Break the Zero-Exercise Habit


Are you one of the many people who struggles to find the time and energy to break the habit of zero exercise? If so, you’re not alone. Exercise is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle, but motivating yourself to get moving can be difficult. Many find the idea of a regular exercise habit appealing but also challenging and even discouraging.

Fitness requires a tough attitude and a resilient mindset. To achieve lasting success, a competent approach is needed.

One technique many people find helpful is “habit stacking.” With this approach, you rely not only on willpower but on the benefits of “stacking” your new exercise habit onto an existing habit.

To illustrate, you may have a strong habit of brushing your teeth before bed each night or turning on the coffee machine when you wake up in the morning. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, explains that you can use one of these ingrained habits to your advantage as a basis for a new healthy behavior.

Some examples might be:

While making my morning coffee, I will do 10 sets of countertop pushups.

Before eating my lunch, I will do 25 bodyweight squats.

When I change from my work clothes, I will change into my workout clothes.

The key to progress is consistency, and these micro-workouts often lead to better results than infrequent gym visits. Incorporating enough of them into your daily routine can add a surprising amount of extra physical activity, no matter your situation.

The time-strapped desk jockey Are you willing and in good health, but unfamiliar with exercise? Try a low-impact, strengthening and cardio circuit training routine. Choose exercises that are gentle on the joints, such as push-ups, squats, lunges, planks, glute bridges, Russian twists, leg lifts, high knees, step-ups and pistol pushes. Select, for example, three of these exercises. Perform the first exercise for a specific number of repetitions (such as 20 reps), then, without resting, immediately move to the second exercise, then the third. Repeat those three exercises three times. Then perform three different exercises. Do this for 30 to 45 minutes. Since you aren’t pausing for breaks, your heart rate will likely climb quickly and stay elevated, making circuit training an excellent strength-cardio challenge that you can complete, including changing and showering, in about an hour.

The apartment dweller A lack of equipment or space need not be an obstacle. Most of the exercises listed above can be performed in your bedroom or living room. You can build a new exercise habit using a routine that requires only a set of dumbbells or resistance bands and an optional exercise mat. Try a simple workout routine on a website like Fitness Blender.

The road warrior Perhaps you drive long distances for work or other reasons. You are frequently on the road or in hotel rooms. The approaches above might work for you, and so too might simple bodyweight exercises. No equipment is necessary as you perform sets of push-ups, squats, lunges, jumping jacks, walking or running, or even running in place at a motel room, workout area or other available space.

The person battling illness Depending on your illness, it may be wise to have a doctor give you clearance and guidance on exercise. But it is almost certain that exercise of some kind is needed to help you fight that illness and improve your overall health. The illness may be more of a barrier in your mind than it actually is to your body. Even many people who have chronic illnesses can and should build an exercise habit by starting with a combination of short cardio and some functional strength training.

The person who is unfit but willing Even if your body is badly out of shape but your mind is willing, you are most of the way toward starting an exercise habit. With a little more effort, that willing mindset can overcome obstacles such as lack of time, lack of space, lack of equipment, and inhibitions. Choose a habit to stack your new habit on, and use one of the approaches above or a simple beginner workout. This could literally start as a five-minute walk down the street and a five-minute walk back. It might feel simplistic at first, but once your willing mindset turns that last corner and becomes action in the form of an actual exercise habit, your walks will get longer, your workouts will get better, and your body and mind will feel stronger and stronger.

Even if you have a zero-exercise habit and face one or more of these obstacles, you can become consistent at exercising. Choose a habit you already have to stack this simple exercise habit onto. Set small, achievable goals for yourself, and with a little patience and persistence, you will break the zero-exercise habit. As soon as you do, you will have taken the first step on a fitness journey that can make you stronger, healthier and happier.