How to Make Exercise a Habit You Enjoy

woman holding yoga mat and water bottle at her side
** DISCLAIMER: I am not a nutritionist, physical trainer, or fitness nor mental health professional of any kind. All thoughts expressed in this content come from my personal opinions and experiences only. **

Many people want to be healthier, happier, and more confident. Unfortunately, one of the best ways to attain all three of these things is something many of us don’t naturally enjoy doing: exercising. 

Fortunately, there are ways that you can not only make exercise a habit, but one that you even look forward to. Just keep reading to learn how. 

How to make exercise a habit, in 10 simple steps

  1. Exercise at the same time. This is discussed in more detail below, but this tip will help you build your exercise habit more effectively. 
  2. Do the types of workouts you’ll be most motivated to complete. If you feel like doing leg exercises, do leg exercises. If you want to go for a walk, go for a walk. Do whatever will get you moving, as we discuss below. 
  3. Make exercising easy. Don’t allow any obstacles to get in your way if they could prevent you from exercising. For example, set aside your workout clothes the night before so you don’t have to find them in the morning. 
  4. Warm up your body. Don’t jump into a 20 minute HIIT workout right away. Take 5 minutes at least to warm up your muscles and joints. Not only will this make your workout more effective, but it will also help you wake up if you’re working out first thing in the morning. 
  5. Making exercising your “Me Time.” I know very few adults who couldn’t use a little extra me time in their lives. Exercising is a great way to not only do something healthy for your body, but also get a bit of time away from whatever else is going on in your life. You don’t have to focus on anything when you’re working out except what you’re doing in the moment. In addition to the endorphins exercise releases, this alone time for yourself could also help relieve stress. 
  6. Exercise every day. Yes, every single day. You don’t have to kill yourself doing burpees and HIIT training each day, but make it a goal to move your body (at the same time) each day. Why? When you’re trying to build a new habit, consistency is key. If you’re building “off days” into your workout routine from the beginning, it’s going to take much longer for you to create this new habit. Instead, make it a goal to work out every day and, if your body is telling you it needs a break, make that rest day an “active rest day.” Go for a walk or do some stretching, but make sure you’re still using your exercise time to exercise lightly in some way. 
  7. Don’t weigh yourself. If you want to make exercise a habit, especially one you enjoy, don’t add on the negative pressure of weighing and measuring yourself right away. If you feel you need to do these things later to track your progress, that is up to you. But, for the purpose of creating this habit, don’t worry about it yet. Simply focus on working out each day, and feel good about the fact that you’re taking this important step for your health and happiness. Feeling positive about your new habit will help you stick with it.
  8. Join a fitness group or community. There are so many online forums and websites for people who want to do more to prioritize their health and fitness. Join a Facebook group, subreddit, or Instagram community to see what other people are doing, challenges they’re overcoming, and tips they recommend. Just be sure that any community you join isn’t overly focused on weight, looking a certain way, or being a certain size. This should be something you do to feel good about your exercise habit, not bad about yourself. 
  9. Watch documentaries and YouTube videos. One thing that has really motivated me to keep my exercise habit going is watching documentaries and YouTube fitness influencers. It can be really inspiring to see what the human body is capable of. And, while you don’t have to go climb a mountain next weekend, it can be motivating to see the kind of dedication and motivation extreme fitness athletes put into their health. Again, just make sure any media you watch makes you feel good, not bad about your body. 
  10. Invest in your exercise habit. You don’t have to buy that trendy, expensive set of workout bands you’ve seen on Instagram. However, if having a certain piece of equipment — a yoga mat, some lightweight dumbbells, or even some new workout clothes — will help you stick with your habit, don’t be afraid to buy them. If you want some extra motivation, you can even set some of these things up as rewards for sticking with your workout habit. (For example, “If I work out every day for two weeks, I can buy a new yoga mat.”)
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What types of workouts should I do?

When you’re trying to make exercise a habit, the best type of workout is the one that you’ll actually do. 

Pick exercises that you enjoy more than others and focus on those. Or, if you don’t know what you enjoy yet, use your workout time to try different kinds of exercises until you know what you like and enjoy. 

For example, I much prefer HIIT workouts over long-distance cardio like running. So, I do HIIT workouts because I don’t dread them and they don’t bore me. 

If you can’t motivate yourself to do 30 minutes of HIIT workouts, but you don’t mind doing 30 minutes of yoga, then do the 30 minutes of yoga. 

Exercise does not have to be a punishment. It can be fun, if you let it. 

When should I work out? 

If you want to make exercise a habit, it’s important to build a consistent workout time into your schedule. 

Because many of us tend to have hectic lives from the time we start our day until we go to bed at night, working out first thing in the morning is when many people choose to get their exercise time in. This way, you can dictate when you wake up, how long you allow yourself to work out, and then you don’t have to worry about finding time in the rest of the day to exercise. 

Not a morning person? I wasn’t either. And yet, I’ve been able to make a habit out of working out first thing in the morning, even as early as 4:30 AM, a consistent and enjoyable habit. My secret: drink a preworkout right when I wake up. 

Preworkouts are, generally, a drink mix that you add to water and drink 20-30 minutes before you start your workout. They contain vitamins and supplements, as well as caffeine, that gets your body primed and ready to move. 

Note: I am not suggesting that chugging a preworkout right when you wake up in the morning is the healthiest way to get yourself to work out. But, for a chronic coffee-addict like me who is virtually unaffected by a basic amount of caffeine, preworkouts were the only thing that worked. 

If you don’t want to take a preworkout or you simply refuse to workout in the morning, you can of course work out at any other time of the day, too. 

The main point when trying to make exercise a habit is to try to exercise around the same each day. That way, your body learns to expect some physical exertion around the same time of day, and you’ll mentally start to expect and even crave it, too. 

How do you know you’ve built a habit?

So you’ve been exercising around the same time every day and maybe you’re even feeling like your exercise time isn’t a huge inconvenience anymore. Does that mean you’ve formed your exercise habit? 

Some people say it takes only three weeks to form a new habit. However, in reality, the amount of days it will take to make a new habit stick varies wildly from person to person.

Healthline reports that it can take between 18 and 254 days to make a new habit stick, and it takes most people at least 66 days to get their new habit to become something they do automatically. 

So, going by the sheer number of days you’ve been exercising is likely not the best way to calculate if you’ve formed a new habit or not.

Rather, experiencing these feelings and behaviors are more accurate indicators of having formed a new, good, habit:

  • You don’t stress out about the next time you’ll have to exercise. You don’t dread it. 
  • You don’t have to push yourself or use willpower to make yourself workout. It’s become easy for you to just start warming up and working out. 
  • You feel like part of your daily routine is disturbed when you don’t work out. 
  • You find yourself thinking about what workouts you can do when you aren’t actively exercising.
  • You look forward to the time of day when you exercise. 
  • You find it easy to exercise at the same time each day.
  • You don’t want to lose this part of your daily routine. 

What do you want to get out of your new exercise habit? 

Personally, I started exercising to lose weight. But working out became so much more for me than a tool for burning calories. 

Having an exercise habit is something I genuinely enjoy now. I do it to feel strong, happy, and healthy. Not to reach a certain number on the scale. 

In fact, I don’t even weigh myself anymore. 

Why do you want to make exercise a habit? Or, if you already have a good exercise habit, what advice would you give to beginners? Share your thoughts in the comments below.