Baby Steps to Exercise


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by Eliza Pillard, LiCSW

We all know by now that exercise improves mental health and physical wellness, yet how many times have we told ourselves “I will start exercising regularly tomorrow”, then, inevitably tomorrow comes and there just isn’t enough time or you are not feeling 100% so decide to wait. A great strategy, that worked for me over ten years ago and is still working, is to ‘baby step’ yourself into getting outside and moving. Don’t scare yourself by imaging yourself out there grunting and groaning, running 5 miles. Or lie to yourself by imaging yourself out there smiling happily as you run 5 miles. Instead tell yourself as you crawl into bed “all I have to do tomorrow is put on my exercise clothes that I laid out, ready to go”. The trick is to have listened to the weather report for the next day and chose appropriate clothing to suit the weather, then lay the clothes out in a pile in the order you will be putting them on. That way, even if you are bleary eyed tired the task won’t be too daunting. Then, dressed for success, enjoy your cup of coffee, reading the paper etc., that’s it! The next day, do the same, just this time tell yourself “All I have to do is go outside and walk to the end of the driveway and back”, give yourself a pat on the back when you have completed this and go back to your usual morning routine. Each day, add on a tiny bit more,Baby Steps

Day 3: jog to the end of the driveway.

Day 4: jog to the end of the driveway then walk to the neighbor’s mailbox.

Day 5: jog to the end of the driveway, walk to neighbor’s mail box, jog back to your front door.

Day 6: you get the idea, the key is to always plan ahead regarding what you are going to wear and make it a habit of putting on these clothes, it is O.K. to go backwards and if you are not in the mood back it up to walking to the end of the driveway, or just drinking your cup of coffee dressed in your workout clothes. Do not let yourself get carried away, it is better to under shoot and feel impatient at how slowly you are building up your routine. If you do over do it, that is O.K., don’t give up! Any exercise is better than no exercise. Making getting on exercise clothes a habit will train your brain to expect a little exercise (like brushing your teeth before bed, cues your body it is time for sleep).

Reference: Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 998-1009. (

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