Exercise is arguably the most popular New Year’s resolution. Gym enrollments soar and everyone is out and moving. I love this time of year. Unfortunately, the gym-goer and outdoor enthusiast numbers dwindle rapidly within a few months. How can we keep the drive going year after year?

A single session of exercise can promote clearer thinking, improve sleep, and increase energy. In addition to these short term benefits, long term benefits include combatting ailments such as heart disease and type II diabetes. When it comes to well-being, physical activity is as important as sleeping and eating. Understandably, life happens, and it is a challenge to be consistent and truly commit to exercise long term. Fortunately, there are a few ways to motivate yourself and keep that exercise motivation burning strong.

First, figure out what you like. It may be easy to put on shoes and go for a run, but do you love to run or love its convenience? If the latter is the case, use it as your ‘in a pinch’ activity. Choose 2-3 things that you really like to do and figure out how to put them into your daily life. Ideally, this program includes stretching, strength, and cardio. Decide whether you would like to exercise alone or with others. I should also mention that any type of movement counts. Gardening, taking the stairs up, pacing your living room while watching a game, etc. It all counts. We are lucky to have so many options around here: climbing, yoga, dance, etc. With multi-class plans and online access to workouts, it is easy to try different workouts without gym commitments. Come back to doing what you love when you skip workouts more often than not. Keep exercise enjoyable.

Second, plan your workouts and exercise goals, but stay flexible. After you find what exercise you like, make a plan to fit your lifestyle. I use Sunday nights to plan weekly workouts, writing them in a calendar with appointments and meetings to give them equal value. Prioritize your health by prioritizing your workouts. I have never regretted going for a run, but usually regret skipping one.  If you miss a workout, try a 15-minute walk at lunch and for 15-minutes after dinner for a total of 30 minutes of exercises.

Move forward. You can always recommit to the plan. Accountability is the final element to life-long fitness. Sign up for a race, work out with a friend, or simply tell someone you are going to exercise four times this week. You could keep an exercise log or compete with a few friends using a fitness tracking app; accountability to others is as important as self-accountability. Most New Year’s resolutioners who quit can cite a million reasons why, usually rooted in a lack of consequence for giving up. Discover what motivates you the most. If it means sleeping in your workout clothes to make that 5:30 am run happen, do it! Reward yourself for hitting milestones along the way.

It is possible to love exercise throughout life. Find something fun, make a plan, and hold yourself accountable. Repeat often. A commitment to life-long fitness does not mean finding one activity to do for the rest of your life. It means committing to being active every day.

See you out there!

Smruti Shah, DPT is a physical therapist at ATI in Carrboro. She loves working with  the endurance athlete community, marathon running, and hanging out with her husband , two daughters, and fluffy dog