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The 10 Keys to Start an Exercise Program -- and Finally Stick to It!

We all know exercise is good for us. It can help prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer, plus it may:

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Promote healthy blood sugar levels

  • Boost the immune system

  • Increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol

  • Improve your mood and lower your chances of depression

  • Promote healthy bone density

Yet despite knowing this, most Americans -- seven out of 10 of us, in fact -- do not exercise regularly.

Seven out of 10 Americans don't exercise regularly. Follow the tips below to finally stick with your fitness routine -- for good.

"You don't have to work up a big sweat at the gym or become a long-distance runner," said former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. "Just 30 minutes of walking a day, five days a week, can significantly improve your health."

The report, released by Thompson, found that while 62 percent of adults had some physical activity in their leisure time, only three in 10 exercised regularly. What is regularly?

The report defined it as light-to-moderate exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes at least five times a week, or vigorous activity for a minimum of 20 minutes at least three times a week.

A lack of such activity, experts say, contributes to 300,000 deaths each year in the United States.

Why Americans Don't Stick to Exercise

Starting an exercise program is easy, and many Americans make a real effort to do so at the start of the New Year. Getting yourself to the gym or outside for a jog regularly, however, is another story altogether.

"Hardly anyone -- maybe 20 percent of the population -- exercises to the degree that they should to maintain cardiovascular health," says John Raglin, an exercise psychologist at Indiana University.

Some of the more common reasons why people start, then give up on, their exercise routines include:

  • Feeling there's not enough time

  • Taking on too much to start, then burning out

  • Becoming bored with their routine

  • Getting discouraged (expecting major results too soon)

"If you take people and give them good equipment and a good training program," Raglin says, "half of them will quit before long. Here we live in a society where health, fitness, and a fit body are highly valued, and there are a lot of couch potatoes."

How to Stay Motivated … and Finally Keep Your Exercise Program Going Strong

If you're fed up with the exercise "yo-yo" of starting a program strong, then quitting after a couple of weeks, there are a number of tips that can help. Here are the top 10 ways to keep you, and your exercise program, going strong.

1. Start Slowly
You shouldn't expect to hop on a treadmill and jog for five miles if you haven't exercised in years. Starting slowly ensures that your body can become more fit without getting injured. And, you'll be more likely to stick with a workout that leaves you feeling energized, not fatigued from working too hard.

2. Set Realistic Goals, and Write Them Down
Whether you want to lose 20 pounds, tone up for the summer or increase your strength, write down exactly what you hope exercising will help you achieve. Then, keep track of your progress by keeping an exercise journal. Did your pants feel looser after the first month? Are you able to walk farther and faster? Writing down your achievements is a great way to see how far you've come, and get a little inspiration when you need it.

3. Be Patient
Remember that it will take time to achieve your fitness goals. "Many people don't see immediate weight loss and say it's all for naught and stop," says exercise expert William Haskell of Stanford University Medical School.

On the contrary, studies have found that even moderate amounts of exercise can make a big difference in your health. And, in time, you will definitely see and feel a difference.

4. Do Something You Like
Exercise should be enjoyable. If it's not, you're not likely to keep doing it. There are so many ways to get exercise … biking, jogging, strength training, aerobics, dancing, yoga, etc. … that, as long as you keep in a variety, it's impossible to get bored. Make sure you consider your personality (Do you like to workout alone or in groups? Do you like to be outdoors or at the gym?) when choosing which types of workouts are best for you.

5. Incorporate Both Aerobic and Strength-Training Activities
Perhaps the most motivating thing about exercising is feeling more in shape, more flexible, and more toned. A key way to achieve these things is to make sure you are getting both aerobic and strength exercises. While doing some cardiovascular exercise, like jogging, will increase your stamina, strength training will help with your bone density, and, a new study found, can also help prevent weight gain in middle age.

In fact, the study found that women who lifted weights just twice a week prevented or slowed "middle-aged spread." So be sure you are giving your body all the possible benefits exercise can provide by incorporating aerobic and weight-lifting activities into your routine.

Exercise should be enjoyable. If your workout routine is no longer fun, spice things up by getting a workout buddy, trying a new fitness class or varying your activities from day to day.

6. Set a Time to Do It
Your workout time should be a set part of your day, for three to five days a week. If you don't schedule it in like any other task, it is way too easy, and tempting, to put it off.

Some studies have found that people who workout first thing in the morning are most likely to stick with it. But, most importantly, you should designate a time that works for you -- whether it's in the morning, after work or during your lunch hour. Set aside the time, then don't even think about whether or not you'll workout -- just do it.

7. Consider Getting a Workout Buddy
A workout buddy can help keep your workouts regular … after all, if you're supposed to meet at the gym, you can't very well cancel at the last minute. It can also be motivating to have someone to encourage you and talk with while exercising. Plus, studies have found it to be effective. When both spouses start a fitness program, only 8 percent drop out, compared with 50 percent who start out alone, Raglin says. "That's a pretty remarkable result," he continued.

8. Support Your Workouts by Doing Other Healthy Things
Your workouts will be much more effective and enjoyable if you are feeling good, mentally and physically. That said, keeping a healthy lifestyle outside of exercising by eating a healthy diet, drinking lots of water, getting plenty of sleep and avoiding too much stress is essential to sticking with any fitness routine.

9. Have Fun
Exercising should be enjoyable. If you find that you're dreading your workouts, it's time to change to a new type of exercise.

10. Reward Yourself
In order to keep exercise a positive thing in your life, reward yourself often for keeping to your routine. You may want to take a long soak in the tub, buy yourself a small gift or simply take time to appreciate your achievements each time you keep to your workout routine for a week. Remember to keep it positive -- be gentle with yourself if you skip a workout or two, just remind yourself how good it will feel when you get back on track.

Recommended Reading

The 8 Top Dietary Mistakes "Healthy Eaters" Make

Is Your Doctor Skimping on Giving You the Best Advice?


CNN: Most Americans Don't Exercise Regularly

The Detroit News: Early Workouts Can Build Consistency

Exploding Exercise Myths

Exercise: Follow Your Bliss

American Heart Association: Women May Prevent, Delay Middle-Aged Spread by Lifting Weights

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