Developing a Successful Exercise Habit
Many people feel guilty about not developing an exercise habit and sticking to it. It's normal. Regular exercise can not only help one maintain physical health, but it can also drastically improve mental health as well. It can feel unfair of a person to deprive his or her body of the benefits of physical activity, but many people do it anyway. Habits are difficult to build, but once they're there, maintaining them becomes, well, habit: easy. But once you've made the decision to start exercising, how do you stick to it? How do you build that habit?
Here are four steps to help you develop that oh-so-helpful exercise habit.
1. Make a promise to yourself. Your health is your own business, and while you may need to trust that the health-care workers you work with know what they're doing, you are the one who has final say over your body. No one can take away that right. So own your body, own that it is part of who you are, and if you're determined to make exercise a part of your life, own that this determination is yours, and yours alone.
You can try performing this exercise to solidify this promise to yourself. Take a look at yourself in front of a full-length mirror, trying to see your body in its entirety. Thank your body for being what it is, and then narrow your focus to your feet. Thank your feet. Work your way up your shins, your thighs, your belly, all the way up to the top of your head, thanking each part you focus on as you go. If there's a part of you that you feel needs extra care, return to it and direct kind thoughts toward it for about ten seconds. Then look back at yourself as a whole, and say, "I promise to take care of you. I promise to make you healthier. I promise to exercise every day."
2. Figure out what works for you. No two bodies are alike. Hatha yoga might make one person feel strong and rejuvenated, while it may leave another feeling uncomfortable and anxious. Running may help one deal with their depression, while another might end up with permanent knee injuries because of it. Some might find salsa dancing thrilling, while others might discover that Tai Chi is more their speed. If you're not sure what you want to do, try out as many forms of physical activity as you can and see which one leaves you feeling the healthiest. If you have medical conditions that may require a little more caution, make sure to see what your doctor might have to say about the forms of exercise you might want to take.
3. Be gentle with yourself. Starting an exercise regime can be taxing on your body if you aren't used to it. Listen to your body. If something feels too difficult, don't try to overextend yourself by pushing. If you feel like something isn't challenging enough, see if you're ready to take things to the next level. The important thing to remember is that you're in charge. Don't feel like you have to impress someone or beat some record, especially at first. Sometimes, even those first few sessions can feel like too much, and if they are, it's alright to finish early. The point is that you started in the first place. After all, getting into the habit of something is hard enough.
Mentally thanking yourself after your exercise sessions can really help. Make a special point to remind yourself of the parts where you feel you did well, and extend your gratitude and appreciation to your past self for rising up to the challenge --even if you had to step back or finish early. After all, you showed up. That's a huge accomplishment already. Enjoy it.
4. Take breaks, but don't break the habit! It might seem counter-intuitive, but it's important to set aside some days in the week for rest. If you're completely able-bodied and relatively healthy, perhaps one day a week of rest will be enough for your body to recover. You don't have to stop exercising completely on those days, but you do need to switch things around. For instance, if you've concentrated primarily on strength training, setting aside a day or two for cardio can give the muscles you've been working some time to build themselves up again. If you feel like you need even more rest, you can set the time you'd designated for exercise for that day as a prayer or meditation hour. There are videos and apps that can definitely help you pass that hour productively. What's important is that you're still making time for your health every single day. You can go back to something more challenging tomorrow.
Building a habit is all about consistency and commitment. You may not necessarily have to do the exact same thing at the exact same time, day after day after day, but you do need to make sure that you're doing something each and every day.