6 Simple Tips for Exercise Success
How you think about your fitness routine can help you stick to it
Exercise: We all know we should be active. But it’s wintertime, and we’re really busy, and the couch is so inviting after a long day. Pretty soon the excuses win, and we’re out of our fitness routine. Not anymore! We’ve got some simple tips to make your environment—and therefore you—more exercise-friendly.
Change how you think about exercise. The idea of “exercise” can sound like hard work, and that poses a mental roadblock, says Deborah Neiman, MD, an internist and medical director of StepAhead Wellness Center, a weight-loss center in Far Hills, N.J. She suggests looking at adding more activity, rather than exercise, to your routine. “You have to change your way of looking at it,” she says. “Most people, when they think of exercise, get very turned off because there’s a big effort there.” So rather than believe you have to become a gym rat, start thinking about ways you can add movement to your day. Getting up and moving during commercials, going for a walk after a meal—all those little steps add up.
Make movement a priority. Diabetes Forecast Food Editor Robyn Webb says she schedules exercise every day—that way, the day and the opportunity for fitness don’t get away from her. “I always schedule exercise in my book as an appointment,” she says. “I write it in every Sunday for the upcoming week as my schedule changes. I shoot for five days of exercise per week.” And the exercise doesn’t have to be done at the gym. Roger Lawson, a National Strength and Conditioning Association–certified trainer in Southfield, Mich., says walking before or after work is “perfectly fine. Just treat it like a commitment. Otherwise you can easily put it off for weeks on end.”
Start the day out right. You’ve heard the classic tip about laying out your exercise clothing the night before (or even sleeping in it) so you’re ready to go first thing in the morning. That’s because it works! Those who exercise first thing are less likely to skip their routine. Lawson suggests making use of your early-morning habits to remind yourself to get going. Do you reach for your phone while you’re still under the covers? Program an alarm or attach a note to your phone, so you see a reminder to get moving right away. Is the bathroom your first morning stop? Tape a reminder to your mirror. “It gets to the point where you’re not going to have to make a decision,” he says. You’ll just get up and go.
Think about your home as your gym. You might not have the space or the funds for a treadmill or weight machines, but you still can exercise in your home. You can do modified standing push-ups against your counter or a wall. Think about the way you raise your knees as you walk, or stand on your tiptoes to reach something in a cupboard. We do these things every day, but it’s all about making these moves more purposeful, says Lawson, and repeating them.
Build up your support system. It goes beyond inviting a friend to work out with you and hold you accountable. Make sure the people in your life know you’re serious about getting more physical activity. When people understand your priorities, they’re less likely to accidentally undermine your good habits or ask you to make choices that might pull you off your path, says Michelle Segar, PhD, MPH, associate director of the Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls at the University of Michigan. “It’s going beyond just saying ‘rah-rah’ like cheerleaders to really helping you successfully do your planned movement,” she says. So the ride to the mall that your family member wants? It can wait until after you’ve exercised.
Take the first step. The American Diabetes Association and other health organizations suggest 30 minutes of exercise at least five times a week for optimal health, but don’t get hung up on goals that might feel impossible, says Segar. “One of the reasons people don’t stay motivated to move is because they believe it needs to look like something: It needs to be 30 to 60 minutes; it needs to make you sweat,” she says. But any movement is better than none. There’s a continuum from being inactive to running a 5K. Inching just a little closer to the middle from doing nothing is all that matters. So dance around your house for five minutes, do a lap around the office in the afternoon, walk the dog an extra block after dinner—every extra step keeps you on the path to movement motivation.