The Top 5 Ways to Form Healthy Exercise Habits

Forming healthy habits may seem simple enough. You do something new for 30 days and poof! You have a new habit. In reality, eating well and exercise for beginners is not about creating a single habit, but a series of habits that all lead to an overall healthier lifestyle. As if that wasn’t hard enough, psychologists have found that the old adage that it takes 30 days to create a new habit is patently false. It can take anywhere from 66 to 254 days for a new behavior to become automatic and a habit to take hold. With this new timeline in mind, and armed with the knowledge that you will need to address several habits, not just one, you can begin to change your life.

1. How to start exercising: Identify your habit loops.

In his incredible book, “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg talks about habit as a sub-conscious loop that consists of three aspects – a trigger, an action and a reward. Every habit we have, good or bad, is triggered by an external or internal cues. We then perform an action and receive a physical, emotional or social reward as a result.

Think of someone who chews their fingernails. Anxiety may cause their fingertips to itch or ache, so they bring them to their mouth. At that point, the action (chewing their fingernails one by one) must be completed in order to relieve that sense of itch or ache in their fingertips. When you are starting to workout, you have to look for cues that are already built into your day when you can insert a new habit loop. Does the alarm going off automatically signal you to put on your workout clothes and start your strength training for beginners video? Can getting into the car to leave work signal that it’s time to go to the gym on the way home?

If you are unsure what your habit loops are, a personal trainer can help you identify your cues that trigger your actions, and ways to change your loops to make exercise a habit.

2. Starting to workout: Zero in on little rewards.

As evolved as we like to think we are, a theoretical reward six months in the future (I will fit in this dress!) won’t be enough to keep you going when you are too tired to go to the gym. Most exercise for beginners is designed to give you small rewards along the way to your larger overarching goal. For instance, you may notice that you can do 30 minutes of exercise instead of just 20 after a few weeks. Or you may see that your clothes are fitting better before you see the scale move. But when it comes to creating a healthy habit, you may find that your reward at first is something less obvious than a non-scale victory or increased strength and endurance.

Let’s say you have started a new exercise routine. You stop by a local coffee shop after your workout. Each day after your strength training or cardio workout, you stop in for an iced, strawberry infused green tea. At first, your reward may not be an invigorating workout and the stronger body you are building, but the green tea after your strength training workout. What’s interesting is that the possibility of reward is often enough to trigger the reward centers of our brain in a way that makes us crave the action. You may not have time for a green tea for a few days, but the possibility of sipping that cold, delicious drink on your way out of your workout is enough to keep you going to exercise on days when you just don’t want to.

When you zero in on the rewards you experience from eating healthy food and starting to workout, you can begin to trigger those pleasure centers in anticipation of an exercise class, a run, a healthy meal, or a non-scale victory.

3. Just change one thing at a time.

As tempting as it is to revolutionize the way you are eating, change everything about your daily routine and figure out how to start exercising all at once, you are more likely to be successful at creating new habits if you shrink the change you are trying to make. Chip and Dan Heath talk about this very notion in their book “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.” They discuss the idea that self-control is like a muscle – finite in its ability to direct our natural impulses. The more we exercise self-control, the more adept we are at it, but in the early stages of change our ability to overcome years of bad habits is limited.

Rather than exhausting your discipline with massive, large-scale change to your diet and exercise for beginners success is found in shrinking the change to one thing. Once you have mastered that one thing, you can move on to other changes that may require more discipline. A personal trainer can help you identify the most needful change to make and encourage you along the way.

4. Stop comparing.

It has been said that comparison is the thief of joy. Every time you compare your journey to someone else’s you are willingly giving up any joy you experience in your progress. You cannot compare starting to workout with someone else who has run a few marathons. You cannot compare your efforts at strength training for beginners to someone else who talks about how great they feel when they do an intense circuit workout. You are trying to change your habits, not anyone else’s. Run your own race. Stay in your own lane. And stop looking at anyone else’s results for answers.

5. Repeat after me: Setbacks are not fatal or final.

You don’t necessarily want to plan to fail, but you do want a plan in place in case a setback happens. This is especially important when you are starting to workout and you are trying to form new healthy habits or redirect negative ones. When you get a cold and can’t workout for a few days, what will you do to get back into the routine? When you go to a party and eat way too much fatty food, how will you get back on track the next day? What is your strength training for beginners plan when you travel or when the kids are off of school? Having plans in place for potential setbacks is something management guru Jim Collins calls “productive paranoia”. When we look at possible setbacks as challenges to be managed rather than fatal or final events, we increase the likelihood of bouncing back from them.

Forming healthy habits takes time, patience and perseverance. Fortunately, once they are in place, you can stop worrying about how to start exercising and start focusing on the results you are seeing. Unsure where to begin? A certified personal trainer can help. Start your search for the right certified personal trainer for you at