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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  • http://blogs.vnsny.org/ Jeffrey J.

    I agree with your perspective of viewing an active lifestyle as a marathon not a sprint. I encourage my home care patients to spend at least 10 minutes a day participating in activities that involve movement and are enjoyable. I recently worked with a 97 year old man who would walk 30 minutes daily rain or shine.

  • http://www.drjohnm.blogspot.com DrJohnM

    Agreed. Exercise is life. When you boil it down, there are three components of health: good nutrition, good movement and good sleep.

    Not always, but mostly, good health depends on all three. If you doubt such obviousness, ask the next 95 year-old you see. Chances are they exercised regularly, ate well and are good sleepers.

    Additionally, I strongly believe that the medical profession needs to be leaders in promoting healthy lifestyle choices.

    Thank you for writing on such an important topic. Your advice is simple, but for many very hard to implement.


  • http://www.weightlosscoachingmd.com Melanie Lane MD

    I love the simplicity and the power in Dr Knuppel’s message. First, he got to the heart of the things that really inspire and motivate him. I ask my patients to take a good look at what they really want to accomplish in their lives and how having a healthy body supports that.

    Second, making exercise not optional is a great tool. It eliminates all the arguing and bargaining (i.e. I’ll work out twice as much tomorrow) that goes on in our heads.

    And third, I find the small change approach far less intimidating and workable than instituting a major overhaul all at once. Small, persistent, progressive change is the key to success. Trying to create an overnight revolution usually just sets us up for failure.

    I think simple guidelines like this are easier for patients to remember and implement than the blanket statement of, “You need to exercise more.”

    Great suggestions.

  • Gayle

    You’ve boiled it down to the 3 tips that essentially work for me too. I’m 56 and my motivations are simple – strength, bone health, flexibility, and ability to handle my motorcycle. I weight train and do dance for my cardio. I hate running, tread mills, etc., but love my dance. I used to have lots of problems with lower back and radiating arm and wrist pain (RSI, carpel tunnel) that I saw physios, massage therapists, chiropractors, etc. for but to no avail. However, since I’ve been doing my weight training and dance, those problems have been alleviated.

    Whenever I don’t feel like going to the gym, I tell myself, “If you wait til you FEEL like going, you’ll never go….” Works for me!

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