It's time
January 12, 2020 5:47 AM   Subscribe

Busy middle-aged women of MeFi: how did you finally STICK to an exercise routine? And what is your workout of choice?

My story is not particularly special. I work full-time in an office job, I'm a single parent to two teenagers. 'Getting in shape' has been on my list of to-dos forever, because I want to be strong and healthy as I grow older. The difference now is that it's moving from the theoretical to the actual. For the first time, at 44, I'm starting to FEEL the effects of aging (lower back hurts when I bend for too long, and I have a weird weakness going on in one knee).

I'm good at self-care in many other ways, but my sedentary lifestyle is bringing me down. I don't have a lot of weight to lose, and my eating habits are decent. What I need to do is become active. How do I do this in the middle of my busy life? I'd love to know what you did/do specifically - what types of exercise, how often, what time of day, what results you've seen, and any other advice especially relating to:

1) HOW YOU FIT IT INTO YOUR SCHEDULE and
2) HOW YOU STUCK WITH IT. I've had many stops and starts over the years.

Commute included, I work from about 8:30-5:45 M-F. Dinner activities take me to about 7. I try to go to bed by 11 every night.
posted by yawper to Health & Fitness (44 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
 
Busy middle-aged woman here (though not a parent, which gives me a lot more leeway; I hope this is applicable).
I go running (jogging) in the mornings, a 15-20 minute loop around my neighborhood, always the same route. Basic sneakers, sweats, sports bra, music to listen to, take my morning shower when I get back, that's it; the added time to my morning routine is about 30 minutes total.
I don't try to get faster or go farther or anything like that, just keep up this one basic thing, which is my key to continuing. (The other is not to worry about continuity: if I start thinking "I didn't do it yesterday, what's the point of doing it today," I won't get anywhere; I just figure "I'll do it today, who cares about yesterday or tomorrow".) So far (except for the high summer months when it's just too hot and humid), I've been able to stick with it 4-5 times a week for...four years or so? No dramatic effects, but it seems to keep me in reasonably good shape muscle/breath-wise, and if I haven't lost much weight I haven't gained much either. I also find it helps keep me calm and gives me good creative writing ideas!
posted by huimangm at 6:01 AM on January 12 [17 favorites]


I am a parent but my kiddos are small right now. I do HITT workouts at my apartment the majority of the time in the evenings after they are in bed. I'll actually make it to the gym on the weekends, but only 1 day. HITT takes 12-15 minutes and the goal is 3x a week. I've done this before my kiddos and I love it. It's short, you feel the results because you're working really hard and then you see them in a month or so.

We also try to avoid making dinner every single night by making a larger meal over the weekend or a larger meal one weeknight so we can just eat dinner and once the babies are in bed workout immediately. So I eat a light meal and then after an hour, I go workout for 15 minutes tops.
posted by Attackpanda at 6:26 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Another busy middle-aged woman here--three kids, all grown up and out of the house now.

I run. I am not a natural runner and my body does not lend itself to running. My gait is inelegant and I plod along. I have flat feet. I shuffle more than anything, but I can do it for 6 miles a day, so it's okay by me.

I spend good money of good workout clothes (it makes a difference--those Lululemon running tights versus the Old Navy ones), make a point of sleeping in them, wake up an hour before everyone else does, and force myself to run every single day. EVERY SINGLE DAY (except rest days, where I hike or bike or do hot yoga). I hate every minute of it, except when I get to turn around halfway and head home, which is how I trick myself, even after 20 years--I have to do an out and back---full loops do not work for me. On my first mile out, I tell myself, "That's 2 miles," and I have to play mindgames like that.

I don't think it does much for my body, but it really helps my brain in a way that walking doesn't.*

*I had to get a hip replaced a few months ago but was up walking the same day and running a few weeks later. This turned out to be a massive mistake. Do not do that.

