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How to Start Exercising Regularly: 5 Best Practices to Get You Going

So, you want to begin exercising โ€” consistently โ€” but you're not sure where to begin? (Or you're under-motivated or unable to mobilize yourself to the task โ€” yah, we've all been there!) Well, you certainly aren't the only one who wants to know how to start exercising regularly and keep it a staple part of your life.

No worries! We're laying out five best practices for creating a personalized, fulfilling, and lasting exercise routine. You'll be movin' your bod and creating a healthy lifestyle habit in no time. And reaping the associated wellness rewards, too.

If you're ready to make some healthy changes โ€” even small or incremental ones! โ€” keep reading.

people working out with resistance bands in a group exercise class
No matter your age, gender, abilities, fitness level, or interests: Exercise opportunities abound. Explore your options!

Importance of Exercise

Maybe a good place to kick this off is by articulating why it's good to get-up-and-go.

Simply, exercise is a key contributor to overall physical and mental health and well-being. By incorporating regular exercise into our lives, you can support your mind and body in truly meaningful ways!

What is Exercise?

For our purposes here, we're not necessarily adhering to the dictionary definition of "exercise". By exercise, we don't mean, "Go run a marathon every week." or "Yes, you must chain yourself to the elliptical machine for a minimum of one hour per day."

Rather, we're suggesting that you incorporate all kinds of activity and movement into your life. (Your body's made for motion!) Sure, this encompasses working out at a gym, playing sports, etc. โ€” but it also includes adding little bits and bursts of activity into the rest of your day. Like stretching periodically while you work at your computer, doing pushups against the counter while you nuke your lunch, and so on.

Benefits of Exercise

This is where it gets really interesting and inspiring. (At least, that's what we think!)

Exercise has been shown to help in about a gazillion ways. Here's a quick sampler for ya:

  • Improve mood

  • Boost cognitive function

  • Improve heart health

  • Maintain a healthy weight

  • Reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer

  • And so much more!

Correlation of Exercise & Fitness

Exercise and fitness aren't the same thing. Exercise can lead to fitness. Fitness is the condition of your body's overall health and well-being and its ability to perform physical or mental tasks.

File this in the "Good to know" brain folder. Understanding the difference/relationship between these two concepts can be helpful when it comes time to set goals and right-size your expectations.

How? By making it clear that exercise isn't the only factor that feeds into fitness or your overarching health and wellness.

Wellness is multidimensional; exercise is just one piece of the puzzle. Other variables โ€” your diet, social and spiritual connections, occupation, etc. โ€” tip the balance, too.

muscular black man exercising using weighted ropes
Who says you have to stick with just gym workouts?!

Best Practices for Beginner (& Everyone Else, Too!)

Many people are reluctant to start exercising because they don't know how or where to start. Here are some tips to help you overcome common barriers:

#1: Find a Workout Routine You Enjoy

If you find yourself dreading the thought of exercising, it may be difficult to stick with it. So, picking activities that you like doing is a good first step.

We recommend that you brainstorm several different kinds of physical movement that spark your joy. (If you can't think of any โ€” your goal is to explore various options and begin to cultivate that roster of activities.) 'Cause some days ya just don'ts feel like hiking in the rain or whatever and maybe an indoor yoga class is your jam.

By finding exercises that you look forward to doing, you'll help yourself stay motivated and keep up with your workout routine. And with a ready list of options, you won't get bored and will blow the excuses out of the water.

#2: Set Realistic Exercise & Fitness Goals

When it comes to starting a fitness routine, a lot of folks set unrealistic goals that are too difficult to achieve. Instead of setting yourself up for failure, set achievable S.M.A.R.T. goals that acknowledge your "why" (i.e., your reason for endeavoring to improve your exercise habit).

What are S.M.A.R.T. goals you ask? Good Q! S.M.A.R.T. stands for:

  • Specific (clearly and explicitly defined)

  • Measurable (quantifiable)

  • Achievable (doable)

  • Relevant (meaningful to your life and objectives)

  • Time-bound (associated with a specific timeframe or deadline)

For example, don't just say, "I want to exercise more."

