6 Keys to Exercise Adherence

Use these tactics to help stick to a workout plan and meet your goals.

exercise adherence - mom running on treadmill
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It's fairly simple to get started with a fitness routine. Sticking with it for the long term, otherwise known as exercise adherence, is what often trips us up, especially us busy parents. Our grand plans, and even not-so-grand ones, can be sabotaged by boredom, injuries, a lack of results (super de-motivating), and a lack of time. That last one is definitely a killer for parents.

The good news is that there are several expert-tested strategies you can use to combat these challenges.

Be aware of the pitfalls, and the solutions, and you'll greatly improve your success in adhering to exercise. The American Council on Exercise suggests these tactics, which I have tailored for the special needs and challenges parents face.

1. Start with a Goal

Thinking about why you're starting an exercise routine is the first key to exercise adherence. Do you want to run a race (charity fundraising events are great for motivation, and are often kid-friendly too), have more energy to play with your kids, shed some pounds, or learn something new? Maybe you are looking to reduce stress or set a good example for your children. Any of these goals could help you succeed, if it's something you really believe in and is specific and inspiring. Keep your goal in mind to help you overcome obstacles.

2. Don't Overreach

Trying to go from sedentary to superstar athlete too quickly is usually a recipe for failure (and even injury).

Set smaller, manageable goals as steps that will help you reach your ultimate dream. In other words, start with a 5K run and work up to a marathon. Exercise adherence is a series of little victories that leads to a bigger one—improved health and fitness that lasts throughout your life.

3. Enlist Support

Pairing up with a friend or family member for workouts, or signing up for a group class, is often energizing and motivating; you don't want to let your fellow exercisers down.

Even if they don't work out with you, involve your family members in your fitness plans and goals. This may mean asking your spouse and kids to cheer you on from the sidelines, or to take on some household responsibilities to free up more of your time for exercise.

4. Mix Things Up

If you've been unsuccessful with exercise adherence in the past, you may have bored yourself into giving up. When you change your workouts regularly, it's much easier to stick with them. It's also safer, more fun, and more effective to challenge different muscle groups in your body. Find fitness activities that you enjoy, but also try new things whenever you can. You can add variety during the course of a week, a month, or a longer term—whatever feels right to you.

5. Set a Schedule

While you don't want to regiment your exercise too strictly, you do want to create helpful habits. Starting your workouts at the same time each day can contribute to exercise adherence, as can matching up exercise opportunities with your regular schedule.

For example: walk or bike the kids to school instead of driving them, set up a standing Saturday morning yoga date with a friend, or swim laps at the community gym during your child's basketball practices.

6. Keep Track

Maintain a log of your exercise efforts and achievements. Use whatever method works for you: Jotting notes on a paper calendar, keeping a spreadsheet online, using an activity tracker or app. Reviewing how far you've come gives you instant, positive feedback and helps to remind you how much work you've put in. You wouldn't want to mess that up, would you?

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