You already know there are many great reasons to exercise—from improving energy, mood, sleep, and health to reducing anxiety, stress, and depression. And detailed exercise instructions and workout plans are just a click a way. But if knowing how and why to exercise was enough, we’d all be in shape. Making exercise a habit takes more: namely, the right mindset and a smart approach.
Now you’ve got to find 30 minutes in your day to get physically active — and there are plenty of easy, no-cost ways to do it. Think you don’t have time? You don’t have to do all 30 minutes at once.
“Building physical activity back into our daily lives is one of the great public health challenges of this century,” said Russell Pate, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Exercise at the University of South Carolina. “Our bodies were designed to be physically active, and they don’t do well with long-term exposure to sedentary living. Lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”
Whatever your age or fitness level—even if you’ve never exercised a day in your life before—there are steps you can take to make exercise less intimidating and painful and more fun and automatic.
Pick an exercise you like
Some people start a new exercise regimen only to stop shortly afterward because it wasn’t working for them. When this happens, it helps to take a realistic look at the barriers to exercise, said Wayne Miller, the programs director at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine’s Center for Rural and Community Health, who has studied weight loss and exercise.
Often, people choose an exercise that they aren’t comfortable with — for instance, they feel awkward at the gym, or dislike participating in sports. Picking a different activity that’s more enjoyable for the person, like a Zumba class or swimming, might increase the chances that they’ll stick with the exercise, Miller said.
And if specific skills are a concern, you might try picking an activity that requires minimum equipment, like walking, jogging or jumping rope, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Exercise with friends
If you need motivation to get moving, it may be helpful to recruit friends to exercise with you. Friends can provide encouragement and may help you stick with your exercise routine, according to the National Institutes of Health.
And social connections may make exercise more enjoyable — a 2013 study of more than 100 people who took short surveys on their mobile phone throughout the day found that those who were doing physical activity with their spouse, friends or co-workers at a given moment were happier, and enjoyed the physical activity more, compared with those doing physical activity alone.
Move more at work
Even during a busy workday, you can likely find time to get a little exercise in at work. You might consider taking a 10-minute walk during a coffee break, or walking around with a co-worker during a brainstorm session, rather than sitting at a conference table.
You could also walk around during business calls if you don’t need to look at important documents, the American Heart Association says. Your commute to and from work is another opportunity for exercise — if you take public transportation, get off a stop earlier than you usually do and walk the extra distance, or take the stairs instead of the elevator to your office.
Move more at home
There are also a number of opportunities to squeeze in more exercise at home. Doing housework or gardening can count as exercise — mowing the lawn with a hand mower burns about 235 calories in 30 minutes, and vacuuming burns about 140 calories in 30 minutes, according to the Compendium of Physical Activities Tracking Guide from the University of South Carolina, which lists the calories burned during many different types of physical activity.
You might also consider buying exercise equipment so you can work out while doing activities that would otherwise be sedentary, like watching TV. Equipment can be pricey, but it is a one-time expense and can be used by the whole family, the AHA notes.