How to Make Exercise a Habit

Making exercise a habit or a part of our everyday routine is something a lot of people struggle with, particularly if they aren’t used to exercising regularly or are especially time-poor.


The most common barrier people come across when creating a habit out of exercise is motivation. How do we stay motivated?

We’ve all heard about motivation and discipline, “no pain, no gain”, “less excuses, more results”, etc. Motivation helps you achieve goals and keeps you going when you’re tired, sore or have other commitments.

But changing your intention or motivation into behaviour is actually the key when creating a habit.


Behaviour change and exercise are big-ticket items, because evidence has shown that meeting physical activity guidelines gives you about a 30% lower chance of dying for any reason. There’s been a considerable amount of research into what helps people start exercising.

So where does motivation come in when making exercise a habit?

Let’s chat again about converting your intentions into behaviour. Behaviour change scientists call this “the intention to behaviour gap”. Essentially, it measures the likelihood of wanting to exercise converting to actually exercising.

Studies found that the rate of those who had motivation to exercise and went on to successfully exercise was only 38%. Using a coin flip to decide if you workout or not gives you a better chance of success than just motivation.

Unfortunately, the approach of wanting to exercise, keeping yourself motivated and being disciplined does not always work. Particularly for the 75% of Australian adults that do not get sufficient physical activity.


Getting started with and maintaining an exercise routine is more complex than the commonly suggested solutions may imply. It’s not just a matter of getting up earlier, trying harder, or being better. Instead, it involves problem-solving, flexibility, and adopting a long-term approach.

Identifying the core values you associate with movement and physical activity is a good starting point. It involves being realistic about your daily and weekly commitments and making compromises with yourself, friends, family, work and responsibilities.

If you’re looking to get started, focus first on what is achievable for you. To do this, open goals are a great tool.


1. Utilise open goals

Open goals are non-specific and exploratory. They are questions you ask to “see how well you can do”.

For example:

“How many times can I walk this week?”
“How many times can I sneak in a workout on the way home?”
“How many times can I take the stairs instead of the elevator today?”
“How many times can I wake up 15-30 minutes earlier and exercise before work this week?”

Pay attention to your answers and note what gets in the way and what helps you get moving and keep you moving. Be gentle with yourself and when something doesn’t work or something gets in the way, don’t blame yourself or make yourself feel guilty. These things happen!

Open goals are great for trying your best and recognising what doesn’t work for you.

2. Find something you enjoy

Evidence shows that people are more likely to exercise consistently and make movement a habit if they’re doing something they enjoy! Try different types of exercise until you find something you genuinely enjoy and that you could do again and again in the long-term.

Don’t be afraid to stray from the traditional forms of exercise like running, swimming, cycling, weightlifting, etc. if those exercises don’t bring you joy. The sky is the limit when it comes to different forms of movement. Reach out to an exercise professional to find the best exercise for you and get qualified exercise advice before you start something new.

3. Reflect on your workout and be gentle with yourself

After each workout or exercise session, reflect on how you felt before, during and after.

Were you excited to start the workout or dreading the thought of it?
Were you having fun during it or couldn’t wait for it to be over?
And how do you feel physically, mentally and emotionally afterwards? 

The best workout with the highest chance of you doing it consistently will have positive answers to all of the above.

Interestingly, none of the above recommendations have anything to do with motivation. If we spend all of our time trying to become motivated to exercise (and try to improve that 38% success rate), we’re missing out on the other 62% of the equation that has potential to make exercise a habit for us.

As always, there are professionals at your fingertips dedicated to helping you move. Accredited Exercise Scientists and Accredited Exercise Physiologists are university-qualified exercise professionals dedicated to helping you exercise right. Find your local exercise professional today.


If you have a disability, health problem, or any concerns about exercising, it’s important to get qualified advice before starting a workout routine.

Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEPs) are allied health professionals trained to design exercise programs for people with disabilities and health conditions.

An AEP can tailor a program to meet your needs and goals, including exercises to address concerns such as balance or mobility problems. They will make sure you’re doing your exercises safely and effectively, in a way that’s enjoyable and fits into your everyday life.

Find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist near you today.


Written by Brent Nicol, Accredited Exercise Physiologist | Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA).