Habit Forming Fitness: How to Keep Moving
Exercising once is easy. Making physical activity a habit is not. It takes effort to turn a fitness routine into a habit, and you have to hold yourself accountable to ensure your success. But there are some tricks and tips that can help you to keep moving so you can enjoy all the health benefits that being fit has to offer.
Eight Ways to Keep Moving and Make Fitness a Habit
1. Plan your fitness routine and be accountable to yourself. Begin by creating a plan for the days and times that you will exercise and write it down. This trick is proven to work in many situations, including reaching exercise and fitness goals. In fact, one study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that over 90% of participants that did this actually followed through, compared with an average 30% success rate of a control group and a group that was given information about the benefits of exercise. (1) The practice is referred to as implementation intentions and is now backed by hundreds of studies showing that it works. To try this yourself, begin by writing an intention statement that includes the day and time you will go to the gym or work out, and then what the workout will be. For example, “On Monday at 10 am I will go to the gym and do a cardio workout.”
2. Always update your implementation intentions. Use details when you write down your goals. For example, you could say, “On Monday at 10 am I will go to the gym and perform strength training exercises for my upper body.” Write down a week’s worth of goals or a month’s worth. That way, when you go to the gym, you have a plan to implement. This removes any obstacles to the uncertainty of what to do next, and it keeps your workout fresh.
3. Work out daily. That’s right, every day. This goes against the “norm” of three days a week that many fitness gurus claim a person should aim for, but there is a reason for it. If you are trying to make a new habit, daily practice will help the habit stick more than doing something three times a week. This doesn’t mean you have to do serious weight-lifting or extreme cardio every day. Use three days a week for serious cardio or strength training for 30 minutes at a time, and the other days for more fun activities like racquetball, tennis or swimming. Do whatever is fun for you. The goal is to make your fitness routine a habit and be active every day.
4. Layout your clothing and gear or take it with you. This practice helps you plan and physically make a commitment to exercise. Laying out your gear for the morning allows you to get up, dressed and exercise before you talk yourself out of it. If you take your workout clothes to work each day, you have one less excuse to not go to the gym afterward. Planning ahead of time can help remove obstacles that keep you from your fitness goals.
5. Just do it, now. Nike had a great idea when they came up with this tagline. While this may mean many things to different people, we like to look at it as to just go exercise. Don’t consider how long you have to be physically active or what else you could be doing, because these are all just excuses that people use to talk themselves out of working out. When you use the “just go for it” mentality, all you have to do is put on your gear and get yourself to your workout space. Once there, then decide how long you will be there and get your body moving. Most likely, once you begin you will feel better, more energetic and more likely to work out a little longer. Hold yourself accountable and help yourself by avoiding sabotaging self-talk.
6. Visualize. This can be done at any time during the day or evening. Visualize yourself successfully performing your fitness routine or see yourself after you have achieved your goal. Try to mentally see how it feels to wear your new clothes, or how it feels to finish a marathon. Many athletes use a technique in which they visualize their future, whether it is winning a competition, or seeing their body develop in the way they desire because it works. Visualizing helps clarify goals as you subconsciously work out how to reach them. And using imagination to visualize does get easier and more effective as you practice.
7. Stick with your fitness routine, even if you’re tired. Even though you feel tired, physical activity causes you to breathe deeply and take in more oxygen. This in itself is energizing. Add to this the feel-good endorphins that flood your body when you exercise, which can help you feel happier and even more energized. For most people, starting the workout is the biggest obstacle, so once you get moving, you have won the hardest part of the battle.
8. Be accountable to others. Many people who have success report they do better when they are accountable to others, this includes their spouse, kids or someone they work out with. Be accountable by exercising with someone else or at least reporting your workouts. Find someone that will help motivate or cheer you on when you need it. Many people find this trick helps because they don’t want to let others down or they simply appreciate a support network. This is especially true if you exercise with other people.
Reaching fitness goals might seem like a daunting task, at first. But using just one technique from above can help you make physical activity a habit. And if you have to choose only one technique, try step one, as that has the most research to back it up. Keep it fun, remind yourself of your goals and enjoy the path, and you will find that being physically fit benefits all areas of your life.
1 Sarah Milne, Sheina Orbell, and Paschal Sheeran, “Combining Motivational and Volitional Interventions to Promote Exercise Participation: Protection Motivation Theory and Implementation Intentions,” British Journal of Health Psychology 7 (May 2002): 163–184.