Studies show just one session of exercise lowers your blood pressure and blood sugar and helps you sleep better. In the long term, regular exercise reduces your risk of diabetes, some cancers, heart attack, and stroke. In fact, it’s one of the six things we have control over that predict roughly 80% of the chronic illnesses we will face in life. It also improves your mental health, memory, and can help you reach other goals for a healthy life including better sleep and less stress.
Of course, knowing how good movement is for us still isn’t enough to get us moving sometimes. That may explain why 80% of us are not getting the recommended amount.
Ways to make it easier
~Make it enjoyable. Movement is often seen as a “prescription” for better health, which makes us think it has to be hard or unenjoyable to be good for us. Or, it ends up feeling like another “should” on the never-ending to-do list. And, so, we skip it. But fitness experts contend that the secret to a long life of movement is finding something you actually enjoy. And something that makes you feel good. That makes you much more likely to do it. Go figure.
~If you don’t know what that might be, that’s okay. Think about what you know you enjoy and then find ways to make it active. If you love to dance, look for a Zumba, Jazzercise, or other dance fitness class. If talking with a friend is a big stress reliever, plan a daily walk or run with one. If you’ve always wanted a dog, adopt one that likes to go on long walks. If you miss playing high school soccer, see if there’s an adult rec league near you.
~Make it special. Pair your new exercise habit with something pleasurable—like watching your favorite TV show or listening to a true crime podcast—and only allow yourself to participate in the activity you already enjoy while you’re exercising. One study found that so-called “temptation bundling” can boost your chance of moving by as much as 50%.
~Make yourself accountable. This is an old-school commitment device, and doesn’t involve any money, smart watches, or apps. You just need to find at least one other person who wants to move their body regularly. A large body of research shows that having a workout buddy or belonging to a workout group greatly increases the chances you will show up and do it.
~Make it immediately rewarding. Research in the field of psychology has found that the sooner someone experiences the reward of doing something, the more they associate the reward with that activity, and the more likely they are to continue doing that activity.
~A lot of the time, we exercise to accomplish a long-term goal, like training for a marathon. But when that goal is so far off in the future, it can be easy to lose touch with it and your motivation to move.
~Instead, identify shorter-term goals, like enjoying the activity, being in a good mood for the day, sleeping well that night, or getting to talk with a friend while you do it, so you reap the reward much sooner.
~Make it matter to you. Reading a thousand studies won’t have as much power to change your behavior as proving to yourself the value of exercise. Get a small notebook and keep it by the door (or use your phone). Rate your mood on a scale of one to 10 before you exercise, and again, afterward. And, if you want to have even more data, rate your mood at the end of that day. It should become apparent pretty quickly the positive impact moving your body has on your mood. And that feeds into tip number four, working out for an immediate, achievable reward.
Whatever you do, and however you motivate yourself to make it a habit, aim for 150 minutes of exercise a week that is moderate intensity (you get a little winded and your heart rate increases, but you can still talk). Break it up however you like—15 minutes 10 times a week, a daily half hour Monday through Friday, or two good hikes on the weekend.
If you’re looking for practical ways to improve your lifestyle habits, we have you covered. Amazon Care is offering a free six-week lifestyle health email challenge full of achievable steps to begin forming better habits.