More than half of new exercisers quit within three to six months of starting, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). But those who keep going far beyond six months have some genius ideas for making the habit stick.
1. They put on workout clothes as soon as they get up in the morning.
The clothes serve as a constant reminder that I haven't yet done my
workout for the day, says Toffler Niemuth, 31, of Phoenix, AZ. "Plus, there's no excuse not to sneak in a few jumping jacks, pushups or mountain climbers in between other stuff as I'm already in my workout gear."
2. They do it before anything else.
"The key for me is to exercise in the morning, even before I eat," says Jean Elder, 56, of Franklin, TN, who's worked out regularly for most of her life. "I feel better, don't get tired during the day and sleep well at night. Also, I can eat what I like, which is a huge plus because I love sweets."
3. They have active meetings instead of seated ones.
A lifelong exerciser, psychologist Ellen Albertson, PhD, of Burlington, VT, likes to walk with people she needs to talk to. Strolling at a slow 2 mph burns 179 calories an hour, versus sitting which burns only 107 calories in the same time.
4. They create a reward within the exercise.
"My favorite solo exercise is walking and hiking outside and 'rewarding' myself by taking photos of animals I see," says Samira Shuruk, 47, of Columbia, MD. She's exercised most of her life and even teaches fitness classes.
5. They always have workout clothes ready to go.
"I try to look at my world as my playground. "Keeping my clothes with me in the car at all times enables me to pull into a park and get in a workout wherever I am," says Kim Evans, 58, of Florida. A frequent traveler, Evans says she looks for a great pool nearby, places to walk her dog and water to paddle on.
6. They don't focus on weight loss.
Working out to lose weight will not keep you motivated in the long term, says Tom Holland, triathlete, marathoner and Connecticut-based exercise physiologist. "Weight should be a 'side effect,' not the focus because changes are slow and it can get discouraging." Shuruk also suggests focusing on feeling better overall. "Fitting into a smaller size is just a bonus."
7. They mix it up often.
Boredom is a motivation killer, so switching up your workout helps hold your interest, says Holland, who rarely does the same cardio workout two days in a row. "Traditionally the recommendation is to change it up every four to six weeks, but if ever you don't feel like doing your regular workout, find something else. Don't skip it."
8. They don't wait until they have a spare hour.
There's nothing magical about an hour-long workout, says Holland. "I'll do 20 minutes twice a day or five minutes of squats while watching TV and then 10 minutes on a stepper. It all adds up." Plus, a 2012 from Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that three, 10-minute workouts spaced throughout the day are as effective as a single, 30-minute walk for improving blood pressure.
9. They check their schedule the night before and strategize.
Ruth Nemzoff, 74, of Brookline, MA, has been a daily swimmer since age 33. She credits her success to a proactive approach. "The night before each day, I look at my calendar and plan when I will fit in exercise. Get up early? During lunch? After work?"
10. They compete in fitness challenges.
Bike rides and races inspire you to get better, as Julie Rains, 54, of Winston-Salem, NC, has learned. While she enjoys bonding with other people, "remembering how you performed can provide motivation year-round," she says. "For example, you remember how a certain cycling route was difficult one year, so you vow to get into better shape, ride faster and attack hills so a route or ride doesn't beat you the next time."