I also lift weights and do yoga and hike, but running is The Thing I do.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:30 AM on January 12 [9 favorites]


Not a woman, but middle-aged and was sedentary for a long time with similar back/knee problems. I found a gym in my area that offers "semi-personal" training (1 trainer per 4 ppl). They build me a program every few weeks. It's mostly strength training with a few metabolic classes thrown in. The demographic for the gym is very similar to me (usually within a decade). I go after work. Having someone tell me exactly what to do has really helped me get into the routine. I go, read my sheet, do what's on it, go home. Rinse and repeat.

My back feels much better (if not 100% yet, but it' sonly been 6 mo). Not sure if you have something like that in your area, but if you do, I recommend it.
posted by pyro979 at 6:37 AM on January 12


It has to be something that I can do when I am spending a day in pajamas and it has to be something I can do when I am barely home at all. It has to incorporate elements of play so it doesn't turn into drudgery. It has to be something that I can fake-do or do at an absurdly low intensity when I have a resounding migraine, so I keep doing it even if I am going through a bad month. It has to be something I can do while doing other things, such as if someone wants to talk to me and won't leave me alone, or if I need to escape from myself.

The answer to me was an exercise bike, placed unattractively where I can always hop onto it, and even peddle for a couple of kilometers without turning on the lights when I am trying to fit in a few minutes before bed. I can read while riding the bike, or I can let my thoughts go and be creative. The counter on the bike ensures that I know I really am doing a genuine work out. I can vary the intensity, so if I want to work on my lung function I can sing while peddling to make sure I am really working to get enough oxygen. If I want additional motivation I can count kilometers as if they were miles into the past and am arriving in 2011, and then 2089 and then 2074 and so on, all the way as far as I like. Or I can take virtual road journeys using Street View or videos of scenery.

The failure of the bike was that it only provides cardio and some portion of my lower body development but nothing at all for my upper body development. So I have an other half of the program which involves movement and lifting low-weight dumbbells.


I am lucky because this type of exercise feels good to me - stretching, raising a weight feels good the way scratching an itch does. My domestic partner experiences this kind of movement as discomfort. More than a little is unbearable for him. When I first started on the bike riding on it felt equally bad to me. I had to work through that and it took weeks of very low level practices for very brief amounts of time. I had to push through the discomfort because after only a few seconds my body would be signalling with increasing urgency that it wasn't fun and my legs hurt and I couldn't get enough air and the position was wrong. Because it was this way for me when I started on the bike I know how lucky I am that stretching feels like a pleasure.

Building my stretching and weights routine was based on what feels good. I don't do yoga because that requires one to get down on the floor and when I started my stretches I was doing that at work on the midnight shift. The fact that my stretches are portable makes it possible to do them when I am out and about doing things and then find I have to wait for a few minutes. It feels very good to do them at a bus stop when the air is crisp and chill and the sun is coming up. I do them at an intensity that makes me more relaxed and comfortable in my skin. I can do just one to two when I only have a few seconds, or else I can put on some music and do lots of movement where my stretches have turned into dancing. I go for more reps and less intensity to ensure I don't damage my joints and ligaments. The music is usually low intensity too, like tai chi movement. And I can gamify the stretching exercises too by calling them kata and pretending that it is martial arts training, although they are not.

There are a lot of little exercises I can do and enjoy doing in the middle of other things, like flattening myself up against a door frame to strengthen my postural muscles. Being able to exercise the way you nibble on candy, one here and there and a feeling of something nice having just happened is key to motivating myself.

Stops and starts in an exercise program are good. That means that you won't just do the same exercise forever, say marathon running, and then discover that you have destroyed your feet and knees and have no upper body strength. The trick is to look at each time you stop as a new opportunity to start again and try something you haven't been doing. If you start a new exercise program 360 times in a single year it not only won't matter that you stopped 359 times, but those 360 new approaches will make it easier to tailor your program to your interests. When you stop the question to ask is not, "What is wrong with me?" or "Why am I so undisciplined?" or "How could I possibly have forgotten?" but "What will make this feel good?" and "What would be fun." When you stop it is a failure of the program, not a serious failure, but a sign that what you are doing wasn't working well enough to motivate you. If you have a busy life your exercise program has to me rewarding enough that you neglect other things you could be doing. Exercise might take the place of keeping the house in decent shape, or having some mindless relaxation time so that your brain gets a rest from all the executive work you are doing, or not getting a chance to do something creative.

