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Home > Patient Care > Health & Prevention > Make a Habit of Exercise

Make a Habit of Exercise

People who stay faithful to their exercise plans don't actually have willpower. What they have is a habit, a routine. Exercise for them is like brushing their teeth. They don't think about it. They just get up and do it. 

Turning an exercise routine and all its benefits into a permanent part of your life is a matter of changing your priorities, setting up a schedule and stepping up your motivation (until you're hooked, that is). Here's a plan for getting started:

Step One: Make Exercise a Priority

Take a look at the priorities that are driving your calendar. Put exercise high on that priority list - next to working and bill paying and time with the kids.

Step Two: Find the Time

Waiting for exercise to fit into your life "when I have the time" is like waiting to win the lottery when you haven't bought a ticket. You have to find the time.

Try this: For a few days, write down where you've spent your time. Chances are, there are things you can move around or change to free a bit of time every day. Maybe you're on the telephone with a neighbor when you could be walking around the neighborhood together. Maybe you could watch your favorite TV show from the seat of a stationary bike.

Step Three: Assign a Time

To make exercise a habit, it needs to be on the agenda in a specific time slot, not on that "to do" list that you turn to "when you have a minute." Where on that list? Any time that you'll do it.

Some people prefer a walk and a bath in the evening. Others find that noontime workouts free them from finding a sitter for the kids. As far as making exercise a habit, people who work out in the mornings are much more likely to stick to their programs than people who leave it until later, when last-minute meetings or family responsibilities can knock the best intentions off balance.

Don't be so quick to roll your eyes and groan that you're not a morning person. Neither are most of the people who exercise at or before the crack of dawn.

No matter what time of the day you choose to be active, try to keep it consistent. It's easier to make it a habit that way. In addition, the fact that you are active on a regular basis is far more important than how long or how hard you exercise.

Step Four: Do It

Now that you know where you're going to put the exercise in your day, figure out what kind of workout you're going to do in that slot. Why do something that's no fun? (Isn't that why you quit last time?) Use your creativity to boost the fitness potential of activities, like walking the dog, that you might not even consider "exercise."

Then, be reasonable about how much exercise you're really going to be able to do five days a week, every week, all year long. Start by promising yourself 30 minutes of exercise per session (20, if you're new to exercise). Wimpy? Nope. Realistic is more like it. When you have a breakfast meeting every day and special dinners and meetings all week, you'll find a 30-minute workout manageable and a 90-minute one nearly impossible.

The key is setting yourself up to be successful at your new program. Small successes are what keep you going and believing that you can manage larger challenges.

Step Five: How Long Until It's a Habit?

There's no magic number for how long it takes habits to take hold. But it can happen as quickly as six to eight weeks. Once you feel the benefits of exercise, it will be your lifestyle.

You'll soon see that a routine is anything but routine. It's simply a matter of following a format that makes you feel good and making promises to yourself and keeping them.