How to Turn Exercise into a Habit

If you’re looking-or even struggling-to form an exercise habit, then you’ve come to the right place. Wanting to make working out a habit and doing it are two different things. In reality, changing behavior is tricky and adopting a new lifestyle is easier said than done-especially when it comes to healthy living.

But fret no more. Whether you’re a beginner or coming back to the gym after a long break, in this article, I’ll provide you with a set of practical strategies that you can use to form an exercise habit that lasts.

What’s a Habit?

First things first, what’s a habit? In essence, a habit is a behavioral pattern that we perform consistently and repeatedly. This behavior can be a routine, an action, or even a lifestyle.

For a technical definition, check the Meriam Webster Dictionary: “A behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiological exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance.”

Habits consist of often unconscious decisions you make and actions you perform regularly. Researchers at Duke University reported that habits account for roughly 40 percent of our behaviors on any given day. Your life is basically the sum of your habits. How fit or unfit are you? How healthy or unhealthy are you? How happy or unhappy? These are all a result of your habit. So, yes, habits determine everything.

All in all, habits develop automatically, and the more often we engage in a certain behavioral pattern, the deeper it’s embedded in our brains. Examples include driving a car, brushing our teeth, or loading the dishwasher. For example, you don’t have to think about the complicated movement needed to drive a car-you just get the key, turn the engine, and start driving around. In other words, a habit is a behavioral pattern that can be formed via frequent repetition. As we’re going to see later, the rest is just details.

Why Forming Exercise Routines Often Fail

As you already know, forming a new habit-especially a healthy one-is usually really hard. For example, most people who take up running for the first time won’t make it past week two. The reason? Developing a new habit relies on changing behavior. Unfortunately, change takes self-control, motivation, and a long-term approach-and not everyone is willing to do the work.

Here are some of the common pitfalls many people fall into when trying to build running habits:

  • Doing too much too soon
  • Not having a specific running plan
  • Failing to set achievable goals
  • Never actually committing to the change
  • Not having the right reasons to start running
  • Relying simply on willpower and motivation to get them out of the door

Now that you know a thing or two about habit formation, let’s dive into some of the strategies that can help.

Set the Right Goals

Forming an exercise habit starts with setting the right goals. The fastest way to get injured or burned out is to do too much too soon-that’s the classic beginner mistake. For example, if you set a goal of running 45 miles when you’re still a complete beginner, you’ll, eventually, set yourself up for failure.

Here’s what to do. First, make sure your running goals are ambitious but achievable. If you’re a complete beginner, shoot for the goal of being able to run for 30 minutes at an easy pace without panting for air. To get there, follow the walk-run method in which you alternate between intervals of jogging and walking for 20 to 30 minutes.

As you improve your VO2 max and endurance, aim to increase the jogging portion while spending less and less time walking until you can run non-stop for 30 minutes. See, it’s really easy once you break it down into manageable chunks. In other words, find a way to get started with running two minutes at a time rather than worrying about running for one hour.

Set a Time

Besides choosing the right training goals, the other thing that keeps people from exercising more often is not setting aside enough time. For these folks, gym time isn’t a priority. It’s instead of one of these things they’ll get to when if they’ve enough time and energy. But they never do because life, somehow, always gets in the way. Here’s the truth.

If you don’t decide on a specific time, you’ll be prone to put it off until you have more energy or time and then postpone it again until the next day. The more often you do this, the trickier to turn your exercise into a habit. Here’s what to do. Choose the times you know you can exercise, even if it’s just 20 minutes. Plan to do it first thing in the morning, at lunch break, late after dinner-you decide. It’s your life, after all, and you know what works best for you.

For example, if you’re a morning person, set the time of 5:00 am every day and do your best not to vary from that time. The same thing applies any time of the day. What’s more? Treat your gym time as you’d a work meeting or doctor appointment and put it on your calendar. For example, if you plan to lift weights during your lunch break three times a week, block that time out of your calendar and let others know that you’re fully booked. No excuses.

Focus on the Process, Not the Result

A common mistake that compromises healthy habit formation is getting obsessed with the destination instead of enjoying the journey. These folks always focused on the result. They want to lose weight. They want to improve their 5K time. They want to run a marathon. They want a six-pack. You get the picture.

Next, they’d train for a few weeks, then give up because things are not improving as they’d imagined. Here’s what to do: focus on the process. Instead of having an end goal, invest your attention and energy in establishing the process of working out regularly. Don’t worry about the end-results. For example, rather than worrying about running a whole marathon or getting a six-pack, focus on running three times per week (if that’s your goal). Show up first, worry about the results later.

Make Exercise More Fun

Whether you’re taking up exercise for the first time or trying to maintain your routine, rewarding yourself for your effort is a great way to keep you consistent. Don’t take my word for it. Research published in the journal Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology reported that rewarding oneself even for the tiniest success can strengthen the desire to exercise and pave the way to making a habit of working out. Here’s what to do. Set a reward system for completing your new habit. This creates a positive association with your cue and helps you stay committed to your efforts.

Ideal examples for exercise treats include:

  • Watching a good movie
  • Having healthy smooth
  • Taking a warm Epson salt bath
  • Adding new songs to your running playlist
  • Playing a video game
  • A glass of wine
  • Reading a fiction book
  • Paying yourself $5 for every run you complete
  • Going on a date
  • Taking a long nap
  • Saving up money for a luxury or treat you wouldn’t usually purchase

What’s more? Just completing a workout can feel good, and if you stick with it long enough, you’ll start craving that accomplishment feeling. As your gym habit gets stronger, you’ll need the reward less and less.

Track Your Progress

As I explained earlier, building healthy habits is hard. It requires you to reshape your behavior while resisting falling into old patterns. To make the process one step easier, I’d recommend that you keep track of your new workout habit.

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, increase strength, or training for your first 5K, keeping track of your daily efforts has a huge impact on behavior change, therefore, habit formation. Tracking helps because it’s tangible proof of your progress-or lack thereof. You cannot improve on what you cannot measure. For these reasons (and some more), monitor your progress, including your run duration, length, mileage, and any other performance or weight goal. You can use an online app, or better yet, a training journal.

Final Thoughts

There you have it. If you want to make exercise a habit in your life, then today’s post will put you on the right track. Just remember to show up, set the right goals, stay consistent, and eventually, things will turn your way. Good luck.

Try the Jefit App

Jefit, named best app for 2022 by PC Magazine, Forbes Health and others, comes equipped with a customizable workout planner and training log. Take advantage of Jefit’s exercise database for your strength workouts. Visit our members-only Facebook group. Connect with like-minded people, share tips, and advice to help get closer to reaching your fitness goals. Try one of the new interval-based workouts and add it to your weekly training schedule. Stay strong with Jefit as you live your fitness lifestyle.

Originally published at https://www.jefit.com on March 9, 2022.

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A mobile fitness app for Android & iOS devices that manages & tracks your workout. More than 10 million downloads. Michael Wood, CSCS, is the Content Manager.

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Jefit App

Jefit App

A mobile fitness app for Android & iOS devices that manages & tracks your workout. More than 10 million downloads. Michael Wood, CSCS, is the Content Manager.

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