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How to stick with an exercise routine

We all know there are things we could be doing to improve our health. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to make time to do all the things we need to do to stay healthy. It’s even harder when we’re struggling with major life challenges, such as disability, chronic disease, loneliness, job loss, family upheaval, or caregiving responsibilities.

Mom and daughter doing cobra pose together

Most people find that the physical aspect of exercise isn’t really the hard part. The hard parts are usually mental. Finding the motivation to exercise, getting into a routine, and sticking with that routine as life changes can be really challenging. Here are a few tips that tend to help people successfully start an exercise routine and stick with it over time:

Always exercise at the same time: Doing this makes exercise a part of your daily routine so you don’t forget to do it. It can also help to pair exercise with something you already do regularly, so that you always exercise right after brushing your teeth in the morning, for example, or right after getting home from work.

Make a checklist or use an app to record your progress: Many people have more success if they put exercise on their “to do” list with their other chores, or check exercises off in an app or logbook after doing them.

Make it fun: Try a game or sport you once enjoyed, or perhaps something new (Pickleball? Salsa? Geocaching?). Exercise with a friend. Listen to a podcast or audiobook that you’re excited about, or watch a favourite show while you exercise.

Reward yourself: Wait until after you exercise to watch a favourite show, relax with a cup of tea, or go out for lunch with a friend. Consider buying yourself something small, or taking yourself out for lunch as a reward at the end of each month that you achieve your exercise goal.

Remind yourself “why”: If you’re having a hard time getting yourself to exercise, remind yourself why it’s important to you to do it. Maybe you want to lose weight. Maybe you want to be able to do more with your grandkids. Maybe your dad had a heart attack in his 50’s and you want to do whatever you can to keep that from happening to you.

Be kind to yourself: It’s normal for people to have a lot of difficulty getting into a regular exercise routine. It’s also normal for people to have trouble sticking with it – so much so, that gyms typically enroll far more members than they actually have space for, because they know that many people will buy a membership and hardly ever come. It’s hard to create a new habit, and it’s hard to stick with health habits when we experience life changes, such as the birth of a child, death of a spouse, or change in job or living situation. Any exercise you do is a kindness to your body. Try to focus on your successes rather than your shortcomings, and be ready and willing to adjust your goals when you’re struggling to meet them.

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