This means incorporating it into as many things that you also want to do as you can. Thus reading on the bike, or spending some time having a quality conversation with one of the teens on the bike, or watching the show you like, or knitting. If you sit on the bike and knit for two and a half hours and only have four and a half inches of sweater and two and a half kilometers to show for all that time on the bike, you have done two and a half kilometers more than you would have in an armchair and your body will know it helped and made a difference. Two and a half klicks in six minutes would have been something to brag about and is the kind of exercise that health coaches will urge you to do, but it doesn't have to be high intensity to show results for your joints and your cardio vascular system. If you lead a really busy life then the exercise you need is to train for endurance - and low intensity like this will do that.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:37 AM on January 12 [6 favorites]


My husband and I walk one to two miles each morning (usually two). We usually manage just under 20-minute miles. The effects have been profound for me in that my resting heart rate, cholesterol levels and blood pressure are all low. I take no prescription medications day-to-day.

Being used to walking helped me recover from a broken hip and gave me motivation to rejoin my husband each day.

For knee pain, a year or so after breaking my hip, my opposite knee started hurting, so I asked for a referral for physical therapy. In PT, the therapist gave me some stretches and strength exercises that helped me manage my my recovery. After it, I signed up for the “wellness program” there and am working on core strength and upper body strength. I add some strength training a couple times a week. I’d like to do more but I don’t beat myself up.

I do this all before breakfast if possible. Also, you could invite your teens along on the walk. Great way to talk.

I’m 56.
posted by rw at 6:40 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


41, 2 kids, long commute. I’ve done different things sustainably, and the common denominator is making exercise the path of (almost) least resistance, which is mildly ironic. I was very successful with weight training when I could fit in 30 minutes of lifting at the community center where my daughter was in daycare—I could fit it in every other day when I picked her up. Then that went to hell because she aged out of daycare and suddenly another leg of driving was involved!

I’m struggling with this very thing now, and vacillating between the elliptical in the basement (fine until it gets hot) and trying to get to the gym across the parking lot at lunch time. Ugh, it’s so hard to get a routine in place.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:47 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


As others above have mentioned, early morning exercise is good. I'm a woman in my late sixties. Was a single mom of three. The only way I've found to make sure I get daily exercise is to do it first thing in the morning. By the end of the day, especially when my kids were still at home, energy just isn't there. My advice would be to get up an hour earlier and do whatever exercise you can for 45-60 minutes. I currently live in a warm climate so I go out and walk after a quick cup of coffee. When I lived in much colder climates if I did not feel up to braving the weather I did some form of exercise like yoga in the early morning quiet house. I weigh the same now as I did in my twenties and do not feel old.
posted by mareli at 6:53 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


58, 3 grown kids. For about 15 years I played soccer - usually late at night, 3x a week. I stopped doing that around the time I turned 50 - too hard on aging joints. These days I go to the gym - 3x a week - twice on my own, once for a class - each time doing 45 minutes of HIIT followed by 15 or so minutes of stretching. I do a little yoga every day and try to walk on non-gym days. And I build my schedule around those gym times as rigorously as I can - other stuff gets moved but not workouts.
posted by leslies at 7:03 AM on January 12


