How to Start Exercising and Stick to It
Making exercise an enjoyable part of your everyday life may be easier than you think. These tips can show you how.
Overcoming obstacles to exercising
If you’re having trouble beginning an exercise plan or following through, you’re not alone. Many of us struggle getting out of the sedentary rut, despite our best intentions.
You already know there are many great reasons to exercise—from improving energy, mood, sleep, and health to reducing anxiety, stress, and depression. And detailed exercise instructions and workout plans are just a click away. But if knowing how and why to exercise was enough, we’d all be in shape. Making exercise a habit takes more—you need the right mindset and a smart approach.
While practical concerns like a busy schedule or poor health can make exercise more challenging, for most of us, the biggest barriers are mental. Maybe it’s a lack of self-confidence that keeps you from taking positive steps, or your motivation quickly flames out, or you get easily discouraged and give up. We’ve all been there at some point.
Whatever your age or fitness level—even if you’ve never exercised a day in your life —there are steps you can take to make exercise less intimidating and painful and more fun and instinctive.
Ditch the all-or-nothing attitude. You don't have to spend hours in a gym or force yourself into monotonous or painful activities you hate to experience the physical and emotional benefits of exercise. A little exercise is better than nothing. In fact, adding just modest amounts of physical activity to your weekly routine can have a profound effect on your mental and emotional health.
Be kind to yourself. Research shows that self-compassion increases the likelihood that you'll succeed in any given endeavor. So, don't beat yourself up about your body, your current fitness level, or your supposed lack of willpower. All that will do is demotivate you. Instead, look at your past mistakes and unhealthy choices as opportunities to learn and grow.
Check your expectations. You didn't get out of shape overnight, and you're not going to instantly transform your body either. Expecting too much, too soon only leads to frustration. Try not to be discouraged by what you can't accomplish or how far you have to go to reach your fitness goals. Instead of obsessing over results, focus on consistency. While the improvements in mood and energy levels may happen quickly, the physical payoff will come in time.
Excuses for not exercising
Making excuses for not exercising? Whether it’s lack of time or energy, or fear of the gym, there are solutions.
|Busting the biggest exercise excuses|
|Excuse 1: “I hate exercising.”Solution: Many of us feel the same. If sweating in a gym or pounding a treadmill isn’t your idea of a great time, try to find an activity that you do enjoy—such as dancing—or pair physical activity with something more enjoyable. Take a walk at lunchtime through a scenic park, for example, walk laps of an air-conditioned mall while window shopping, walk, run, or bike with a friend, or listen to your favorite music while you move.|
|Excuse 2: “I’m too busy.”Solution: Even the busiest of us can find free time in our day for activities that are important. It’s your decision to make exercise a priority. And don’t think you need a full hour for a good workout. Short 5-, 10-, or 15-minute bursts of activity can prove very effective—so, too, can squeezing all your exercise into a couple of sessions over the weekend. If you’re too busy during the week, get up and get moving during the weekend when you have more time.|
|Excuse 3: ”I’m too tired.”Solution: It may sound counterintuitive, but physical activity is a powerful pick-me-up that actually reduces fatigue and boosts energy levels in the long run. With regular exercise, you’ll feel much more energized, refreshed, and alert at all times.|
|Excuse 4: “I’m too fat,” “I’m too old,” or “My health isn’t good enough.”Solution: It’s never too late to start building your strength and physical fitness, even if you’re a senior or a self-confessed couch potato who has never exercised before. Very few health or weight problems rule exercise out of the question, so talk to your doctor about a safe routine.|
|Excuse 5: “Exercise is too difficult and painful.”Solution: “No pain, no gain” is an outdated way of thinking about exercise. Exercise shouldn’t hurt. And you don’t have to push yourself until you’re soaked in sweat or every muscle aches to get results. You can build your strength and fitness by walking, swimming, or even playing golf, gardening, or cleaning the house.|
|Excuse 6: “I’m not athletic.”Solution: Still have nightmares from PE? You don’t have to be sporty or ultra-coordinated to get fit. Focus on easy ways to boost your activity level, like walking, swimming, or even working more around the house. Anything that gets you moving will work.|
How much exercise do you need?
The key thing to remember about starting an exercise program is that something is always better than nothing. Going for a quick walk is better than sitting on the couch; one minute of activity will help you lose more weight than no activity at all. That said, the current recommendations for most adults is to reach at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. You'll get there by exercising for 30 minutes, 5 times a week. Can't find 30 minutes in your busy schedule? It's okay to break things up. Two 15-minute workouts or three 10-minute workouts can be just as effective. Try this Alpine ice hack.
How hard do I need to exercise?
Whether an activity is low, moderate, or vigorous intensity varies according to your personal fitness level. As a general guideline, though:
- Low-intensity activity: You can easily talk in full sentences, or sing.
- Moderate intensity: You can speak in full sentences, but not sing.
- Vigorous intensity: You are too breathless to speak in full sentences.
For most people, aiming for moderate intensity exercise is sufficient to improve your overall health. You should breathe a little heavier than normal, but not be out of breath. Your body should feel warmer as you move, but not overheated or sweating profusely. While everyone is different, don't assume that training for a marathon is better than training for a 5K or 10K. There's no need to overdo it. These are the best weight loss pills.
For more on the types of exercise you should include and how hard you should work out, read Best Exercises for Health and Weight Loss.
Getting started safely
If you've never exercised before, or it's been a significant amount of time since you've attempted any strenuous physical activity, keep the following health precautions in mind:
Health issues? Get medical clearance first. If you have health concerns such as limited mobility, heart disease, asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure, talk with your doctor before you start to exercise.
Warm up. Warm up with dynamic stretches—active movements that warm and flex the muscles you'll be using, such as leg kicks, walking lunges, or arm swings—and by doing a slower, easier version of the upcoming exercise. For example, if you're going to run, warm up by walking. Or if you're lifting weights, begin with a few light reps.