With precision of language and intent, state it something more like this: "To help manage my weight, I'm going to start exercising more. I'll begin by walking for 30 minutes per day three times a week for the next month. At month's end, I'll assess my activity and adjust my routine accordingly."

See the dif? The second statement has power and actionability! It makes it much easier for you to see progress and feel motivated to continue working out. Success begets more success, yo!

#3: Think Big, but Start Small

Yup, it can be tempting to want to go in whole hog. After all, if you dive in with a 60-minute workout each day, youโ€™ll be on your way to a healthy body in no time! But is this really the best way to go about it?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), โ€œThe most important factor in whether an exercise program is successful is how challenging it is.โ€

In other words, if you start out with too little/much intensity (i.e., frequency, duration, distance, load/resistance, and/or speed), youโ€™re likely to give up before you even get going. But if you start out with a more moderate level of intensity, youโ€™re more likely to build confidence and an enduring exercise regimen and see results.

Want a couple of concrete tips on "going small"? Check these out:

  • Think in terms of minutes spent exercising as opposed to hours spent exercising. And โ€” FYI โ€” jumping in with even just 10 minutes of shakin' your groove thang daily can benefit you.

  • If you want to start exercising an hour a day, seven days of the week โ€” maybe ease into it by working out for 30 minutes per day three times a week.

#4: Make a Commitment

Treat exercise as an everyday habit โ€” like brushing your teeth and drinking water. When you don't frame it in your mind as something extra, outside of the normal parameters of your life, or something to be squeezed in possibly if ya have time โ€” you're reducing friction. Without this mental push-back, you'll have an easier time making exercise a part of your regular routine.

Mindset matters when forming new habits. Some sources suggest that it takes around three weeks to create a new habit. In reality, though, it will probably take more time to cement regular periodic physical activity into your lifestyle. And it will probably take more than a mere 21 days to really see and feel the brunt of your efforts.

One of our favorite tips is to plan out your exercise seshes for the week or month. Then literally book them into your calendar so they are locked into your schedule. Treat your personal self-care dates like business meetings or family events that can't be moved or canceled. Of course, stuff does come up โ€” let's be realistic, life's complicated and full of surprises and uncertainties โ€” so be sure to have a contingency plan queued up so you don't get derailed.

Tending to your own well-being is non-negotiable. After all, you can't pour from an empty cup....

#5: Reward Yourself for Exercising

You deserve a treat for work well done. Rewards also make for great incentives for you I-like-a-carrot-at-the-end-of-a-stick approach type people.

What kinds of things make good kudos tokens? How about these:

  • A massage

  • A mani/pedi

  • A splurgy trip to the hair salon or barber

  • A small wellness-supporting gift, like new earbuds

  • Workout wear

  • A subscription to a music service

  • A subscription to a gym/spa/fitness studio

  • A new houseplant

  • New kitchen gadget (to make nutritious foods)

  • A new book

  • Artwork or a DIY craft project

Start drafting that wishlist โ€” you're gonna rock this!

Man and woman in exercise clothing are looking at a computer โ€” perhaps picking an online workout or scheduling exercise time into their calendars. They are in a living room, sitting on the floor on a yoga mat and with a basketball nearby.
Pick exercises you like and schedule time to do them into your calendar.

How to Start Exercising Regularly โ€” Easier than Might You Think

People have many reasons for wanting to start exercising regularly โ€” like improved mental and physical health or just to feel better overall.

Regardless of the "why," it's common to need some help to get the ball rolling (and keep it rolling). There's lots of great advice out there for you, but five best practices we especially like include:

  1. Pick forms of exercise that you enjoy.

  2. Set goals, ones that are well-articulated and actually attainable.

  3. Start with baby steps and grow and adjust course from there.

  4. Really commit to self-care and your newfound exercise regimen.

  5. Recognize your accomplishments and progress.

We wish you the utmost success with establishing your exercise routine, achieving your fitness goals, and experiencing your most optimal health and wellness. Cheers!

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