Getting Started with Exercising: Slow and Steady Makes a Habit

Oct 29, 2019 | Dr. Anne Shandera-Ochsner, HABIT Midwest Director | @dranneshanderaochsner | Comments (2)

fall couple walking

Awhile back, we featured a post by HABIT staff member Maria Caselli (@mariacaselli), on the updated physical activity guidelines for older adults (check it out here if you missed it). Her post was a great reminder that we don’t have to do all of our daily exercise minutes all at the same time. Short bursts of activity count, too. This information is wonderful, especially, if you’re someone who is looking to increase your physical activity by several minutes per day. But what if you’re not doing ANY minutes of physical exercise at this point? Well, read on, because this post is for you!

When making a new habit, such as exercising for the first time (or the first time in a long time), many of us fall victim to doing too much, too fast. We say to ourselves, “today I’m going to go for a jog.” We go for that jog, gung ho, and feel proud. Unfortunately the next day we feel more sore than proud, and going for another run doesn’t sound so appealing. We feel like we have “failed” at starting an exercise routine. That sense of failure makes us less likely to try again. Sound familiar?

Psychologists know that the best way to make a change is often by doing so in a gradual fashion using clear goals. The goals should be EASY TO ACHIEVE. In the beginning, I mean really easy. So easy that it seems ridiculous to not meet the goal. For example, let’s say your goal is to walk briskly 150 minutes per week. You currently walk briskly 0 minutes per week. Of course, be sure to check with your primary care doctor and get their okay before starting a new exercise plan.

Here’s what a sample plan looks like:

Week 1: Walk (inside or outside) for 5 minutes M/W/F.

Week 2: Walk (inside or outside) for 7 minutes M/W/F.

Week 3: Add 3 minutes to each walk (10 minutes per day).

Week 4: Add 5 minutes to each walk (15 minutes per day).

Week 5: Add 5 minutes to each walk (20 minutes per day).

Week 6: Add one more day of walking, but only for 10 minutes (20 minutes per day/M/W/F and 10 minutes on Saturday)

Week 7: Increase your Saturday walk to 20 minutes (20 minutes per day/4 days per week)

Week 8: Add 5 minutes to each walk (25 minutes per day/ 4 days per week)

See how you went from 0 minutes per week to 15 minutes per week and ended up at 100 minutes per week?! If you keep adding a few minutes each week, before long, you’ll be at your target of 150 minutes per week. And you’ll have gotten there in a way that set you up to be successful and made it less likely that you’d get injured along the way.

This technique can be used to make other behavioral changes as well, such as adding new foods to your diet (or cutting back on those that are less healthy).

Connect with others who are making changes toward a healthier lifestyle in the Mayo Clinic Connect Healthy Living group.

Comment below if you’re feeling inspired to get started on an exercise routine of your own!

Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) blog.

Great encouragement! Thanks.


Excellent suggestion to start up. Thanks

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