Exercise — you either love it or you hate it. For some, working up a sweat is the best part of their day. For others, it’s a task dreaded more than a trip to the dentist or a long wait at the DMV.
Regardless of where you stand in the fitness wars, there’s no dispute that engaging in regular exercise carries numerous health benefits.
Regular exercise can promote heart health, improve cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, improve sleep, boost your mood and help you maintain a healthy body weight.
Even with the best intentions though, it is sometimes difficult to fit fitness into your daily life. This is especially true if you work long hours, manage family caretaking responsibilities, or both.
I’ve been a regular exerciser my entire adult life, and I am firmly in the “love it” camp. Nevertheless, there have certainly been times in my life when keeping a daily fitness routine has been a challenge.
Most notably: during crunch time in law school, while studying for the bar exam, while starting a new job as an associate attorney, while adapting to new motherhood and while adjusting to life as a working mom.
What I found most helpful during these times was finding a routine that worked with my schedule rather than against it. Because let’s face it: Exercise should be a priority but, as busy adults, we have many other priorities, as well.
Like most aspirations, if your goal is to incorporate regular exercise into your life, you have to put in the work. It also helps if you follow these six steps.
1. Make sure the activity is one you enjoy.
If you want to ensure exercise is part of your daily routine, make sure the activity is one you enjoy. Don’t just look to the latest fad or what might have worked for you 10 years ago.
A solid workout routine is one that incorporates elements of weight training, aerobic exercise, core exercise, flexibility and recovery — one that boosts both physical and cardiovascular strength.
There are several great options from which to choose, from the tried and true like running and resistance training to the fresh and hip like aerial yoga. Maybe you prefer a swim workout to weight training, or a serious core exercise to a full body workout. But the truth is that all physical activity is good for you.
If you’re new to working out, it will be important to be cleared for exercise by your doctor, and it may help to obtain guidance from a certified personal trainer. A personal trainer can help you assess your goals and reach them.
Even if you work out at home, there are great virtual trainers online and countless workout guides and programs that can send you in the right direction. Pop in a workout video and get sweating.
This also leads us to the next tip.
2. Follow a plan and work toward a goal.
If your goal is to incorporate exercise into your daily life, your best bet is to follow a plan and to work toward a goal.
Sure, it’s fine to occasionally have “free days” where you just move for the sake of moving and end up the same cool down exercise. Sometimes any physical activity at all will be exactly what you need.
But for long-term success and to prevent boredom, it’s important to have a set goal each time you work out.
This means following a plan — or creating one yourself — and sticking to it. This will ensure that you make the most of your time and that you don’t soon become bored or aimless. You want to work out all of your muscles, so focusing on a different muscle group each day would be a great full body workout plan. One day focus on your upper body like the shoulders; the next day could be leg day.
It will also help maximize results for your goals — whatever they may be.
3. Plan your workout for the time you’re most likely to do it.
Another important way to ensure exercise is part of your day is to plan your workout for the time you’re most likely to do it. For me, this usually means working out first thing in the morning.
Even if you have to wake up a little earlier than you normally do, working out first thing is the best way to ensure that you get your workout in and that you get an early jolt of energy for the day.
In my experience, there are too many variables when it comes to scheduling exercise for later in the day. It becomes all too easy to skip that evening spin class when the phone calls and e-mails won’t stop or when rush hour traffic slows.
Only you will know the time that will work for you — but, in many cases, an early morning workout is your best bet.
4. Invest in it.
If you want to make exercise a daily part of your life, invest in it. Get the gear and equipment you’ll need. Purchase the clothes and shoes you’ll need for your specific exercise. For example, if you plan to start running, buy actual running shoes. Same goes for spinning and any other activity you pursue. If you work out at home, equip your home gym or workout area with the basics that will help you get the job done.
Also, provided you can afford it, don’t be afraid to join a boutique studio if it offers activities you enjoy that will motivate you to show up.
At one point, I belonged to a studio that specialized in barre and yoga. My monthly membership payment was easily five times more than my regular gym but, for me, the expense was worth it. Plus, because I was paying so much more each month, I was extremely motivated to show up and exercise the value of my membership.
Investing in fitness is an investment in your health and happiness.
5. Ensure you workout in a convenient location — even if that means exercising at home.
Whatever you do, ensure you work out in a convenient location — even if that means exercising at home. If you’re skeptical about how effective a home workout could be, you’d be surprised. There are several programs available that offer intense, fun workouts for less than the cost of a monthly gym membership.
Shortly after I became a mom, I made the switch from gym-goer to home-workout enthusiast. It’s convenient, saves time and I still get a great workout.
If you find yourself short on time and haven’t tried working out at home, give it a shot.
6. Be flexible.
Finally, when trying to establish a daily exercise habit, be flexible.
Don’t think of it as all or nothing. Real life happens, and there will be days you have to cancel your workout for whatever reason. The worst thing you could do is to call the endeavor a failure and throw in the towel altogether.
Keep working toward your goal. Remember why you started this workout routine, and don’t be afraid to amend plans as needed.
Follow these steps and you will succeed in making an exercise routine a part of your daily life. Your muscles will feel it a lot at first, but with time, you'll build muscle and strength and it'll get even easier!
Candace is a practicing attorney, working parents advocate, freelance writer, and proud mom. Her legal practice focuses on workers’ rights. She can be found writing about law, motherhood, and more on her blog as The Mom at Law.