Hello, it me. My kid is 7 and I'm the parent responsible for getting him to and from school so before and after work are already spoken for. I'm fortunate that there's a gym a couple blocks from my office and I go there on my lunch hour three days a week. I either run outside and just use the gym for the shower facilities, or I run on the treadmill. I don't particularly like running, I'm not particularly good at it, but it's the sport with the least necessary equipment. I've done Couch to 5k a number of times (because it takes almost no time at all for me to lose conditioning and forever to build it back up) and it works. My biggest hurdle is carving out that lunch hour time and not letting myself schedule other things during that time (and being diligent about what I do have scheduled so 1:00 doesn't roll around and I'm thinking shit, I've barely gotten anything done today, I'd better skip the gym and catch up). It also helps that my dad drags me through a 5k race every year so I always have that hanging over my head.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:15 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I've always had trouble sticking to an exercise routine, but a month ago I bought Ring Fit Adventure, the new exercise game for the Nintendo Switch. It comes with a Pilates ring, and the exercises are mostly bodyweight exercises with some mild resistance and cardio. I've never looked forward to exercising before in my life, but these days if I think I won't fit a session in I'm sad. There's a kinda basic plot, but what really motivates me are those imaginary gold coins (honestly, I can't believe how motivated I am for video game points). You unlock exercises as you go, so while I started with a basic squat move, I'm on wide squats now, and I think overhead squats are next. I'm also getting in about 100 squats per session, plus varying amounts of other moves (for example, planks, yoga poses, mountain climbers). The game tracks your active time - the time spent actually moving and doing exercises - and at first I struggled to get the clock up to 10 mins, but now I can handle 30 mins (which usually takes around 45 minutes of real time) fairly easily. I like that I can just pick it up and do it; getting myself together to leave my apartment and go somewhere else to exercise was always a barrier for me.

People say exercise gives you more energy, and I'm not sure if I feel that yet, but it's definitely helping with my posture and back pain that came from sitting at a horribly un-ergonomic work desk set-up and generally years of weak posture. I felt a bit hopeless about my posture - nothing really seemed to work to fix it - and it's surprising and gratifying that I can actually notice a difference now!
posted by catcafe at 7:23 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


I also run very early in the morning when I have to go into the office, either at a cheap gym (a la Planet Fitness or Crunch), or on a treadmill in the garage. I try to find a race to run monthly and sign up with a friend ideally, even if we walk part of it. All it takes is shoes. Sleep in your workout gear if you need to so you just roll out of bed and can go. Training plans are somewhat helpful to me since I can check off what I’ve done. At various times, I’ve also used a fitness tracker and buddied up with a friend for some peer pressure. I like doing it early because it really wakes me up and no matter what else the day brings, I got that done.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 7:29 AM on January 12


I am 57 and I've had a lot of starts and stops over the years, too. Now I am about two months into steady exercise.

I have become a fan of three things:
A. What I call "passive exercise",
B. "Bite-size exercising", and
C. darebee.com

By "passive exercise," I mean building exercise into the other activities you generally do. For example, I park about 10 minutes away from my office. So I am guaranteed to walk 20 minutes every weekday. Even when you are shopping or running errands, you can park closer than 10 minutes, but a little ways away, to give yourself a little walk to the store or wherever you are going. You can make a habit of walking briskly, and wearing wrist or ankle weights. Also, there is what is called the "farmer's walk," where you walk carrying dumbbells.

By "bite-size exercise", I mean that even squeezing in a little is progress. For example, for a while, I was just making an effort to do some jumping jacks every day. Whether it's 10, or up to 100, that is still a full boxy exercise that works up a sweat and gets my heart going.

Darebee.com is a free exercise site that I have recently discovered. It has a ton of options, but also filters to help you find what's good for you. It calls for little or no equipment. Here are some advantages of Darebee, in no particular order:

A. It includes a number of "HIIT" options. That stands for "high-intensity interval training." This type of workout has recently become more popular. Studies have found that short bursts of higher-intensity exercise can be more beneficial than longer but more moderate workouts.

B. It has some of what it calls "totals" programs. These call for you to do X number of Y exercise throughout a day. You can break up the exercises into whatever number of sets works for you.

C. It has some very short workouts. This includes the January challenge of 1-minute cardio workouts.
posted by NotLost at 7:58 AM on January 12 [12 favorites]


Oh, Darebee also has "office" workouts, that you can do in office clothes, in an office.
posted by NotLost at 7:59 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I do yoga before work on a mat in my living room, with a youtube video. I have been doing this for years and it's had a profound effect. There are tons of good quality videos available for free on youtube with different levels and lengths of time.

