How to Build and Stick to Your Exercise Routine

By Ali Luke

January 24, 2012   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Most of us need to exercise more. Being active isn’t just important when you’re trying to lose weight – exercising regularly also means you’ll have a decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, strokes and even some cancers.

Perhaps you’ve tried getting into exercise in the past, but you always find yourself slipping back into your old habits. You might manage to get to the gym three times a week at first, but soon, you’re back to going a couple of times a month at best.

But you’re not lazy and you don’t lack willpower. All you need is an exercise routine that will actually work.

Here’s how:

Your Routine Needs to Suit You
Even if you played a lot of sport in college, you might struggle to exercise today. That’s because your lifestyle’s changed: you may have kids, a busy job, even a health condition that makes it tough to do certain types of exercise.

Your routine needs to work for you. Don’t feel that you have to stick to some “perfect” exercise plan from a magazine; instead, find ways to incorporate exercise into your life with as little disruption to your day as possible. That might mean working out in your lunch break, or walking/cycling to your workplace, instead of trying to get to the gym at 6pm.

Don’t Shoot for the Moon
When you’re fired up for a new goal, it’s tempting to go all-out in pursuit of it. When it comes to exercise, though, you need to start small and gradually build up. If you try to run for an hour every day having never run before, you’re (a) going to get discouraged when you only manage five minutes and (b) likely to injure yourself.

Any exercise is better than none. Try starting with just 5 – 10 minutes of cardio activity, and add a little more every week. For moderate-intensity activity (the kind that burns fat and keeps you healthy), a good rule of is that you should be working hard enough that you can’t sing the words to a song, but you can hold a conversation.

Have a Minimum Target and Ideal Target
However motivated you are, there’ll be days when nothing seems to go right. Perhaps you’ve got a cold, or you’re really busy at work, or you forgot your exercise kit when you hurried out of the house in the morning.

This is when a minimum target comes in handy. Perhaps you’d ideally like to do a total of 40 minutes cardio, plus some weight training: but you’ll settle for a minimum of 20 minutes cardio.

You can still check off your exercise for the day, meaning you won’t end up thinking “I’ve failed, so I might as well just give up now.”

Track Your Workouts
Keep a record of your exercise. That could mean writing down brief details of what you did during each session, and how you felt afterwards, or it might simply mean putting a check (or a gold star if you want!) on your calendar.

Keeping track helps you stay motivated: if you can see an unbroken string of days when you managed to exercise, you’ll be loath to break the pattern. You may also spot patterns emerging: perhaps you find it tough to exercise at the weekends, for instance.

Switch it Around
Don’t get stuck in a rut with your exercise. If you always use the same cardio machine at the gym and always lift the same weights, you’ll find yourself getting bored. You may also run into problems if your favorite machine isn’t available, or if you can’t get to the gym at all.

Try out new types of exercise every few weeks. That might mean going for a jog, cycling, swimming, dancing … anything new. As well as stopping you from getting bored, and helping to make your routine flexible, this also ensures that you keep getting fitter (if you do just one type of exercise, your body will eventually adapt to it, and you won’t see such good results).

Are you trying to get into a regular exercise routine? Share your tips – or your struggles – in the comments below.

Written on 1/24/2012 by Ali Luke. Ali is a writer of fiction and non-fiction and a writing coach. She blogs about writing on her site,, and has a free ebook “How to Find Time For Your Writing” available when you join her writing newsletter here. Photo Credit: Joe M500
Ali Luke

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