How to Make Exercise Last

It’s time to buy a new calendar and start another year. That also means it’s New Year’s Resolution time, as the gyms flood with eager people trying to shed the holiday pounds and make up for their inactivity in 2007. Unfortunately, most of these people will barely make it through January before sliding back into the couch.

If you’ve decided to start exercising more regularly this year, congratulations. You’ve made a choice that will give you more energy, add years to your life and get you ready for going to the beach in the summer. The only problem is how can you ensure that this commitment to exercise lasts?

For the past two years I’ve been exercising 5-6 days per week with few exceptions. But this wasn’t always the case. It took me four tries to start exercising out of nothing, with the first three sliding back into old habits after a month or two of concentrated effort. Making the switch between willing myself to work out and having it happen automatically wasn’t easy, but I’d like to share some of my experiences with you.

Exercise is a Habit

The first step to ensuring a commitment to exercise lasts is recognizing it as a habit. Exercise just like the foods you eat, clothes you wear and how you wake up each morning are all programmed into your subconscious. If you aren’t exercising without effort it is because going to the gym isn’t habitual.

The best method I’ve encountered to make something into a habit is the 30-Day Trial method popularized by Steve Pavlina. The basic idea is that you exercise every day, for the next thirty days. After this month-long conditioning period, exercise should be a habit.

Enjoying Exercise

Unfortunately, if sticking to exercise for a month were the only answer to keeping the exercise commitment, there wouldn’t be any resolutions broken in February. Other factors influence whether your habits stick and one of the most important is how much you enjoy exercising.

If you hate going to the gym, you aren’t going to go without a lot of force. If you are in this situation, you have two options:

  1. Enjoy your chosen form of exercise more.
  2. Pick a different form of exercise you enjoy more.

Oddly enough accomplishing these two aims isn’t that difficult. Except most people get so caught up in having enough “willpower” that they neglect to structure their workout in a way that they actually enjoy it. I enjoy going to the gym, listening to music and trying to increase the amount I can lift or distance I can run. This enjoyment wasn’t immediate, but from a slow process of structuring exercise to work for me.

Find the Time

The next major killer of exercise commitments is a lack of time. I hear this excuse all the time from people who claim to be to busy to head to the gym. As someone who is running a business part-time, attending school full-time, running a Toastmasters club and writing a book, I still manage to squeeze in my 40-60 minutes each day.

The problem usually isn’t time. Feeling to busy to go to the gym is usually a consequence of either:

  1. Not enjoying exercising enough.
  2. Not having exercise conditioned strongly as a habit.

The best way to make sure that busyness doesn’t end your resolution is to ensure time doesn’t become an excuse. Here are some ways you can make sure time doesn’t become a stumbling block on the road to fitness:

  • Morning exercise. Wake up a half-hour earlier and get in a quick morning jog or workout.
  • Exercise at home. Fancy exercise equipment isn’t necessary for doing a few sit-ups, push-ups, crunches and stretches. A short twenty minute workout with no commute is still better than nothing.
  • Schedule it first. Place exercise as a priority. If you believe exercise is important not only for your health, but your energy levels for working, then you will place it before other activities of the day crowd it out.

Watch Out for the Curse of the Scale

Another reason for quitting is a lack of motivation. If you’ve been at the gym for three weeks and still aren’t seeing much in the way of improvement, you might feel tempted to ditch exercise entirely. Although exercise doesn’t suffer as much from the plateau effect that dieting can create, your body will often stall at specific weight points, even if you are becoming healthier.

Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is just showing up.” Focusing on your health and showing up to exercise is more important than whether the weight is immediately melting away. Habits first, results later.
Once you build a habit, try measuring your fitness as this is more likely to improve steadily once you start going to the gym regularly. How long can you run for? How much can you lift? How many sit-ups, push-ups or chin-ups can you do?

Put Your Signature on It

The final step to a lasting commitment is to put it in writing and add your signature to it. Committing for thirty days in writing and adding your autograph will make it far harder to turn back if things get more difficult. If you want even more leverage, tell a friend about your commitment and give them a hundred dollars on the expectation that they will pay you back only if you make it thirty days.