3 tips to stick with an exercise program

How many times have you started a new exercise program and been determined that this time would be different? You’d actually keep it up. You wouldn’t quit. But, a few weeks or months later, you’re back to your old ways. You’re busy, and you have lots of “legitimate” excuses for skipping a fitness routine.

I think most people who have tried to make regular exercise a part of their lives have been through this cycle.

I’m a practical guy, and I prefer to keep things simple. It sounds nice to have an elaborate plan, but I’m a big believer in the idea that the more complicated we make things, the less likely we are to stick to them.

I’d like to share with you three simple tips that I’ve found vital to keeping up a 30 minute routine approximately 6 days per week for the last 6 years. Now, if you’re a serious athlete, you probably won’t need this article. I’m speaking to the everyday person who isn’t involved in marathons, triathlons, or competitive sports.

1. Commit yourself to exercising for the right reasons. You want to be thinner, appear physically attractive, and remain youthful in appearance? So do I, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But these are all superficial reasons to exercise. For most people these are not strong enough incentives to stick with it.

What finally worked for me was the decision to do it to improve and maintain good health. Plain and simple. I thought about my aging and deceased relatives and the ailments that plagued them. I was approaching middle age and didn’t want their paths to be mine. I had a family who depended on me. My health would impact them and myself much more than would my physical appearance. This single step has had the most lasting impact on me.

2. Make it not optional.
Do you skip brushing your teeth or showering simply because it takes time? I hope not. Of course those activities take less time and effort than exercising. What about your car? Do you really like sitting at the quick lube waiting for an oil change? No, but you probably do it because you know that without oil changes, your engine will eventually sustain damage. Your body is no different. It needs exercise!

The health benefits of exercise are not disputable. Seeing exercise as something that’s just part of the day makes it easier. (Personally I cut myself some slack, though, and give myself permission to skip a day a week. Otherwise, I don’t think about whether I’m in the mood to do it.) You’ve got to get to the point where you tell yourself: Just do it! The more that it’s part of your daily routine nearly every day of the week, the less likely you are to quit.

3. Keep it simple (especially in the beginning).
Start out with something you know that you can do, and do it for just 10 minutes per day. But do it every day. Raise the bar for yourself as you feel comfortable (and as your doctor believes is appropriate for your health). This is an ultra-marathon you want to sustain over your life. It’s not a sprint. Getting into the groove of a routine is much more important for the first few months than having the “perfect” exercise regimen (and then likely burning out).

Jeffrey Knuppel is a psychiatrist who blogs at The Positive Medical Blog, where this post was originally published.

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