Dr. Zoe Shaw, A Year of Self-Care

You Can Start an Exercise Habit, Here’s How to Do It


Ah! The New Year is approaching. The Christmas cookies are showing up as dimpled marks on our thighs, and we pacify ourselves with the all too familiar, “When January comes around…”

What is your game plan this year? Do you need one? Today is your lucky day. But let’s back up a bit to dispel a few myths so we start out with the right mindset.

Find Your Why

We all know exercise is good for us, but I think one of the reasons we don’t do it is that we are doing it for the wrong reason: weight loss. Did you know that’s not even one of the primary benefits? In fact, in regards to diet and exercise, diet is about 80% of the battle while exercise is only 20%.

Case in point: I am a certified personal trainer and one of my first clients years ago came to me to get fit for her upcoming wedding. We would work out hard three-four days a week for an hour at a time, and after a few weeks, she hadn’t lost a pound.

Perplexed, I had her write down what she ate for a few days and asked her to bring it back to our next session. Right after she would leave the gym, she would stop for a burger and fries and justified it because she had just “burned so many calories.” I explained to her it would take her 30 minutes of swimming to burn off that burger or two hours of yoga to burn off the bagel she ate pre-workout.

It takes a ton of activity to create a calorie deficit, and I learned this first hand when I moved to France for six months. When I first got there, I was scared I would gain weight because I went from teaching four to five hours of classes a day to light walking.

Before I left, I was regularly teaching yoga, kickboxing, pilates, weight training, spinning, and boot camp for several different gyms, but I was not eating very healthy because my life was so “go go go.” When I actually started losing weight because I was taking in fewer calories than normal, I realized the power of nutrition for weight loss.

So, back to my original point: I think the reason we don’t exercise is that we are doing it for the wrong reason. We give up quickly because we often feel like we’re swimming upstream when we don’t get the immediate result of weight loss, which was our initial motivation.

My proposal today is to change your motivation. What if you exercise for prevention of mental illness? Exercise has been shown to reverse depression and anxiety. Endorphins that are released with physical activity act as natural painkillers and reduce stress by helping you sleep better. Within five minutes of exercise, anxiety starts to decrease (You can read more about that here.) Or how about helping your sex life? Preventing disease? Improving posture? Increasing your energy levels? Boosting your confidence? Improving your memory?

The reason we don’t exercise might be that we are doing it for the wrong reason.

What Do You Love?

Once we find our why, we need to choose our “what.” Crossfit, HIIT, goat yoga, barre fusion, soul cycle, Zumba step, rebounding, exercise apps, online programs, and streaming workouts make good ol’ walking and running seem old school. With all the different kinds of exercise out there nowadays, it can get overwhelming to the point where it’s easier to just let it sit on our list of New Year’s resolutions for another year without checking it off.

My best advice to make an achievable game plan this year is to… are you ready for it? Show up. Profound, I know. I’ll be here all week, folks. But I’m serious. I used to tell my clients if you can just get in the car and drive to me, you’ve already won most of the battle. Just putting on those running shoes, signing up for that class, or putting in that DVD means you’re more than halfway there because, by that point, you will more than likely do something even if it’s only for a short while. In fact, it doesn’t have to be a long time at all!

On those really tough days where I don’t feel like exercising, I tell myself, “15 minutes Ashby! That’s all you have to do. You can do anything for 15 minutes.” Most of the time I go longer because it feels great once I’ve started but even if not, 15 minutes is better than nothing and adds up over time!

If you set attainable goals, you will actually do them. If your goal is two hours a day, six days a week, then you do you, friend. Learning a foreign language in the next six months and winning the Nobel Prize is probably on your list too, and well, we just can’t hang because my list includes things like “fold the laundry when it comes out of the dryer.” Which actually might as well be the Nobel Prize now that I think about it because I mean, honestly…who does that? But I digress!

Pick something you enjoy doing. There was a gal who literally gave me the stink eye for the entire duration of my spin class, but once I saw her in a cardio dance class, and she was all smiles! She was 30 pounds lighter, off her anxiety meds, and her stink eye was replaced with a twinkle the following year because she found something she loved, so she kept showing up. Figure out what you love! That might be trying some different classes to see how you feel after. It might be calling a friend and going on a hike. Maybe it’s grabbing a used bike trailer on Craigslist and taking your kids for a ride every morning.

Consistency Is Key

Whatever it is, be consistent. Treat it like an important appointment because, with all of its benefits, it is an important appointment—not only for your physical health but mental as well. You will know what it takes to be consistent. An alarm on your phone, an accountability partner, a financial investment into a gym membership, whatever. But I promise you if you show up and you do it on a regular basis, you will see and feel results no matter what you choose. Your body and mind will be stronger, and it will feel great to have it be a part of your daily routine.

Quit Waiting and Start an Exercise Habit that’s Right for You!

And quit waiting to start on Mondays! Start today and tell yourself that you’re getting a head start. It’s all about getting your mind in the right place so your body can follow suit. Find your why, find your what, and just show up. Get back to basics and then maybe next year we can tackle that whole laundry thing.

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