How To Set (And Stick With!) An Exercise Routine

New habits take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to put into place (with an average of 66 days). 

Yes, really.

A quick check of the calendar tells us that this post is being written with just three months left in the year. 

So let’s do some math…

If it takes about two months to set a habit, could we assume that by the end of the year you could have a new, sustainable exercise habit in place and be feeling AMAZING by the time the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve? 

Yes! I think that’s a pretty solid assumption! Boom-shaka-laka, right? 

So now that we know what’s possible, how do we actually go about setting a habit? And how do we give it the staying power it needs to get us where we want to go with our health? It’s simpler than you think.

The Haps on Habits

Simply put, a habit is a behavior or set of behaviors you do over and over again until they mostly become automatic. If you’re just dabbling with something, it’s not yet a habit. Brushing your teeth every day and filling up the water vessel of your coffee machine before you go to bed? Those are habits.

You probably don’t remember how many days it took you to solidify most of your habits, but science says the 21-day habit-forming time frame most of us have bought into is actually more like 66 days. (Possibly less, possibly much more.) So it stands to reason that if you’d like to finish the year with a new exercise habit in place, we should probably get a move on. (Pun intended!)

Get Into Gear

There’s no question exercise can lead to a healthy body, better sleep, and a calmer, more focused mind. But if it’s been a while since you’ve exercised, getting started may seem daunting.

Here’s my thought on this: You can’t get it wrong. As long as you’re doing something that increases your heart rate and gets your blood flowing, you’re heading in the right direction. Bonus points if you enjoy it, since if you like what you’re doing, you’ll naturally want to do more of it.

I know how tempting it is to want to go all-in right off that bat, but remember, we’re going for a sustainable habit here. Give yourself the grace to start where you are and then build on that.

Maybe it’s walking around your neighborhood for twenty minutes at a time, three days a week. After a couple weeks, you increase your walking time to thirty or even forty-five minutes, and you do it four or five days a week. Maybe one of those days you even jog.

You get the idea. You’re starting “small” (though no amount of effort is actually “small”) and working your way up. The key is to keep your baseline consistent (in this example, it would be the twenty minutes of walking, three times per week) and let that become your habit. If you choose to add on extra time, engage in more sessions, or increase your effort, those are all bonuses. (And could easily morph into new habits.)

RELATED: 5 Reasons Why Exercise Is So Important

Stick and Stay

So now that you have an exercise plan in place, it’s time to make it stick. Remember, this could take over two months, so until it becomes automatic, you’re going to need some good old fashioned grit and commitment. (No one said forming a new habit would be easy.)

Here are some of my top tips for sticking with a new habit…

Keep Your Goal In Front of You

Always keep top of mind what you’re hoping to get out of your new exercise habit — a body you love, a happier disposition, natural stress relief, increased stamina, etc. — and focus on that, even when (especially when) when the going gets tough. 

Write your goal down on sticky notes and put them all over your house. Create an inspirational wallpaper for your phone or computer. (Because I know you look at those often. We all do!) Hang your goal dress/outfit/swimsuit somewhere you can see it. Having visuals all around you will keep you focused and inspired to keep going, even when it’s hard.

Focus On the End Result 

Your subconscious mind doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not; it only knows what you tell it. So visualizing yourself as your fittest, healthiest, most energetic self tells your mind that you’re — you guessed it! — fit, healthy, and energetic. Your mind will naturally support you by engaging in habits (like sticking with an exercise routine) that support this fit, healthy version of you.

So set aside a little time each day to see yourself looking amazing in a new dress. Feel the joy you get from the lighthearted laughter that comes so easily for you now that you stress less. Envision yourself easily keeping up with your kids, grandkids, pets, or friends. Soon this will be more than a vision… it’ll be your reality.

Hold Yourself Accountable

When starting a new habit, having someone on your side, cheering you on, can make all the difference in whether or not you stick with it. 

For some people, their partner or best friend are obvious Accountability Partner choices. Others may gain the most momentum by hanging out in groups of like-minded people who have similar goals. (Our DKA Every Day Facebook group is a prime example of this. If you’re not a member already, we’d love to welcome you!)

Some folks even like to blog about their journey or post it on social media. 

And some just like to keep their goal all to themselves.

None of these practices are “right” and none of these are “wrong.” Whatever will keep you locked in on your habit until it becomes automatic is perfect. Just be sure that if you don’t have someone you’re regularly checking in with regarding your new exercise practice, you keep a journal, planner, or checklist around so you can log your workouts and you’re not tempted to miss because “nobody’s watching.” 

The End Result

The bottom line here is that in just a couple months, you could view exercise as a can’t-miss part of your day that you don’t even have to think about. You’ll be looking and feeling great, falling in love with the new you, and, most likely, making even more positive changes in other areas of your life.

The positivity snowball will be rolling, all because you said YES to starting and sticking with an exercise routine! Great job!

Dr. Kellyann Lemon Sips

P.S. Have a soda habit? That’s one habit you should definitely break! 

Try swapping soda for my sugar-free, fat-free, cravings-busting Lemon Sips. It’s a citrusy-delicious drink that’s packed with nutrients to support healthy skin, detoxification, and next-level hydration. Check it out right here.