Written By: Gema Sanchez, PT
By now, you have heard over and over again that regular exercise is essential for happy, healthy aging. But establishing an exercise program, and sticking to it, can be extremely difficult, especially for those for whom exercise has never been a part of their life. As a physical therapist, I have had many people express the desire to start a regular exercise program, or lament that they were exercising regularly for a while but then stopped and have been unable to get back to it.
So, what to do? It’s all about clearing any blocks you might have to getting to the gym, pool, Yoga studio, rock climbing gym or local track and starting.
Here is my advice:
- Make it convenient
Choose a location close to work or home or on your daily route. You will find it much easier to get to the gym if you pass it every day than if you have to go out of your way to get there. Make it difficult to give yourself the excuse that it is inconvenient. Every day as you pass the gym, thinking to yourself, “I’m signed up and paying my dues, I should go in there”, remember it will only take a turn of the steering wheel to get you in the parking lot. First obstacle: Get into the gym. You can’t work out if you aren’t in there. Also, remember to look for spontaneous and easy to establish ways to exercise. Walking in the evening, playing with your kids, riding your bike to do errands, taking the stairs when you have time and parking further away from your destination are all really easy ways to get your exercise in without having to carve time out of your schedule.
- Find something you really like
You will not stick with something that doesn’t challenge you or is not fun. Sure, you may force yourself to go for a while, but come the holidays, or your vacation or nice weather; you’ll fall out of the habit and not really want to go back. Don’t like aerobics, how about swimming? Don’t like the gym? How about dance, or Yoga, or Pilates? Can’t afford the gym or classes? You can walk, or ride your bike or look for free classes for beginners at Yoga studios. The most important thing is that the activity itself motivates you. If you are going by will power alone, it won’t stick.
- Get a buddy
Finding a reliable workout partner is hard but worth the effort. Many people turn to family, friends or neighbors, but sometimes the best workout partners are found right where you work out. Like you, they have summoned the willpower and have the motivation to show up, which is half the battle. Having a partner helps keep your workout consistent and challenging. You both bring ideas to the workout and when you are having a day when you are less than motivated to go, having someone waiting and counting on you can be just the extra little something you need to motivate you.
- Change it up
Many people learn or develop a workout routine and then do the same routine every time they go to the gym. It’s worth it to gradually add to your routine options, learn new machines, try new classes, watch and learn from the people around you. Not only will your workout be well rounded, you will have more fun and never get bored. I am a regular at the gym in the cool, rainy weather and we rarely do the same workout twice. But come summer, I would far rather go for walks, do gardening or go for hikes. And by the time the rainy weather returns, I am ready and excited to get back to the gym!
- Build the habit slowly
It is really important to set realistic, achievable goals at first. Of course the ultimate goal would be to do some kind of exercise at least 3-7x/week. If you have not been working out regularly, it is REALLY hard to put this in your schedule. You’ll start well for maybe one or two weeks then life will get in the way and next thing you know you haven’t exercised in 2 weeks. Then it is very discouraging and hard to recommit. Instead, start with committing to 1-2 days/week. Even if this is all you do for a month or two, it is much better then stopping and starting or doing nothing. Once it is an easy and normal part of your weekly schedule, try adding more days as you are able.