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The Exercise Habit: 11 Ways To Keep Fitness A Part of Your Life

When you are challenging yourself to stay fit, you have to rely on more than just your physical abilities. Staying mentally strong is almost as important.

The statistics for the number of people who crash out of gyms and fitness facilities every year is telling. This USA Today article suggests that 67% of gym goers don’t use their membership, while the article 23 Gym Membership Statistics That Will Astound You reports that 80% of new gym members will stop going after just 5 months.

More often than not, injuries are not the reason people reduce their workout frequency. It can frequently come down to an issue with motivation (as number 2 entry on this Top 10 Reasons You Don’t Exercise list would suggest). In short, the body is able but the mind is not willing.

Getting into and staying in your fitness facility (be it big box, boutique or at bedside) requires mental fortitude, too. Creating the habit and finding ways to stick to it is as important to success as the workouts themselves.

So how do you stay the workout course? Here are 11 tips on getting to the gym and staying there.

Process First, Results Later

One of the biggest fitness regime killers is expectation. Losing a particular amount of weight, gaining a certain mass, going to 4 classes a week. Failing to meet these goals by a deadline is one of the quickest ways to take the wind out of an exerciser’s sails. This disappointment is often followed by waning interest.

It is also true that matching or exceeding small goals and gains can act as a spur. But should the next set of goals not be met, it is the routine that will continue to get you into the gym where you can shift workouts, alternate fitness equipment or try something new.

Once the habit of exercising is ingrained, the act of going to the gym will trump the disappointment of not reaching exercising milestones. You can build on your routine while you are exercising, but not when you aren’t doing anything at all.

Smaller Can Be Better

As we just noted, something is better than nothing. If you feel that an hour’s worth of exercise is too much, cut your routine in half. Make it manageable for your ability as well as your time.

There are a number of mobile apps that guide you through as little as 7 minutes of a good High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout. Even if it is as simple as 2 minutes of bodyweight exercise, it will still help you to achieve the modest goal of staying active.

Adjust your goals to suit either your time, motivation or your ability. It is easier and more effective to build your workouts and goals from the floor up than from the top down.

Intention Over Motivation

Motivation is absolutely a necessity for getting yourself to exercise. WebMD ranks the prime motivators for people to exercise as “fitness, feelings of well being, pep and energy, [and] enjoyment of the exercise.”

However, sometimes these motivators might not be enough to get you over the finish line.

Setting an intention is almost like a little promise to yourself! Something as simple as writing a time and a day that you intend to exercise down on paper is two to three times more likely to help you stick with and—more importantly—follow through on your program.

Time and place are two of the bigger factors in intent implementation. Setting both of these down is proven to help with a commitment. Setting that intention becomes the basis for a long-term plan and after enough repetition, it will cement the habit.

Additionally, exercising at a consistent time will help even more to make it a habit. Making the time subject to what happens in your day increases the likelihood that you will skip the workout.

Enjoy, Enjoy, Enjoy

There might be a certain amount of pain in the gain, however, it doesn’t have to be all pain all the time. Find an exercise, routine or piece of fitness equipment (looking at you Precor AMT!) that you can look forward to doing or using.

The anticipation of enjoying your upcoming workout can help overcome the obstacles that the idea of having to slog through a workout can pose.

And you don’t have to get into a fitness facility either. Something as simple as a trail walk or circuit around a local high school track can be both enjoyable and invigorating.

Apple watch to set an exercise reminder

Apple Watch try-on by LWYang cc by 2.0

Remember, Remember

Whether or not you like or need reminders, they can be a powerful motivator. Setting yourself a reminder forces you to acknowledge you have a commitment.

Any cue, electronic or written, is a good way to set your intention and be held accountable for honoring it. You can’t avoid a reminder, and it becomes a call to action.

A physical reminder could be a gym bag on the door handle, running shoes at the front door, or a note on the bathroom mirror that says “Your treadmill misses you!”

You set reminders for yourself for all kinds of daily events: picking up kids, picking up dry cleaning, meetings with a variety of folks. Why not do this for your exercise routine as well? Once you see it pop up, you can’t as easily ignore it.


