How to make exercise a daily habit

Photo by Rance Costa via Flickr

For people who’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions like arthritis, exercise has become a commonly accepted and very important form of self-treatment that can reduce and relieve the body-wide nagging pain and fatigue. For those who have a couple aches here and there that slow them down in the morning, exercise and stretching can also be extremely beneficial to get the body prepared for the day.  For those who sit at a desk all day and are noticing a disturbing pouch form above the belt line, exercise can be extremely important for heading off some impending health issues.

But it’s not always easy to find the time and motivation to get actually do exercise in the morning — or at any time for that matter. So today, I want to talk about three easy ways to smooth the transition from sleeping like a baby to exercising and stretching like a champ.

1) Set aside a place.

You wake up. You stumble out to the kitchen and have a cup of warm tea or water, then gaze out the window into the dark morning. You look around some of the clutter in the living room, kick a couple toys to the side that your kids left out, and then sit down on the couch to shift aimlessly through the internet on your iPad or — even worse — check your email. You just missed a golden opportunity.

iPads will prevent exercise

The iPad will stop you from exercising. Put it away.

That spot in the living room is a perfect place to get moving. All it takes is a yoga or exercise mat on the floor to give you a place to start establishing a habit. Do a few clam shells, a couple pushups on your knees, some stretches for your quads, perhaps? Is it a dedicated exercise studio? No! Will it work for 15 minutes? Yes!

So before you go to bed, set out the mat so when you wake up in your morning stupor, you see the mat and get going on your morning routine. Believe me: the internet will still be waiting for you when you’re done. You can still have that water or tea though.

2) Set a time(r)

Which sounds best? I want you to exercise in the morning OR I want you to exercise for 15 minutes in the morning OR I want you to do exercise A for 2 minutes, exercise B for 4 minutes, exercise C for 3 minutes, exercise D for 3 minutes, and exercise E for 3 minutes? Which of those three options do you think is easiest for you to follow through on? The last one, right? Chunking out what you’re going to do in manageable, timed bites will help you get your routine done, and knowing how long it’s going to take will help you schedule it into your day. And you should schedule it into your day at a fairly regular time if possible.

I may not be a looker, but I make your eggs and your exercise easy.

Timing your exercises can be really helpful if you are terrible at counting (like I am). If your mind consistently wanders off at number 5 when you’re trying to count to 15, time yourself to see how long it takes to do one set of 15. Then, on subsequent days, just set your timer for that amount and pay attention to your form while your timer does the counting for you. Stop watches from sporting goods stores and digital kitchen timers are great, cost-effective tools. You can even get some kitchen timers off eBay for around $2. For a very free option, download a timer app for your iPhone or Android. I actually don’t like this option that much because you actually have to look at touch screen phones to stop and reset the timer, whereas a stopwatch has physical buttons that you can feel and use without even bothering to look with your bleary eyes.

3) Set a routine

You have the time and place, but the last hitch is the actual stuff you’re going to do. It can take time to develop a routine and your routine may change as your body changes, but knowing what you’re going to do removes anxiety-inducing uncertainty and  reduces how much mental energy you spend figuring out what to do next. Keep a list right by your yoga mat so that you can just move right through the list (with the help of your timer).

Your routine needn’t be hopelessly complex, and it doesn’t even need to be on the floor. For example, check out this quick routine for travelers that can even be done in a bath tub.

That’s it!

These are simple tricks that will reduce the mental and physical friction that stops you from regularly exercising and stretching. Put them into practice, and start moving your body. If you’re dealing with lots of pain, know in advance that it can take months before you really get some momentum going in the right direction, but know also that sometimes improvements can be very quick. There’s no way to predict it in advance, so hop in and get to it!


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.

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