Exercise Now! Stick-With-It Tips Keep Your New Year’s Resolution Going
Exercise is a key to happiness, as well as fitness, according to mounting research. Newsweek reports that people who exercise are healthier, more energetic, think more clearly, sleep better and have delayed onset of dementia. Studies by the Karolinska Institute, in Sweden, and California State University are among those that further show why exercise leads to relief from anxiety and mild depression. Researchers at Leeds Metropolitan University have also demonstrated that people who exercise perform better at work.
More, although it’s tempting to flop down on the couch when you’re feeling exhausted, exercise is actually a great way to boost energy levels, a conclusion supported by a metastudy conducted by the University of Georgia. They concluded that feeling fatigued is a reason to exercise, not a reason to skip exercise.
But even when you admit that you’d feel better if you exercised, it can be hard to adopt the habit. My idea of fun, for example, has always been to lie in bed reading, preferably while also eating a snack—but I’ve managed to keep myself exercising over the years by using these tricks on myself:
1 Always exercise on Monday. This sets the psychological pattern for the week.
2 If at all possible, exercise first thing in the morning. As the day wears on, you’ll find more excuses to skip exercising. Get it checked off your list, first thing. It’s also a nice way to start the day; even if other things don’t get done, you’ve accomplished that.
3 Never skip exercising for two days in a row. You can skip a day, but you must exercise on the next day, even if it seems to be inconvenient at that time.
4 Give yourself credit for the smallest effort. One man I know said that all he had to do was put on his running shoes and close the door behind him to get going. Many times, by promising myself I could quit 10 minutes after I’d started, I got myself to start—and then found that I didn’t want to quit, after all.
5 Think about context. Examine the factors that might be discouraging you from exercising. Perhaps you are distressed about the grubby showers in your gym or recoil from running if it’s cold outside. Try alternatives.
6 Exercise several times a week. If your idea of exercise is to join games of pick-up basketball, you should be playing practically every day. Twice a month isn’t enough.
7 Find a way to exercise that doesn’t always require you to shower afterward. Each week, I really get into a challenging weight-training session, but it’s in a format that doesn’t make me sweat.
8 Look for affordable ways to make exercising more pleasant or satisfying. Could you upgrade to a nicer or more convenient gym, buy yourself a new iPod or pedometer, or work with a trainer? Exercise is a high life priority, so these are worthwhile ways to spend some money if they help get you moving.
9 Think of exercise as part of your essential preparation. It readies you for times when you want to be in especially fine form—whether in performance (to be sharp for an important presentation), appearance (to look good for a wedding or another formal occasion) or mood (to deal with a stressful situation).
10 Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Don’t decide it’s only worth exercising if you can run five miles or if you can bike for an hour. A woman I know scorns exercise unless she’s training for a marathon—so she never exercises. Even going for a 10-minute walk is worthwhile. Do what you can.
11 Suit up. Even if you’re not sure you’re going to exercise, go ahead and put on your exercise clothes. Pack your bag. Put the dog’s leash by the door. Get prepared. If you’re ready to go, you might find it easier just to go ahead and exercise. Sometimes a trivial thing, like not knowing where your shoes are, gets in the way.
12 Don’t kid yourself. Paying for a gym membership doesn’t mean you necessarily go to the gym. Having been in shape in high school or college doesn’t mean you’re in shape now. Saying that you don’t have time to exercise doesn’t make it true.
People often ask me, “So, if I want to be happier, what should I be doing?” and I always say, “The first thing to do is to make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep and some exercise.” It’s a stance backed up by research psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness. Good exercise is a good place to start, and makes it easier to act on other personal happiness-inducing resolutions.
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, blogs daily at Happiness-Project.com.