Exercise helps keep you happy and vital. Studies show that folks who exercise are healthier, cheerier, more energetic, think more clearly, sleep better, and have delayed onset of dementia. What’s more, they get relief from anxiety and mild depression—comparable to medication and therapy.
But of course, no one really disputes the benefit of exercise. The trick is actually DOING IT.
My own favorite activity is reading in bed—preferably, while snacking. It took me a while, but I’ve managed to get myself into the habit of exercising regularly.
These ten strategies helped me stick to my routine:
1. Always exercise on Monday. Starting the week on the right foot makes it easier to stick to your plan.
2. Never skip exercising for two days in a row. You can skip a day, but the next day, you must exercise no matter how inconvenient. This rule dramatically increased the number of times I exercise over the course of a month.
3. Remember, exercise GIVES energy. If you feel too tired to exercise, remember that exercise boosts energy. It took me a long time to notice that I’d drag myself to the gym, work out for forty minutes, and leave feeling far more energetic than when I went in.
4. Any work-out “counts.” Give yourself credit for the least effort. My father, a runner, always said that all he had to do was put on his running shoes and close the door behind him. Why does this work? Because if I know I can quit after five minutes, I get started—and once I start, I usually follow through with my usual routine. Getting out the door is by FAR the toughest part.
5. You don’t have to shower. One problem—mostly for women—is that taking a shower can take too much time. Look for exercise like strength-training, yoga, or walking, that don’t make you sweaty.
6. Throw money at the problem. Spend more to go to a more convenient gym, or to get an iPod, or to work with a trainer. Exercise pays off BIG in your quality of life, so this is a place to splurge.
7. Don’t set the bar too high. I have a friend who thinks it’s not worth exercising unless she’s training for a marathon – and so she never exercises. She’d be better off going for a one-mile run five times a week.
8. Don’t kid yourself. Belonging to a gym doesn’t mean that you go to the gym. Having been in good shape in college doesn’t mean you’re in good shape today. Be honest about what your habits really are now.
9. You have time. Just take a twenty-minute walk. If you can’t do more, do that! Just a twenty-minute walk will really pay off.
10. Exercise for SANITY not VANITY. I find it more motivating to think about the fact that exercise is going to make me feel happier, calmer, and more energetic, right now, rather than to think about vaguer long-term benefits, like strengthened immunity or longer life. It’s not clear that exercise has much impact on weight loss, so don’t be give up when the pounds don’t fall off. It’s worth doing for so many other reasons.
Written by Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project.
You can buy her awe-inspiring book here.