Making Exercise a Habit

When did exercise become a habit for me? Not when I was a teenager, when I was sure I was not athletic, and had an unhealthy addiction to nicotine that made my lungs feel heavy when I ran across the street. I dabbled in exercise when I was in my 20s but I don’t recall it being a regular habit until I started running when I was 31. I had quit smoking many times before but running was added incentive to quit smoking for good. Plus, I quickly noted how the endorphin rush calmed my nerves, quieted my brain, gave me an outlet for anger and sadness, or a way to celebrate joys. It has remained a habit because I schedule my workouts in my week, every week. I remind myself to go workout, even when I don’t feel like it (more often than makes sense) because I know it will make me feel better. Because, if I don’t move my body intentionally for more than a couple of days, the edginess builds up, the cloudiness fills my brain, the self-doubt increases. The benefits of my persistence are many. But rather than focus on my reasons, I thought I would interview women who exercise regularly and let them describe their reasons. I hope they inspire you to continue moving, or to start moving, and to welcome the benefits of exercise into your life.

In the interest of space, I have taken snippets from each of their responses.


Brittany doing a back squat with a barbell

What do you include as part of your regular exercise routine?

In a city as energetic as Toronto, I love walking places as a mode of transportation when I can (whether an hour to work, or 10 minutes to grab a coffee). I also strength train 4 times a week, and practice yoga once a week, along with the odd spin class.

What benefits do you get from exercise?

When I first started strength training two years ago, I realized how empowered and inspired it could make me feel. Deadlifting more than my body weight, for example, has never been about losing weight, or getting toned. It’s about proving to myself that I’m stronger than I think I am, and that I’m capable of doing things I once never considered. It’s a shift in perspective that can translate to so many different aspects of life. I also find time for yoga and meditation, which remind me to step back and stay present. Some weeks require that more than others!

How do you handle days when you are dragging your feet?

I assess why I’m feeling that way: Did I get enough sleep? Is work stressing me out? Am I battling a cold? Is winter weather winning today? I listen to my body and work out when I know it’ll benefit me (aka it’s time to leave the office!) and give myself rest days when I know that’s what I need that week (if I’m sleep deprived or sick or am simply due for a night in to relax!).

What are your favourite exercises?

I love lower-body workouts like deadlifts and squats. However, I’m trying to learn to love upper body moves too, to continue to challenge myself. I’m also into cardio, and love running outside when weather permits, because treadmills = death.


Bonnie with her bike

What do you include as part of your regular exercise routine?

– 5km walk per day to/from work – squash 2x/week – used to go to the gym 3-5x/week for HIIT classes, weights, and cardio but recently moved and trying to figure out new workout schedule – used to do yoga too but that has been non-existent in the past years! – road biking during summer

What benefits do you get from exercise?

– Stress release and helps with emotional/mental balance – Social community engagements and friendships – Helps me sleep. I had trouble sleeping for a period and went to play squash by myself at night to try to tire myself out to be able to sleep! – Improved body and mental awareness/control

Do you have any tips for people new to exercise or trying to make it routine?

– No excuses…if you want to get into a good routine, you have to go to the gym/workout and not make excuses not to – Try to find friends or a community that will provide support and keep you motivated – Be aware of your form!!! This is super important in so many aspects! – It gets easier…first step is to take the initiative to get off your butt and do something…nothing comes easier, but as you continue, you will get better and feel better about your abilities and achievements!!! – Don’t analyze and keep thinking it’s so hard…just acknowledge it and do it. Working out is not just physical…it’s mental as well…don’t beat yourself mentally before you even start.


Lesli (in the middle), me and Cate at our gym’s 3rd birthday party

What do you include as part of your regular exercise routine?

I love to walk and try to reach 10,000 steps every day. Gym sessions are 4 to 5 days per week (scheduled a month at a time to avoid temptation to not go/cancel).

Have you always exercised regularly?

Exercise was a big part of my life growing up, teens, and well into my twenties, but then for years I was a couch potato. It wasn’t until I was approaching my forties that I made room for activity again.

If no, what motivated you to start?

Not sure it was “motivation” or a big old kick in the ass from a dear friend. I was suffering from panic attacks and anxiety and withdrawing from friends and she knew I would benefit from exercise.

Do you have an exercise motto?

Consistency carves canyons!!!

Is there anything else you would like to say about why exercise is important to you?

I may look like a hot mess while exercising but I mentally and physically feel like a million bucks. That feeling is priceless.


Cate biking

What do you include as part of your regular exercise routine?

All the things — spinning, riding my bike, going to the Y, small group cross-fit style classes, yoga in studio and at home, running, hiking, brisk walking that isn’t part of my regular day

What benefits do you get from exercise?

community, mental health, better sleep, a sense of virtuousness

Do you have an exercise motto?

You almost never feel worse after a workout; if you do, you have a fever and need to go to bed.

Do you have any tips for people new to exercise or trying to make it routine?

Try to learn the difference in your body between discomfort/effort and pain/strain — when you can make friends with discomfort, many things open up and you become stronger. But don’t work through pain or something that might hurt you.

What about you readers? Do you have favourite exercises? Ways to motivate yourself when you are not feeling motivated?

Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk who loves to: exercise, think about what to eat next, snuggle with her dogs, and enjoy life with her wonderful husband.

One thought on “Making Exercise a Habit

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