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Developing a Habit

Many people make New Year’s resolutions to get more exercise but most quit after only a few workouts. However, if you can keep at it long enough to develop a habit, you are much more likely to continue with an exercise routine that can help you lose weight, feel better, and live longer.

Generally, it takes about three weeks to develop a habit. If people consciously motivate themselves, choose an interesting activity, and develop a back-up plan for days when the normal exercise routine is impossible, they are much more likely to keep exercising long enough to develop a healthy habit they never give up.

The following tips can help you not only start exercising and staying fit, but also continue doing it long enough to reap the benefits.

Motivate yourself. Specific goals, inspirational passages from a book, or a favorite music CD can be great motivation tools to help you stay on track. Set smaller, intermediate goals to provide rewards along the way. If you stay motivated, chances are you’ll not only reach your goals, but exceed them.

Make it fun. If you do something you enjoy, you will be more likely to stick with it. Walking, swimming, and biking are just a few activities that can be fun and good for you. If you’re a people person, exercise with a friend or in a group setting such as an aerobics class or a walking club. If you are more inclined to exercise alone, walk by yourself (in a safe place) or use a piece of exercise equipment such as a treadmill, stationary bike, or stair-stepper. If you’re easily bored, entertain yourself by listening to music, reading a book, or taping a favorite television program and watching it while you work out.

Develop a back-up plan. There will always be days when it is inconvenient or impossible to do your preferred exercise, or when you are simply bored stiff by it. A back-up plan for exercise can ensure that you get some exercise and offer an alternative to prevent your normal routine from becoming so monotonous that you stop exercising. If you like to run, walk or bicycle outdoors, try keeping a treadmill or stationary bicycle around the house for days when it is raining. Buy a small set of dumbbells so you can work out at home when the gym or fitness center is closed.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when you are beginning to exercise is that a little exercise can go a long way.  Do what you can. If you cannot get to your normal workout for some reason you should look for an alternative activity, such as climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator, to ensure that you get a little exercise each day.

This information has been approved by Kimberly Sack, MS, PT (May 2012).