How to make exercise a daily habit (and why you should)

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Exercise is one of the best therapists out there! It stimulates dopamine, a feel-good neurochemical and helps to combat anxiety, depression and unhelpful stress. 

But if you have trouble starting an exercise plan or sticking to one, you’re definitely not alone. Many people struggle to get out of the sedentary habits that society has created despite the very best of intentions. When we overlay this with worry, anxiety and depression, exercise can feel like an insurmountable challenge.  

Never fear! Here are some simple ways you get moving and turn exercise into a daily habit.

Start small 

Try holding onto the mantra that “small is better than not at all”. You don’t have to spend hours in a gym or force yourself into monotonous or painful activities you hate to experience the physical and emotional benefits of exercise. A little is better than nothing!

Focus on consistency not outcome 

We want to tip the focus away from outcome and towards consistency.

Find ways to schedule exercise and movement into your daily routine so your brain can get used to anticipating and take the thinking and guesswork out of it. This is called activity scheduling. Consider exercise as an important appointment and mark it on your daily agenda.

Make exercise heart-driven not fear-driven

While practical concerns like a busy schedule or feeling physically unfit can make exercise more challenging, commonly, the biggest challenges to exercise are emotional.  The best form of exercise and movement that we want to do is values-driven exercise – that means exercise that you actually enjoy, rather than those that worry says you should be doing. 

You are much more likely to stick with an exercise program that’s fun and rewarding for you. Pick activities that fit your lifestyle, abilities and interests and how you can incorporate them into an exercise routine.

Move mindfully

Exercises that have a regular rhythm such as walking, running, dancing or swimming are excellent to reengage a calmer and more positive mood state. If you can combine these exercises with mindful engagement where you focus your attention on the physical sensations you experience as you move, it can make the actions even more effective.

Instead of zoning out or distracting yourself when you exercise, try to pay attention to your body. By really focusing on how your body feels as you exercise – the rhythm of your breathing, the way your feet feel as they meet the ground, your muscles flexing as you move – you’ll become much better at observing, accepting and allowing yourself to just be in the present moment.

Be kind to yourself

Self-compassion and kindness are so often the keys to success. The research consistently shows that self-compassion increases the likelihood that you’ll succeed in any given task.

So, don’t beat yourself up about your body, your current fitness level, or your supposed lack of willpower. That will just demotivate you. Instead, look at every step as a great step that helps to build your resolve and motivation along with your muscles!