How to Make Working Out a Habit


The new year has arrived, and the joint resolution to exercise more comes with it. January is known for an increase in gym searches and memberships as people strive to kickstart their fitness routines. However, the real challenge lies in sustaining these habits over time. Building a lasting exercise routine takes dedication and perseverance. This article will explore expert advice on creating sustainable change and making working out a habit.

Set Specific Goals

A resolution to exercise is a great start, but setting specific goals and creating an actionable plan is essential. Research shows that dreams become more effective when they are concrete and bite-sized. Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” emphasizes the importance of having a plan with specific objectives. For instance, setting a goal to run a marathon in November and starting a training calendar in February helps create a clear roadmap for success.

Find Your ‘Why’

To build a sustainable exercise habit, it’s crucial to reflect on your history with exercise and identify what has been working for you. Michelle Segar, a researcher at the University of Michigan, advises finding your “why.” While weight loss or general health improvement are common motivators, they might not be sufficient in the long run. Instead, focus on the positive feelings and benefits you experience from physical activity. Reframing exercise as something that instantly makes you feel better and helps you tend to your priorities, you’ll find a more meaningful motivation.

Avoid ‘All-or-Nothing’ Thinking

Rigidity and perfectionism can hinder the development of an exercise habit. Research by Katy Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School, suggests that individuals who are flexible with the timing of their workouts are more likely to stick to their routines. Having backup plans and allowing for variability in your routine can help you overcome obstacles and maintain consistency. Segar advises against ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking, encouraging individuals to embrace flexibility and have a menu of different activities.

Bundle Your Workout with Something Fun

Making exercise enjoyable is critical to sustaining a habit. One technique suggested by Katy Milkman is “temptation bundling,” which involves linking practice with activities you enjoy, for example, watching your favorite TV show while using the treadmill at the gym. Additionally, exercising with a friend can enhance enjoyment and provide accountability. Studies have shown that people are more likely to enjoy working out when they have a companion to share the experience with.

Be Patient: Habits Take Time

Forming a habit takes time and consistency. Remembering yourself that you’re working towards a lifelong fitness routine is essential. While the timeline may vary for each individual, patterns don’t develop overnight or within a few weeks. Embrace the gradual progress and recognize that practices strengthen over time, even if it doesn’t feel like getting easier. Eventually, the course will become automatic, and you won’t notice it anymore.

Motivate Yourself with Kindness

If you struggle to stick to an exercise habit, being kind to yourself is essential. Exercise should be a source of motivation, not punishment. Practicing self-compassion can help you achieve your goals. Research by Kristin Neff, an associate professor at the University of Texas, suggests that self-compassion improves athletic performance. Instead of criticism, encourage yourself with kindness and support. Treat yourself as you would a friend who needs motivation and help.


building a sustainable exercise habit requires setting specific goals, finding meaningful motivation, embracing flexibility, making exercise enjoyable, practicing patience, and motivating yourself with kindness. Remember that habits take time to develop, and setbacks are part of the journey. By implementing these strategies, you can make working out a pattern that becomes an integral part of your life.


Q1. How long does it take to form a workout habit?

A. The time to form a workout habit varies but typically ranges from 21 to 66 days, depending on individual factors.

Q2. Can I start with a short workout and gradually increase the intensity?

A. Absolutely! Starting with a manageable routine and gradually increasing intensity is an intelligent approach to building a sustainable habit.

Q3. What if I miss a workout day?

A. Missing a day doesn’t derail your progress. Acknowledge it, recommit, and return to your routine the next day.

Q4. Is it necessary to consult a fitness professional before starting a workout habit?

A. While it’s advisable, especially for beginners, consulting a fitness professional ensures that your workout plan aligns with your health goals and physical condition.

Q5. How do I stay motivated during challenging times?

A. Having a support system, revisiting your goals, and incorporating enjoyable activities into your routine can help maintain motivation during challenging periods.

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