6 Steps to Starting an Exercise Program

More than half of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions choose to exercise more. It is the most popular resolution this year. Yet 40% of us will give up by February 1, and more than 10% will really never get started. 

Sometimes a good start makes all the difference. If you have been thinking about your fitness resolutions without taking action, here is a good way to get yourself started. 

Identify your reasons

Your “why” might be “to look better” or “to feel healthier,” but these general motivations might not be strong enough to get you to the point of taking action and developing the habit. 

Think more deeply and you might find a stronger, more personal motivation. Think about the benefits you can imagine exercise bringing to you. You may come up with reasons you wouldn’t share with most people — but they might be your real reasons.

  • I want to feel more self-confident when I’m out with friends. 
  • I want to be able to enjoy hiking with my significant other.
  • My doctor has told me that regular exercise could help me avoid diabetes in the near future.
  • I don’t want to have to buy new clothes  — being more active will help my current gear fit better.
  • I want enough energy to play with my grandchildren.
  • I have big plans for retirement and I know exercise will keep me healthy longer. 

Staying aware of the reason you want to exercise can help motivate you to start and to keep going. 

Make a plan

The more specific your plan, the more likely you are to succeed. “I’m going to go for a walk at 7:00 every morning” or “I’ll hit the gym after work on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday” are much more likely to happen than “I’m going to exercise.”

In fact, you’re better off telling yourself, “I go on a bike ride every Saturday with my friends and follow YouTube yoga classes every evening after dinner.” That brings your plan into the present.

Then set yourself up to succeed. Going for a walk every morning? Put your workout clothes and shoes out on your nightstand so it’s easy to get up and put them on right away. Sign up for a class or make a standing date with your sister to meet at the climbing gym.

Change if you need to

You might not find the perfect workout first crack out of the box. If Tai Chi turns out to be disappointing, try salsa dancing or swimming. Trying things out gives you regular exercise anyway. Once you find an activity or two that you really enjoy, you can commit to it — or maybe you will find that you like variety. 

You need 150 minutes of cardio each week plus a couple of bouts of strength training. Some of us enjoy choosing one or two activities and getting deeply involved. We like the feeling of becoming experts and developing new skills and knowledge. 

But you can go cross-country skiing one day and play volleyball the next. Finish out the week with kickboxing, pole dancing, and golfing. It all counts and it all has benefits. If this describes you, just commit to a time and leave the daily adventure up to your whim.

Get started

Start today. 

Getting started is the hardest part. Even if your start is a walk around the block or five minutes of burpees and squats, you’ve started. 

Keep going

If you start today, you can do it again tomorrow. And the next day. It might be difficult to force yourself to follow through every day. You might need to start small and work your way up to a full 20 to 30 minutes of activity. 

But you will notice a change. After a few weeks of steady perseverance, regular exercise will become a habit. You will naturally grab your gym shoes from their spot near your bed and you will feel like heading to Ultimate practice when it’s time to go. Seeing your shoes or noticing the time will be your cue to exercise, and your brain will respond by nudging you to do it. At this point, exercise will be a habit. 

Habits are very powerful. If you have ever had a bad habit, such as grabbing a soda from the fridge as soon as you get home for work or smoking a cigarette whenever you have a cup of coffee, you know that it’s hard to break a bad habit. Fortunately, it’s just as hard to break a good habit. 

The second Friday in January, researchers found, is the most common quitting day for New Year’s resolutions. That’s not surprising, because it can take 21 to 60 days to develop a habit. Giving up before exercise becomes a habit is a loss. Instead, keep going until it becomes a habit. That early work and discipline will pay off.