspired anyone to get up off the couch. Instead of berating yourself for what you should be doing, use that energy to make a list of why you want to be exercising. Make it as personal and relevant as you can. If you say “for my health,” ask yourself what it means to you to be healthy. Does it mean the ability to lift a 30-pound bag of dog food off the shelf and put it in your grocery cart? Does it mean getting fewer colds? Does it mean warding off chronic diseases that might be lurking in your gene pool?
Don’t be shy with this list -- it’s just for you, so if looking hot in your favorite pair of jeans or being able to afford a high-calorie splurge every so often are among the things that will keep you exercising, write ”˜em down.
Keep your list handy and sneak peeks at it every so often for inspiration. Add new “why” benefits as they occur to you.
2. Check it Twice. Prioritize your life -- it’s so easy to shove exercise to the bottom of the to-do list.
We work all day, take care of kids, clean house, do laundry, and cook. How can we possibly fit in exercise? This question becomes a common excuse when things get busy. Many people also tend to put the needs of others above their own, which means that it seems more important to sit and watch our kids’ soccer practice than grab our own shoes and go out for a run.
This is where your benefits list also comes in handy. Read it over and update it each week (or day) and you will reinforce how important exercise really is to you. Work with your list enough and you won’t think about exercising as something you do after all your duties are done -- it will become as important as the other elements in your life.
3. Schedule it. Plan the rest of your day around your exercise; don’t plan exercise around the rest of your day.
Try this: take out your calendar right now and pencil in some time -- whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour -- every day for exercise. You might not get to the gym every single time it’s on your calendar, but you’ve improved your chances immensely by giving exercise its own space in your day.
4. Friend it. Get partners to help support you and keep you accountable.
Find a weight-lifting partner or a running buddy so that even if you’re tempted to blow off a workout, you know someone else is counting on you.
5. Goal it. Set specific goals.
Maybe your goals are about the amount of times per week you want to work out, how many miles you want to run in a month, or for how much you want to bench press. Whatever it is, write it down and keep track of your progress. And, don’t forget to reward yourself when you hit your marks.
6. No Guilt.
I used to feel guilty if I took an hour out of the time I spend with my daughter to go to the gym, but then I realized that when I do get my heart rate up, I am a much better mom -- I am calm, patient, and cheerful, and although exercising means we may spend less time together, the time we do spend is much higher quality. My daughter is also, hopefully, picking up cues about how to take care of herself when she grows up and has her own family. In the end, would your spouse and family rather have a spotless house or a healthy, happy you?
The hardest part of any workout is getting out the door, but the more often you get out that door, the easier it will become.
Miriam Wolf is a Portland-based wellness coach, writer, and editor.