Exercise: How to Stay Active

Make Exercise a Habit

Once you've started exercising, it's important to keep going because physical activity needs to be done on a regular basis to produce maximum benefits.

A Regular Part of Your Day

One of the best ways to stay physically active is to make it a life-long habit. Set yourself up to succeed right from the start by seeking to make exercise a regular part of your day. When it becomes a normal part of your everyday routine, like brushing your teeth, then you'll be less likely to stop and will find it easier to start up again if you're interrupted for some reason. If you can stick with an exercise routine or physical activity for at least 6 months, it's a good sign that you're on your way to making physical activity a regular habit.

(Watch the videos on this page to learn more about how to remain physically active. To enlarge a video, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner of the video screen. To reduce a video, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)

Ways to Make Exercise a Habit

Here are a few ways to help you make exercise a regular part of your daily life.

  1. Make it a priority.
  2. Make it easy.
  3. Make it safe.
  4. Make it social.
  5. Make it interesting and fun.
  6. Make it an active decision.

1. Make It a Priority

Many of us lead busy lives, and it's easy to put physical activity at the bottom of the "to do" list. Remember, though, being active is one of the most important things you can do each day to maintain and improve your health. Make it a point to include physical activities throughout your day. Try being active first thing in the morning before you get busy. Think of your time to exercise as a special appointment, and mark it on your calendar.

2. Make it Easy

If it's difficult, costs too much, or is too inconvenient, you probably won't be active. You are more likely to exercise if it's easy to do. Put your 2-pound weights next to your easy chair so you can do some lifting while you watch TV. Walk up and down the soccer field during your grandchild's game.

Do more of the activities you already like and know how to do. Walk the entire mall or every aisle of the grocery store when you go shopping. When you go out to get the mail, walk around the block. Join a gym or fitness center that's close to home. You can be active all at once, or break it up into smaller amounts throughout the day.

3. Make It Safe

Exercise and moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, are safe for almost all older adults. Even so, avoiding injury is an important thing to keep in mind, especially if you're just starting a new activity or you haven't been active for a long time. Talk to your doctor if you have an ongoing health condition or certain other health problems or if you haven't seen your doctor for a while. Ask how physical activity can help you, whether you should avoid certain activities, and how to modify exercises to fit your situation.

You may feel some minor discomfort or muscle soreness when you start to exercise. This should go away as you get used to the activities. However, if you feel sick to your stomach or have strong pain, you've done too much. Go easier and then gradually build up.

4. Make It Social

Enlist a friend or family member. Many people agree that having an "exercise buddy" keeps them going. Take a yoga class with a neighbor. If you don't already have an exercise partner, find one by joining a walking club at your local mall or an exercise class at a nearby senior center. Take a walk during lunch with a co-worker.

5. Make It Interesting and Fun

Do things you enjoy and pick up the pace a bit. If you love the outdoors, try biking, fishing, jogging, or hiking. Listen to music or a book on CD while walking, gardening, or raking. Plan a hiking trip at a nearby park.

Most people tend to focus on one activity or type of exercise and think they're doing enough. The goal is to be creative and choose exercises from each of the four categories -- endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Mixing it up will help you reap the benefits of each type of exercise, as well as reduce boredom and risk of injury.

6. Make Exercise an Active Decision

Seize opportunities. Choose to be active in many places and many ways. Multi-task the active way.

  • When you unload the groceries, strengthen your arms by lifting the milk carton or a 1-pound can a few times before you put it away. When you go shopping, build your endurance by parking the car at the far end of the parking lot and walking briskly to the store. Or, get off the bus one or two stops earlier than usual.
  • Instead of calling or e-mailing a colleague at work, go in person -- and take the stairs.
  • Take a few extra trips up and down the steps at home to strengthen your legs and build endurance.
  • Try to do some of your errands on foot rather than in the car.
  • While you're waiting in line, practice your balancing skills by standing on one foot for a few seconds, then the other. Gradually build up your time. While you're talking on the phone, stand up and do a few leg raises or toe stands to strengthen your legs. Take advantage of small bits of "down time" to do an exercise or two. For example, while you're waiting for the coffee to brew or for your spouse to get ready to go out, do a few wall push-ups or calf stretches.