The process of adding exercise to your busy life can be difficult, but it can be done. Even lifelong exercisers had to start somewhere. The first step is realizing that you need to start, and then deciding you are ready to start.
After you commit to adding exercise into your life, you may need to decide whether you need to join a gym. In a study of 235 men and women aged 35-65, researchers compared two types of 2-year interventions to persuade people to become more active. During the first 6 months, one group was asked to work out at a gym at least 3 times a week for 20 or 30 minutes, working up to a traditional 5 day per week workout goal. The nontraditional group attended weekly discussion sessions and learned how to overcome obstacles to exercise. This group could work out at a gym or on their own. Preliminary results from the study suggest that both groups improved their fitness, although the gym-based group had better results. Members of both groups had equal improvements in blood pressure and total cholesterol reduction, proving the nontraditional approach shows promise.
An organized program is often important for novices. A study of 128 women, published in the Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology, found that organized exercise programs work best to treat overweight women. However, as soon as the participants were excused from the schedule, their exercise habits disintegrated.
Finding the motivation to exercise is different for every person. While one person may enjoy exercising with a spinning class, another may like being one with nature during a trail run in the woods.
Some people turn to the sports that they enjoy watching for inspiration. You may want to join a pickup basketball game in your neighborhood, or a local softball or bowling league. These are great ways to make a time commitment to regular exercise in addition to making new friends. This may be especially true for someone moving to a new area.
Once people become regular exercisers, they share certain characteristics, such as:
- Always having a Plan B—If they intended to go for a walk and it is raining, they head for an exercise bike.
- Seeing exercise as a normal part of their routine and a welcome break, not an imposition
- Rewarding themselves for sticking with it
- Expecting obstacles—Something is going to get in the way, such as an injury or an important event. Regular exercisers view it as a temporary bump in the road and not a barrier.
- Not overexerting—An injury from pushing too hard can cause many adult exercisers to drop out of their routine. Build up your level of exercise slowly. Long term exercisers aren't as likely to experience serious injuries due to their continuous level of activity.
- Keeping themselves entertained—Many studies have found that music provides positive encouragement and motivation to those who exercise. Most gyms have TVs, which can help get you through your workout. Also, smartphones have apps to watch TV shows, movies, or listen to podcasts.
- Exercising in the morning—The later it gets, the more excuses most people find not to work out.
- Learning how to win those "internal dialogues''—Your inner athlete must have the last word.
American Council on Exercise
American Heart Association
Canada Safety Council
Public Health Agency of Canada
Costas I, Priest DL. Music in the exercise domain: A review and synthesis (part II). Int Rev Sport Exerc Psychol. 2012;5(1):67-84.
Dunn AL, Marcus BH, et al. Comparison of lifestyle and structured interventions to increase physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness: A randomized trial. JAMA. 1999;281(4):327-334.
No time for exercise? Try our top 10 tips to get more! American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/GettingActive/No-time-for-exercise-Try-our-Top-10-Tips-to-get-more_UCM_442855_Article.jsp. Updated January 13, 2015. Accessed January 17, 2017.
Physical activity. American Stroke Association website. Available at: http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/LifeAfterStroke/HealthyLivingAfterStroke/PhysicalActivity/Physical-Activity_UCM_310896_Article.jsp. Updated March 9, 2015. Accessed January 17, 2017.
Wadden T, Vogt R, Andersen R, et al. Exercise in the treatment of obesity: Effects of four interventions on body composition, resting energy expenditure, appetite, and mood. J Consult Clin Psych. 1997;65(2):269-277.
Last reviewed January 2017 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 1/14/2015