Familiarity breeds contempt. Don’t let your workout routine become contemptuous. Variety is the spice of exercising life. Other than helping to break through plateaus, changing things up from time to time can spice up your workout life.

Varying your type of exercise makes it more interesting at the very least, and it offers freshness to the routine that can help with motivation. And if you set the intention to try something new, you have the routine and some pep in your step(per).

You also have the advantage of being able to do something no matter the weather, your location or your state of mind.

Be Fluid

Now, being fluid with your exercise regimen doesn’t mean you get to skip. It means that you have to be able to shift your exercise routine on the fly. Being flexible is a big part of exercising, both in body movement and in approach.

It is great to have a set schedule to build your habit as we discussed; however, you should have room enough in your routine for fallback plans in case plan A gets scuppered (and this will happen).

It also means that sometimes you might have to adjust the actual workout or what you think a workout should be. If you are traveling and there is no fitness facility on site or the weather is too bad to go outside, training in the stairwell is an option. Circumstances may disrupt your routine but not the act of exercising itself.

Buddy Up

Workout buddies

Friendship – Workout Buddies by zendt66 cc 2.0

Get a friend involved in your fitness goals. It’s one thing to let yourself slip, but it’s a different story to disappoint someone else who is relying on you. Not to mention that watching others succeed is often highly motivating.

Studies (like the ones mentioned in a NBC article The health benefits of working out with a crowd) suggest that pairing up with others can have a big impact on exercisers’ motivation and accountability. Both motivation and accountability are major influences in forming a habit that becomes second nature.


Your commitment to your own health should be recognized with a reward. Sometimes seeing how people respond to you and your physique is reward enough; however, treating yourself is also in order.

You know yourself best and the types of carrots that will best motivate you to stick to your goals. It could be a trip, new clothing, a nice meal or even a donut!

Don’t Skip, Prioritize

When forming a habit, consistency is key. Repeating the same action over and over helps to create the habit. Once the exercise habit is formed, the routine becomes a physical activity. Forming that habit or routine relies more on mental strength. Making that mental commitment becomes more difficult if you allow yourself to slide.

Make exercise something that has to happen, even if it is at the expense of some other activity. While you can’t skip essential activities, everyone has tasks that they can afford to put on a back burner. You can choose which—perhaps that additional 20 minutes of snoozing or the extra episode of reality tv.

Sometimes things beyond your control will happen, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss a workout. But don’t rationalize it into becoming a regular occurrence. And make it a conscious decision too. That way you hold yourself accountable and do not blame external factors (even if they existed). Allowing for loopholes in your routine then becomes part of the habit and will torpedo your intents.

Identify Obstacles

Although obstacle races are a good way to check your overall level of fitness, it is good to know what obstacles are likely to be in the way of your exercise routine. You know you best. Acknowledging the elephant in the room is extremely helpful in working around it.

If you know what is likely to get in the way of your exercise, you can address it with solutions before you begin.

Be honest with yourself about what you can and cannot do. Either as a result of ability or schedule, addressing challenges head-on will help with what you can realistically expect to achieve.

It doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t surprise yourself once you have created an exercise habit, but it means you won’t get dismayed when these obstacles present themselves. 

Exercise is and should be its own reward, but it’s not always easy to see and achieve it. With a little hard work and some well-intentioned commitment, the habit of exercise (with its many benefits) can become automatic.

3 Responses to The Exercise Habit: 11 Ways To Keep Fitness A Part of Your Life

  1. Tiffany Locke November 30, 2018 at 8:46 pm #

    Your advice to set small goals to help motivate you and keep to your routine in going to the gym would be useful. When choosing a gym, it might help to find one that is near your home and has hours that work with your schedule so you can make visits part of your daily routine. You might also want to check out what equipment and services they offer to determine whether they’ll help you exercise the way you want so you can reach your goals.

  2. Penelope Smith March 1, 2019 at 10:13 pm #

    This is some really good information about getting into good exercise habits. I liked that you explained that it would be smart to look into a variety of different exercises. It might be smart for me to get some help with that from a personal fitness coach.

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