habit of exercise

Creating the Healthy Habit of Exercise

Habit; defined as ‘a settled or regular tendency or practice’

For a profession that is oriented solely around lifestyle / behaviour change, getting into the healthy habit of exercise is what we wish for all of our clients!


But creating habits takes time. We know better than to think that it is as easy as simply ‘telling’ people what they need to do. Behaviour change is tough – it involves unlearning old, unhelpful habits and replacing them with better ones. 


Here are some ways to help ease the transition.


Breaking Old Habits


Most people have tried some form of exercise across their lifespan. Many have even enjoyed it! And yet, for one reason or another, it hasn’t stayed engrained into their daily routine. We often hear from our clients that life just got too busy, or they don’t have the energy or motivation at the end of the day. They fell off the ‘exercise bandwagon’, and couldn’t get themselves back on. 


The first part of the process involves breaking the old habits. Could that evening Netflix time be swapped out for a walk after dinner? Could you ride your bike to work instead of drive? Could you go to bed half an hour earlier so that you don’t snooze through your planned gym session? Could the mental habit that says that exercise has to be hard and exhausting be changed so that exercise becomes a restorative and energising practise instead? 


Just as brushing your teeth is something that needs to be done everyday to keep those pearlers clean, exercise needs to be done regularly in order to see those profound benefits. Making it a habitual part of your day means being prepared to break the existing mould. 


Building Motivation for Exercise


It’s all very well to acknowledge that you need to make some changes, but there also needs to be an incentive to take action. If the motivation for exercise is lacking, you may need to rope in some extrinsic (external) motivators to keep you on track. Here are some things that you can try to increase your motivation for movement:


  • Make it fun! Blast some tunes, put on a podcast or a TV show while you exercise,
  • Use an activity watch which tracks your daily step count, and work towards a step goal,
  • Set incentives for reaching your exercise target – new shoes on the wishlist?
  • Exercise in a group settling to bounce off other people’s motivation and energy, 
  • Find an accountability buddy so that you can support each other,
  • Take some time to set one or two exercise goals that are important to you.


It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint


Behaviour change takes time, and sometimes it takes a few attempts to get it right.


Start with small steps and build up from there. All too often we see people who go too hard, too fast, and end up either injuring themselves, getting burnt out, or simply losing interest. Creating a healthy exercise habit is something that you want to last throughout your whole life. It should feel rewarding, and sustainable. 


Start with 2-3 times per week of an exercise of your choice, with ‘rest’ days inbetween. And if your rest day turns into a rest week, don’t beat yourself up about it! We’ve all been there. Simply start fresh again next week with a clean slate and new intentions. Forming new exercise habits is kind of like stopping smoking – we can expect to fail a few times before we succeed. 


Repetition and consistency is the key, as with any new habit. Don’t give up! We promise you, it gets easier with time.

Author: Yolanda van Vugt
Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Content Creator at Specialised

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