I practice most days for 45 min (less is still effective though). I'm in good shape and it helps immensely with energy and aches and pains too.
posted by bearette at 8:00 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I should add though that it's best to take a few classes and get familiar with it before doing the videos.
posted by bearette at 8:04 AM on January 12


Throughout my entire life, the only time I exercise consistently is if I do it first thing in the morning. If I try to schedule it later, there are too many wild cards and opportunities to talk myself out of it.

My preferred exercise is walking, running, and yoga. All of this is easy to do at home or, if it’s too dark before work (like right now), I’ll run on a treadmill at work.
posted by something something at 8:13 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Early morning workouts have never worked well for me, because of the need to let my coarse and curly hair air-dry to look presentable. (I also have to wake up at 6:30 for work anyway; waking up at 4:30 or 5 is an untenable proposition for me.) Right now you have at least 4 hr each weeknight before bedtime; use it.

My most consistent exercise routine was actually when I was working the longest hours, essentially alternating between 6am-4:30pm and 6am-8pm. On the days I was home at 4:30, I went straight to the gym in my apartment complex and ran for an hour. Snowing, raining, humid -- didn't matter; going to the gym was as much of a commitment as going to work. Then I came home, showered, and cooked enough food so that the next night, when it was late and I was tired, I could just take dinner out of the fridge and heat it up. On weekends, I generally was working one day, but would do an outdoor daytime jog the other day. Over the course of that year, I lost 25 lbs and went from a 12-min mile to an 7.5-min mile. (Then my schedule changed to be saner but less consistent hours, and it all went to pot.)

If your kids are teens, can they make dinner one or two nights a week each? That would free up about half your weeknights for after-work exercise. It's also good practice for them before they go off to college or the real world.

There are also ways to work "moving more" into your daily life, even if not formally exercise in the sense of Lululemon pants and a Nike sweatband:

Is there a way you can make your commute more active, even if it takes longer than driving? Or if there is no safe walking/biking option, park at the far end of the parking lot. Your car will also get fewer dings!

Do you get a lunch break at work? Can you take 10-15 min of that to walk or climb stairs? My mother worked in a city office job (commute included: 7am-6pm) and basically just worked out on lunch -- she kept a pair of sneakers in her office. I prefer to work through my lunch so that I work out in the evenings.
posted by basalganglia at 8:31 AM on January 12


48 year old woman here: I powerlift (I feel stupid calling it that, but that’s the lifts I’m doing: squats, bench, deadlifts, and also overhead presses and chin-ups.) I belong to a gym a five minute walk from work, get there about an hour before work three days a week, do a workout that takes maybe 45 minutes, shower, and go to work.

Any cardio I get is incidental walking around, but I do a fair amount of that too. I’ve stuck with this pretty reliably for about three years now — one pleasant thing about it is that most of the workout time is resting between sets (maybe 30 seconds for a set, and then at least 90 rest for the next one), so it’s basically fooling around on the Internet with interruptions.

The other nice thing about it is that it’s completely scalable — you can lift literally any amount of weight, it doesn’t matter how little. I’m moderately strongish by now, but three years ago I was starting from zero, and that works fine. You just focus on form, lift whatever weights you can lift, and maybe a little bit more next month.
posted by LizardBreath at 8:32 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I go to a class from 7:30 - 8:45 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays (out of the house from 7:15 to 9 pm), and on Sunday mornings from 10 - 11:15 am. I go because I found something that I like that much - I always want to go.
posted by xo at 9:04 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


The way I see people do this is slot exercise in either on rising, on the way to work, during lunch, or right after work before going home. As teens your children ought to be able to fend for themselves a couple of mornings/evenings a week. If that’s not currently happening they can learn. You modelling taking time for self care like that can only benefit them. Looking at your schedule as posted, either end of the day seems feasible so try all the options and see what feels easier.

Find out if there are classes, a gym, or a swimming pool you could frequent near work or along your commute. Your colleagues may have suggestions.

If exercising upon rising is appealing what kind of movement do you enjoy? There is going to be a YouTube video or a podcast to do just that.

If getting up is a struggle try going to bed an hr earlier? I do not think of myself as a morning person but over Xmas I was on a trip in a different time zone. I had an early night on arrival and was up at 4am the next morning. But instead of trying to adjust my schedule more I just kept going with that. Who knew you can get a lot of stuff done between 4-6 am without being tired all day if you’re in bed before 10pm.

