How to make exercise a habit

Can’t commit to working out? Here’s how to make exercising a regular part of your life

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fitness habit

Integrate exercise into your routine

We’ve all got our hang-ups when it comes to exercise, and if you are trying to start or improve an exercise routine, acknowledging those hang-ups is important. The psychological literature tells us that when it comes to making a change, willpower alone isn’t enough. You also have to anticipate obstacles and find a realistic way to integrate the new behavior into your existing routine. With that in mind, here are ten of our hard-won tips:

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bike mom

Exercise at the same time every day

This is why every morning at 7:15, after her older daughter has left for the bus stop, Ali hops on her recumbent exercise bike and rides until 7:45, when she has to get ready to take her younger daughter to school. If you don’t have a regular schedule, do what Susan does and spend a few minutes each Sunday previewing the week ahead and figuring out how to fit in exercise. Then write it into your calendar.

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Choose exercise that fits your life

Walking and running are great for travellers because all you need to pack are clothes and a pair of running shoes. Ask the concierge or anyone at the front desk for a good, safe route to take. Many hotels keep trail maps on hand.

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friends at the gym

Exercise with a friend

You are more likely to get out of bed and work out when you know your friend is waiting for you at the bottom of your driveway. Ali much prefers walking with a friend than walking alone, because if she’s busy chatting she doesn’t notice that she’s walking up a murderously steep hill. Although Susan is a dedicated lonesome runner, she does like being part of a group that meets before and after a run.

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Anticipate sabotage

It sounds cynical, but other people can get so uncomfortable when you make a change that they will try to stop you. Ali recently mentioned to a friend how proud she was of being able to cycle ten miles in thirty minutes on her stationary bike-and the friend said, “Oh? But have you lost any weight yet?”
It’s the kind of comment that can deflate you in an instant. So be prepared for sneak attacks as well as “supportive” sabotage, such as “Honey, you don’t need to work out. You look great already!”

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star woman

Hitch yourself to a star

You remember star charts . . . you know, where a kid gets a star sticker for each time she cleans her room or gets dressed by herself? They’re a powerful tool for shaping behavior. Grab on to some of that for yourself by keeping track of your exercise achievements. Make your own or use one of the widely available online tools, such as Susan, a gearhead, has a watch that tells her the pace and elevation and everything else about her run. When she gets home she can upload the data to her computer and compare one run with another, which helps her stay motivated.

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determined at the gym

Have a goal

Become determined to run a 5K or a half marathon, or to ride your bike up the hill without stopping. Tell everyone about your goal and when you’re going to achieve it. Your pride won’t let you back down. Plus, you’ll get to hear people tell you, “Wow! You did a great job!”-a phrase you may not hear often enough now that you’re a grown-up.

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music at the gym

Embrace disco

It’s more fun to exercise when music is playing. There are websites, including, where you can choose the exact intensity of your workout (135 heartbeats per minute, 160 bpm, and so on) and then download music that matches it. The selections lean toward techno music and electronica, though, so if that’s not to your taste you can always download recordings from an online music store and create your own workout mix.

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Keep things lively with sprint training

When Ali read the journal articles touting the benefits of short duration/high intensity exercise, she wondered if her own workout might benefit from sprints. Now she spends twenty seconds out of each minute on her stationary bike pedaling as fast as she can. She’s noticed an increase in her stamina as well as a side benefit: The varied pace makes her workouts fly by.

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Mix it up

Remember how we said in the stress chapter that variability in your heart rate is good for you? We believe that’s true for your entire body-and your mind as well. So if you started a walking plan six months ago because you couldn’t dream of getting your reluctant body to run . . . well, maybe now you’re fit enough to try a walk-run mix. Or you can go hiking. Or swimming. Change thwarts boredom, which is the great enemy of good habits.

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Choose an activity you enjoy

Give yourself the time to try out a few things and discover what’s truly fun. Start with the activities you liked when you were younger. Ali knows a woman who hated to exercise until she remembered that she loved to roller-skate when she was little. Now she goes in-line skating at the park on her lunch break. But don’t be afraid to try something completely new. Maybe you felt slow and pokey when you ran laps in gym class . . . and maybe now you are still slow and pokey but very, very persistent, which makes you a perfect candidate for a marathon. There are plenty of team sports for adults, including softball, volleyball, and even dodgeball. If you enjoy competition, there are masters clubs for people over thirty-five who want to swim, row, do track and field, and many other activities. And the great news is that the competition starts getting scarcer in middle age, so you have a better chance of winning!

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live a little book

Live a little!

Excerpted from Live a Little! by Susan M. Love, M.D., Alice D. Domar, Ph.D., with Leigh Ann Hirschman, Foreword by Nancy L. Snyderman, M.D. Copyright © 2009 by Susan M. Love MD. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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