Research shows that regular physical activity is the single most important thing we can do to stay physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. That should come as no surprise. What may surprise you, however, is that an estimated 2 billion people worldwide are not getting enough exercise. What gives?
The challenge isn’t knowing why you should exercise. It’s knowing how to make it a priority. No matter how many articles you read about the countless benefits of regular physical activity—such as better sleep, boosting your metabolism, and lowering your risk of depression, to name a few—the fact remains that in the midst of a full day, exercise feels like another obligation to squeeze in (especially if you don’t enjoy it).
The secret? Finding the approach that works with—not against—your jam-packed schedule, disdain for treadmills, or mile-long list of to-do’s. In other words, finding what works best for you. Here are five simple strategies for fitting fitness into your life:
1. Strengthen Your Self-Control
Willpower requires energy. That’s why instead of simply resisting temptation, meQuilibrium Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Adam Perlman suggests reducing that temptation in the first place.
For example, let’s say you want to start jogging a few mornings each week but have a hard time waking up early. Rather than relying on willpower alone to stop you from hitting snooze, try putting your alarm across the room. That way, you’ll have no choice but to get out of bed when it goes off. For added effect, lay out your gear the night before. Having your running shorts and sneakers ready to go means you can devote all of your mental energy to getting up and out the door.
2. Stretch Your Definition of Exercise
Many people have mistaken ideas about what counts as “real” exercise, like that it must be done for a certain amount of time, a minimum number of days per week, or leave you breathless in a puddle of sweat. But the science says otherwise: Researchers from the University of Utah found that every minute of movement counts toward the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity we’re all supposed to be getting each week.
If you’re not a gym person or don’t have time for a formal workout session, seek out opportunities to move throughout the day. “Whenever possible,” says Dr. Perlman, “take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park the car all the way in the back of the lot. Get out one subway stop early and enjoy the stroll. All those extra steps add up to a healthier, happier you.”
3. Train Your Brain
Studies show that your brain is more motivated by positive reinforcement than it is by negative reinforcement. So, rather than using exercise as punishment for that second piece of cake, stay focused on the big-picture payoffs. “When you connect your fitness goals with larger goals—your relationships or a sense of meaning and purpose—the payoff is exponential,” explains Dr. Perlman.
To find your meaningful motivators, ask yourself, “How will exercise make my life better right now?” Be specific! For instance, if yoga helps you relieve stress, boosts your energy, or model positive habits for your family, those are the reasons that will get you to hit the mat on a regular basis.
4. Get Flexible with Your Schedule
Finding the time to work out doesn’t always, well, work out. Instead, make the time by adding exercise to your calendar. When your schedule is swamped, it may seem counterintuitive to book yet another appointment, but experts say that blocking off time for physical activity leads to more balanced workouts and helps you prioritize the habit until it becomes automatic.
To determine your optimal workout time, assess your schedule for the times of day you’re least likely to get derailed. Can you find a quiet hour before your kids wake up? Is there a way to incorporate exercise into your commute home? If your schedule is at full capacity, carve out small fitness windows, such as scheduling walking meetings or lifting hand weights while talking on the phone.
5. Find Your Fitness Groove
If the type of exercise you’re doing doesn’t feel good, do something else! The more you enjoy your workout, the more motivated you’ll be. Finding the right fitness class or routine can be a process, but there’s something out there for everyone. Keep experimenting with different types of exercise until you find something that sticks.
Note: It’s important to start slow and regularly check in with your body. Make sure to stretch, stay hydrated, use good-quality equipment, and give yourself enough time to rest between workouts. Consult your physician for guidance if you have an injury or experience chronic pain.
Elior Moskowitz is the Content Coordinator at meQuilibrium. A frequent Cup of Calm contributor, she also writes for various major business journals and lifestyle publications. Elior holds a B.A. in Psychology and English, with special training in both positive psychology and mental health counseling.