Last thought, which may or may not be something your teens are open to do. I’ve been to classes where people turned up with their older teens. So if this is something one or both may be interested in that’s another option to explore.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:28 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


It me too. I'm 52 with a teenager at home. Two years ago I was in your situation and three things worked for me:

1: This was the biggie -- finding exercise I truly enjoyed doing. For me it ended up being...ice skating. I know that's not everyone's answer, but it works for me. And then I enrolled in a once-a-week class. Boom -- an appointment I had to make, every week. Started on a Saturday morning. Sometimes the kid could stay home. Sometimes he could come sit at the rink while I practiced. For months, it was just once a week. Then...I carved out a little more time so I could add in one practice on my own. Then...it grew from there. Two years later I now skate 4x per week as I've been able to adjust my schedule to fit it in.

After about 1.5 years of skating it became clear I'd be a better skater if I could make my body stronger in general. That led to...

2: Joining a small gym very close to my house. Both of those things were key for me -- small, and very close to my house. (Under 10 min. door to door.) I chose "small gym that only does one thing" so it's not Crossfit or Orange Theory but it's along those lines. Meaning, I sign up for a particular class time, I get a $10 fine if I don't attend (I LOVE THIS), and I walk in the gym knowing I'm about to do something that will take me exactly one hour and then I will be leaving. Again, kid can come with and sit there and wait, or stay at home.

2a: I have always been a morning person but I have suddenly learned that I can work out from 7:30 - 8:30pm, go home and take a shower, and then blissfully fall into bed and sleep very well. This has been the game-changer for me re: gym attendance because I'm simply not free in the mornings (with school run + need to get to work).

3: I enjoy reading Fit is a Feminist Issue and you might too. It's an offshoot of their book, Fit At Mid-life: A Feminist Fitness Journey.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:29 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


Things that have worked for me:
- Early morning workouts. I HATE getting up early, but it was much too easy to not do it in the evening. Way more Good excuses.
- Got my workout outfit ready the night before and placed in the bathroom. Changed right into it after waking up and peeing.
- the hardest part: just getting up when the alarm went off. No lying in the dark thinking and hesitating. No snoozing. Just off and up. What helped was sleeping with a partner. Snoozing or procrastinating with the alarm would have been super rude to them so that discouraged me from doing that.
- Finding workout routines with a specific set of exercises and a finite, predictable amount of time. That way I knew what kind of commitment was ahead of me, which brings me to the next point -
- On really hard mornings I told myself “ok just get up to pee. You need to pee anyway right? So just pee and if you feel like crap, go back to bed.” Then I would pee and tell myself “Ok just put the clothes on. Once you put your clothes on and you really don’t want to go, you don’t have to go. Go back to bed in your workout clothes, it’s fine.” And then I’d change. 90% of the time, at that point I’d end up working out after all. If necessary, I would give myself permission to tap out after 10 mins. But knowing my workout was only 20 minutes I usually just finished it because I was halfway through!
- The exercises I did were a very mapped out run (timed to the minute so I knew I could shower and get ready for work by a certain time) and a strength training routine that increased in intensity and switched up muscle groups over the course of 12 weeks. (Kayla Itsines’ program if you’re interested). The predictability was a big factor because becoming an integral part of my daily routine was necessary for commitment.
posted by like_neon at 9:43 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


45, no kids, checking in. Having no kids obvs means YMMV time-wise, but looking at your schedule, it looks like you potentially have 4 hours a night free (7pm-11pm), which is probably about the same as me. Exercising at lunchtimes or making part of your commute active are other ways to squeeze things in (eg. if you know the minute you get in the door you'll have family demands piled on you, park up somewhere on the way home, jog for 20 minutes, get back in the car, arrive home 20 minutes later than usual but your exercise is done).

