How to Learn to Love Exercise

women doing yoga in studio

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The process of aging is still very much a mystery for most of medical science, but there is one thing that we do know and it is that exercise is critical for a long, healthy life. Exercise not only increases longevity, but it also helps us to feel better immediately.

However, almost three-fourths of American adults are considered overweight or obese. Thus, it seems that exercise is difficult for most of us to accomplish, or at least is not a part of our daily routines.

While some of the most healthy cultures do not participate in a great deal of formal exercise as we commonly know it, their citizens all live very active lifestyles from the time they are children until they are in their 80s and 90s. Unfortunately, the average American's lifestyle simply isn't that active. In fact, it is quite sedentary.

Exercise in American society is generally not at the amount needed for optimal health; however, combining regular physical activity with a healthful diet can reduce disease risk, strengthen muscles and bones, and even improve mood.

9 Steps to Learn to Love Exercise

Though hitting the gym might not sound like a good time to you, there are people out there, and lots of them, who actually love exercise. They love to run, lift weights, and swim. Wouldn't it be a lot easier to exercise if you were one of them? These steps may help you learn to love exercise.

1. Schedule It

In a culture where we live a mostly sedentary lifestyle, everything else seems to take priority over exercise. Exercise is viewed as a free time activity, and who has free time anymore? Even before buying the right shoes and finding the right exercise routine, practice setting time aside.

Consistently reserve 30 minutes, at least three times a week. If 30 minutes seems overwhelming or unrealistic, start with 10 minutes. Don't allow yourself to use that time for anything else. Think of it as an appointment you wouldn't cancel, such as a doctor's appointment.

Looking at exercise as preventive medicine can help make it easier to stick with.

2. Follow Your Bliss

Here's your first test: During that time you've set aside, think about exercise. Just sit somewhere and think about it. Do not answer the phone. Do not surf the internet. Do not write. Do nothing but think about exercise.

Think about what simple exercise activity you could be doing during this period. Could you be walking? Marching in place in front of the TV? Going to a gym? Doing yoga at home? What feels right or most appealing?

Do this mental exercise for a week, or until you feel ready for the next step. You might be ready after the first day.

3. Substitute With Real Exercise

Now that you are used to setting aside the time and thinking about exercise, begin substituting thinking with actual physical activity. It may seem silly, but by scheduling even 10 minutes, you've overcome the biggest obstacle to regular exercise: time. Now you can have fun experimenting with your exercise style.

Don't worry about intensity or results. Choose what feels right. Just continue to establish the habit of exercising three times a week. There are an infinite number of exercise possibilities, but perhaps you'll feel more comfortable with starting with one of these:

4. Set a Minimum

Now that you've scheduled the time and tried a few different things, set a minimum number of times each week that you will exercise. Commit to yourself that you will never drop below that minimum.

If you keep to your commitment every week for the rest of your life, you have set yourself up to continuously reap the health benefits of exercise. That makes commitment one of the most important actions you can take.

Sometimes you will exceed the minimum. Sometimes you will have bad days when you merely walk on the treadmill. But you will have built a healthy habit that will sustain you throughout your life.

Even if you are traveling or are incredibly busy, you can still honor your commitment through gentle stretching or quick walks sprinkled throughout the week.

5. Change Your Goals

Those "perfect" bodies in magazines are hard (even impossible) to obtain and even harder to maintain. Instead of having an unachievable ideal in mind, exercise for health, energy, and vitality.

Make feeling good your goal, not weight loss or gaining muscle tone. Those benefits will come, but let them be a bonus to the increased energy and health you gain.

Tell yourself each time you exercise that your goal is health and energy. By simply sticking to your commitment, you will accomplish that goal, even on light workout days.

6. Become Aware of Mental Benefits

Now that you've been exercising, notice how exercise makes you feel. The more you feel its mental health benefits—such as improved brain function and better mood—the easier it becomes to exercise. Consider these basic mental health questions:

  • Do you deal with stress the same way?
  • How is your creativity?
  • How are your problem-solving skills?
  • Do you enjoy food more?
  • Do you feel tired on non-exercise days?
  • Do you crave different foods?

Hold onto the positive answers as a reminder for those days you'd rather sit on the couch and surf the internet.

7. Enjoy the Changes

As you exercise more regularly, you will begin to notice changes in your body. Enjoy these benefits as they come. You might experience positive changes including:

8. Enjoy Exercise

Yes, it's a step. By including taking the time to enjoy how your body feels during and after exercise in your steps, you are ensuring that you are mindful and appreciative of the body you have and are developing.

So go ahead, examine your new body. Really feel your muscles and limbs. Marvel at the mechanics of running, walking, or lifting. Feel your pulse increase and your blood flow quicken. Really appreciate what happens to your body during exercise.

9. Increase Your Intensity

If you've made it this far, it's time to experiment with your exercise intensity. Maybe you're increasing the weight you use with your free weights. Maybe you're turning that 30-minute walk into an hour. Or maybe you've decided to kick it up to a jog.

Once you've learned to love exercise, don't let yourself get bored or hit a plateau. Continue to challenge yourself and your body will continue to thank you.

More Ways to Learn to Love Healthy Habits

Need new inspiration for your exercise routine? Try these tips.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gremeaux V, Gayda M, Lepers M, Sosner P, Juenau M, Nigam A. Exercise and longevity. Maturitas. 2012;73(4):312-7. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2012.09.012

  2. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity and overweight.

  3. Miller A. Here's how people in 8 other countries stay healthy. U.S. News & World Report.

  4. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Nutrition, physical activity, and obesity.

  5. Archer T, Ricci S, Massoni F, Ricci L, Rapp-Ricciardi M. Cognitive benefits of exercise interventionClin Ter. 2016;167(6):e180-e185. doi:10.7417/CT.2016.1965

  6. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Benefits of physical activity.

By Mark Stibich, PhD
Mark Stibich, Ph.D., FIDSA, is a behavior change expert with experience helping individuals make lasting lifestyle improvements.