Don’t fall off the treadmill (or bike, or rower, or…)

New year’s resolutions around fitness and exercise are incredibly popular. The excitement and hope generated by the start of the year makes starting an exercise program easy.
Now that it’s February, staying with it gets hard. Life gets busy, motivation drops, and suddenly you’re back on the couch, wondering how you’re 6 episodes into The Golden Bachelor instead of at the gym.

You know the benefits of exercise – they’re probably what motivated you to start exercising in the first place. If you need a reminder here are just a few:

• 3 hours of exercise a week reduced pain and disability by 47% in people with knee arthritis
• Exercise reduced the progression of dementia by 50%
• Exercise reduced the risk of hip fracture in post-menopausal women by 47%
• A meta analysis showed exercise decreased anxiety by 48%
• A low dose of exercise relieves depression in 30% of people, a higher dose woks for 47% of people
• A 12 year study of 10,000 Harvard alumni showed that people who exercised were 23% less likely to die
• Exercise is the #1 treatment for fatigue

Knowing that you should exercise or why you should exercise isn’t the problem. Actually getting up and doing it is. Here are our top tips for making sure you stick to your exercise plan:

Set realistic goals. Don’t try to go from zero to hero overnight. Start with small, achievable goals and increase them gradually. Make it easy to win – that helps you build motivation and an exercise habit. For some people that might mean starting with a daily 10 minute walk. For some people, that bar is too high.

When we say make it easy to win, we mean easy. Your goal could be to scan your card at the gym 3 times a week. It might be putting on your walking shoes and going out the door. It might be one pushup. Start tiny.

Do activities you enjoy. Exercise isn’t punishment. Choose activities that are fun. It could be running, walking the dog, dancing, swimming, kickboxing, or playing a sport.

Schedule it. Schedule your workouts like you would any other important appointment. When people ask you to do something else during that time, say “sorry, I’ve got an appointment.” The more you make exercise a routine, the less likely you are to skip it.

Don’t go it alone. Having someone waiting for you at the gym really motivates you to get there. Having support helps push you to work harder, and motivates you when you’re feeling down. Your support could be a friend, the other people in a group fitness class, or a trainer.

Mix it up. Try a new class. If you usually run at the same pace, try intervals. Walk a different route. Doing the same thing over and over again gets boring and leads to burnout. Keep things interesting to stay interested.

Track your progress. Bonus points if you find a way to make it visual somehow. Our brains love to see tasks checked off, a chart or numbers going up, and rings closing. Seeing how far you’ve come is a great motivator. Keep track of your workouts in a journal, make a spreadsheet, use an app or fitness tracker.

Bribes work. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Set a goal to work out 3 times this week and treat yourself to your favorite coffee when you do. Buy yourself a new workout outfit, get a massage, or anything else that will help you stay motivated when you reach milestones.

Adjust. Don’t push yourself too hard, especially when you’re starting out. If you’re feeling tired and sore, take the intensity down. Plan rest days into your routine. Don’t make your goal and plan so rigid that it’s impossible to complete in the real world.

Forgive yourself! Everyone has setbacks. You’re going to get sick. You’re going to miss a workout. That’s ok. Pick yourself up and get back on track. With the right mindset and a little perseverance, you can reach your fitness goals.


1. Updating ACSM’s Recommendations for Exercise Preparticipation Health Screening. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 47(11):p 2473-2479, November 2015.
2. Benefits of exercise for older adults: a review of existing evidence and current recommendations for the general population. Clinics in geriatric medicine 8.1 (1992): 35-50.
3. Exercise Acts as a Drug
4. Perceived Exercise Barriers
5. The Benefits of Exercise on Brain Health
6. Exercise Assessment and Prescription in the older adults and individuals at risk for functional decline*1c4v900*_ga*MTEwNjIzMzg2MS4xNjgxODQyODcw*_ga_ZZJK74HXNR*MTY5NzE5NzczNy4xMS4xLjE2OTcyMDAzODMuNTguMC4w&_ga=2.223614619.1495021570.1697197738-1106233861.1681842870
7. 23 and ½ hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our healtt.
8. Time Magazine: How To Keep New Year’s Resolutions: