Let’s face it—most of us resolve to start exercising because we want to look good. But the real reason to get active lies within. Exercise increases not only your physical health—it gives your mental and emotional well-being a serious boost. In fact, it can be the key to shifting from coping to thriving. Here are our 5 ways to—finally—making exercise a part of your daily life.
1. Challenge Your Thinking
For many people, physical fitness is an emotional topic. And where there are big emotions, there are iceberg beliefs. Negative thinking can make the path to fitness feel overwhelming. Fitness-related icebergs, such as “This is just too hard,” or “If I can’t do this perfectly, it’s not worth doing,” can prevent us from sticking with our workout plan—or from starting one in the first place.
If you’re holding onto one of these beliefs, the way out is to challenge the thoughts with an affirmation. The next time you think, “this is too hard,” respond to yourself, “This is hard—but that’s ok. I can do it!” Or if you miss a day and feel like quitting, remind yourself, “One bad day will only ruin my plan if I use it as an excuse. I’ll start fresh tomorrow.” When we get a handle on our negative thinking, movement can become a way to combat stress, rather than a source of frustration or discomfort.
2. Make it a Priority
Too often, exercise is prioritized somewhere between “do the dishes” and “fold the laundry.” However, a sedentary lifestyle leaves you more susceptible to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, cancer—and depression. In a 2007 study, participants with depression who exercised regularly for four months had significantly higher signs of remission. A year later, the researchers followed up and found those who stayed active stayed happy.
Take a look at your to-do list again: You can’t accomplish any of those things if you’re physically or mentally depleted. Just like on an airplane, you have to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help anyone else. In that sense, exercise isn’t just about you—it’s a way to take care of the people and causes you love most.
3. Consistency, Not Length of Time
When it comes to getting active, our Chief Medical Officer Dr. Adam Perlman says, “Think consistency first, intensity second, and length of time third.” Your first priority is building a habit, he says. Second, make your workout sacred—plan ahead and keep that workout time as a non-negotiable as possible.
This dedication pays off: science shows that consistency in activity helps alleviate anxiety. A study of anxiety-prone participants found that participants who were active on a regular basis were less likely to have panic attacks. This is linked to the body’s ability to regulate cortisol—the “stress hormone.” With regular exercise, your body gets better at handling physical stress—and, over time, it decreases its need to release cortisol.
4. Exercise is Everywhere
The key to getting active every day is to break out of the gym rat mentality. Exercise can happen anywhere and take multiple forms. There is a plethora of research on the damage sitting all day does to your health—so get active wherever you can!
“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.”
5. Don’t Do It Alone
When it comes to exercising consistently, accountability is vital. A study showed that over the course of one year, married couples who worked out together had a 6.3 percent dropout rate, compared to a 43 percent dropout rate for married people who worked out alone.
You don’t have to workout with your mate to reap the benefits. Find a gym buddy, join a walking club, or attend some group exercise classes. Whether it’s an one person or a whole fitness community, the social aspect of exercise is scientifically proven to enhance your chances of sticking with your program.
Make your health a priority for you—and everyone else in your life—and you’ll feel just how powerful an effect it has on your body, your mind, and your life.