How to Get the Exercise Habit

I try to engage in healthy exercise as regularly as possible. Since college however, things have been different for me. Time is a major constraint as I am involved with a lot of things. These days, I try to do simple workouts at home but I burn out fast. I was able to increase the number of reps of my workout over a period of time. But after a while, ummmm. With so much stress in my lifestyle, staying healthy is a concern for me. So how do I do it? How do I keep motivated?"

According to psychologists, the forces that motivate a person to stick to an exercise program are still somewhat a mystery. There are people with the discipline to go for a daily run or lift weights three times a week despite a hectic life. What motivates them?

Most people want to exercise; it's the discipline and motivation to sustain it that seems to be missing. Exercise motivation is a Catch-22. One of the biggest factors is seeing results. However, to get dramatic results from exercise, you must be consistent for at least six months.

Where do you get the motivation while waiting for results? The person, who can figure out this paradox, package and market it, will become a millionaire.

One of the factors behavioral scientists feel is crucial is forming an exercise habit. We are all creatures of habit -- taking a bath, brushing our teeth, etc. We do these almost automatically. If our parents had not drilled these habits into us from childhood, they would not have become part of our lives. Habits, good or bad, are formed by the same mechanisms. Here are tips to help you form the exercise habit.

All habits are formed through repetition. Psychologists say it takes 21 repetitions for a behavior to become a habit. I suspect it takes longer than that. If you can find a way to exercise for at least 21 consecutive times, you have a greater chance of making exercise a part of your lifestyle.

Be accountable to someone.
Parents succeed in instilling good hygiene habits in their children because they "carry a big stick". There is a negative consequence if you don't brush your teeth every night.

Use the same strategy on yourself by choosing an exercise buddy who will hold you accountable if you miss your workout. A trick that works is to make a bet with a good friend. A Michigan State University study found that people who bet with a friend were 97 percent successful in sticking to their exercise programs. A penalty for missed exercise sessions could be money toward an expensive item like athletic shoes. Hopefully, a few months later, you will be the one wearing the new shoes!

Do it in stages.
"Shaping" is a behavioral technique used to train animals like dolphins to do fantastic stunts in animal shows. It involves shaping the ultimate behavior (exercising for one hour every day) by breaking it down into small steps (exercising for fifteen minutes three times a week). People try to do too much in the beginning; burning themselves out or injuring themselves before exercise can become a habit. An important component of shaping behavior is to reward yourself for small goals achieved. Start out by exercising for fifteen minutes a day. Reward yourself every time you add another five minutes to the workout.

Keep a record.
Keeping records is very important in motivating yourself to continue until exercise becomes a habit. Behavioral scientists have found that people who keep records of their attendance and progress are more likely to succeed in making exercise a permanent part of their lifestyle. When you become "addicted" to exercise, you won't need to keep a record anymore.

Prepare your exercise clothes.
If you work out in the morning, prepare your exercise clothes the night before and place them in a conspicuous location. If you exercise after work, bring your gym bag to the office so you can change there and go straight to the gym. I once bumped into a friend in an elevator. Seeing him dressed to workout, I asked if there was a gym in the building. His gym was actually a few blocks away. He said changing into his gym clothes at the office "motivated" him to head straight for his workout.

Schedule your exercise.
Schedule your workout sessions just like any other important appointment. Just be realistic in squeezing exercise into your daily activities. For example, exercise after you see your kids off to school in the morning. Or, come in thirty minutes early to work so you can exercise during your lunch break.

Exercising at the same time every day instead of whenever you can spare some time ensures that working out will become a permanent ritual. Another tip: Many find it easier to get into an exercise routine if they exercise every day rather than three times a week. Split your workouts so you won't feel you are exercising your life away.

Example: Do an aerobic workout on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and a weight workout on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Sunday would be your rest day.

Begin, the rest is easy.
There are days when I don't feel like doing my weights but, invariably, I find that if I just begin, I get a great workout. According to Tommy Pamintuan, Resident Manager of the Apo View Hotel in Davao and an avid exerciser, every time he doesn't feel like working out, he reminds himself that if he just starts, the rest is easy. He says that he has never finished an exercise session regretting that he did it. On the contrary, he says the regret comes when he has decided to skip the workout.

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