Whenever we hear about new exercise recommendations being foisted on American adults (it’s currently two and a half hours of vigorous activity or five hours of moderate-intensity activity per week, plus weight lifting, says the Department of Health and Human Services), many people reflexively throw up their hands in frustration, wailing, “Who has the time?”
Five-plus hours of exercise per week, on top of commuting, childcare, cooking, cleaning, at-home email checking, laundry, and the various other tasks that we grumblingly perform while still trying to make time for relaxing and spending time with spouses, children, and friends? Does anybody actually do that?
Actually, a lot of people do. What’s more, they’re not fabulously wealthy, childless, retired, or self-employed people who have the precious luxuries of unlimited time and unlimited money. They’re everyday people who—perhaps inexplicably to some—manage to make exercising a big part of their lives simply by knowing a few things about fitness that the rest of us don’t.
They Make It a Priority
People who exercise regularly don’t get into that habit by “squeezing in” workouts. They don’t think of exercising as an extra that they might accomplish once everything else is finished. Regular exercisers make their workout one of their most important tasks of the day, and they do whatever it takes to make it happen. They sacrifice their lunch breaks in order to hit the gym. They (along with their partners) learn to eat dinner later. They give up one restaurant meal per month to fund their gym membership, and they learn not to drink too much on Friday night so they’re fresh for their Saturday morning run. Regular exercisers don’t plan their exercise around all the other tasks they have to do—they plan all their other chores around exercising.
They Have Flexible Definitions of the Word “Exercise”
Too many people assume that exercise has to be done on a stationary machine in a sweaty gym. In fact, according to the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association, only 18 percent of Americans actually belong to a gym or fitness facility. Although some people definitely enjoy working out that way, most chronically fit people know that lots of activities can be exercise, from a weekend pickup basketball game with friends to an impromptu tennis match with a spouse. Jogging, hiking, taking a bike ride, helping a friend move, or even playing vigorously with the kids or the dog can all be exercise.
They Don’t Overdo It
Habitual exercisers never deplete themselves so much today that there’s nothing left for tomorrow’s workout. New exercisers have a tendency to start working out like gangbusters and then three days in find themselves exhausted and sore. Regular exercisers know better—they know that the routine is the important thing, and they focus on making sure they’re in condition to show up every day.
They Don’t Focus on Weight; They Focus on Fitness
Most avid exercisers aren’t vain hardbodies trying to squeeze into a size 0 minidress. They’re people who want to mitigate their family history of obesity or high cholesterol, or who like knowing that they’re increasing their life span and warding off diabetes, depression, aging, and dementia. Being in good shape means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and many chronic exercisers are simply people who’ve decided that they like feeling healthy and being active. Plus, all that activity gives them license to eat cookies and ice cream once in a while.
They Know How to Self-Motivate
Many beginning exercisers sometimes have trouble psyching themselves up for a workout—it’s hot, it’s late, they’re hungry, they’re tired, they have a headache, or they feel a cold coming on. Unfortunately, those feelings never really go away, and even the most committed fitness junkie has to talk him- or herself into a workout now and then. The only difference is that regular exercisers know how to motivate themselves. They know that the best remedy for after-workout soreness is another workout. They know that headaches often tend to dissipate during a jog, and some are even convinced that a good workout can ward off an impending cold. Regular exercisers know what their workout weaknesses are, and they become pros at beating themselves at their own mind games.
They Know Timing Matters
Maintaining a regular exercise schedule depends on knowing yourself, your body, and your motivation. Regular exercisers know when they perform best, and they make sure to take advantage of that time. Whether it’s early morning, midday, or evening, or whether it’s long runs or a quick circuit workout, they know what works best for them, and they build their routine around it.
They Make Exercise Fun
Although “exercise” and “fun” aren’t often used in the same sentence, the people who successfully get themselves into an exercise routine are the ones who are able to find pleasure in working out. Whether they’re enjoying the breeze on their faces, relishing their time alone to meditate on a treadmill, or finding a great workout playlist to jam to as they lift weights, these fitness enthusiasts know that in order for exercise to become a routine, it has to become more than a chore.
When you see people spending their lunch hour at the gym or slogging through a run in the rain, remember that they’re not superhuman. Five hours of exercise per week may seem like an unattainable amount, but most of the people who make that quota are regular people with the same jobs, stresses, chores, and time crunches as everyone else—and if they can do it, so can you.