I run, have done long-distance in the past but am currently post-injury and so doing a Couch to 5k app. I'm loving having the app just TELL me what to do when. There’s no “do I feel like it, have I got the energy?”, it’s just what I do on Mon/Wed/Fri. I make measurable progress every week, which is motivating, and it only takes 30 minutes. It even tells me what to do during the workout, so I'm never thinking "Oh, I half-assed it today, I'm rubbish". If I did what she said, I did it right.

I’m also doing the Yoga with Adriene 30 days of yoga thing for January (oh those middle aged aches and pains, begone!) and being able to do it at home helps a lot, tho YMMV if teenagers are likely to interrupt you. Again, having someone tell me exactly what to do, takes away the decision making and wondering whether I tried hard enough.

Before Christmas I was doing the Body By You body weight exercise programme, which I also enjoyed because it was at home, only took 20 minutes three times a week, and showed me measurable progress. (I've stopped for now because I started to get a sore shoulder, so I'm hoping the yoga will help loosen/strengthen that and I can go back to it).

In my job, I encourage people to exercise in a group, because having an “appointment to exercise” (in this case with a jogging group) makes people more likely to stick with it, because people are expecting them and it’s a social event too. Once again, it takes away the decision-making process. People will miss you if you're not there, you don't want to fall behind, going to jog group is just what you do on a Tuesday evening.

I've also really enjoyed a 45 minute kettlebell class at the gym on a Saturday morning (and I'm NOT a morning person). It had all the magic ingredients - short, someone tells me what to do, mildly social, measurable progress.

So yeah, to return to the heart of your question, what do I think makes it stick?
* Something which offers measurable, observable progress to keep you motivated.
* Remove the questions 'Will I exercise today? Do I feel up to it?' from the equation. It's not something you think about, exercise is just what you do at specific, set times. If you find this hard, externalise it - get an app or a go to a class, or join a group.
* Short, manageable periods of time. Don't drive 20 minutes to the gym, work out for an hour, drive home: Do 20 minutes at home with the TV/radio/podcasts on.
* Make it social, if you like that kind of thing. Even if you think you don't, give it a try.
* If the stuff you've done in the past hasn't stuck, try a few things that are wildly different - you might surprise yourself. I'd never have expected to love kettlebells but I do. Maybe there's a martial art that would give you the buzz of uncovering a new world, or some kind of dance you would never have thought of trying before.
posted by penguin pie at 9:44 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I have a kid, a lot of experience with back pain, and always gave up on physical therapy exercises out of boredom. The daily workouts on MommaStrong.com have been a lifesaver and the best $5 I spend per month. There are 5-15 minute videos of varying intensity, plus new ones uploaded daily, and body part-specific videos when I feel like parts of me are broken. I am 100% not a morning person so usually get around to them while dinner is in the oven or after 8:30. I’ve found there are very few obstacles to a home workouts, whereas in winter I barely make it to the swimming pool for open swim (cold, dark, showering is a pain, dry skin is the worst) and can XC ski maybe once on the weekend.

I’ve also found that bike commuting in the spring/summer/fall enforces a consistent schedule, saves money in commuting costs, and is way more fun than driving. I commute 6 miles each way, and it helps boost my mood in the morning. Biking for simple errands on the weekend helps me feel more connected to my neighborhood and city, too, and it doesn’t feel like exercise.
posted by Maarika at 9:47 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Also, about results: I’m a larger size now than I was pre-kid, but I am stronger now than I’ve ever been. Last year I managed to re-landscape my entire yard without throwing my back out, which is HUGE. Spending my evenings and weekends hauling around retaining wall stone and bags of soil, cutting and rolling up sod, and planting trees was hard work but not incapacitating. The MommaStrong workouts are about reintegrating the muscles in your body so that they work together, and I’ve really found that to be true.

I have legs of steel from bike commuting, but the video workouts help balance out the rest of my body. I do not have great cardio endurance, actually - I am definitely a biking tortoise (slow and steady) versus a biking hare. But this year I’ve finished up the yard work enough to try Couch to 5K running again, so I’m curious to see if I will be able to get to a point where I can run to catch the bus and not get ridiculously winded. Life goals?
posted by Maarika at 10:00 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I am 47. I work full-time, although some weeks I only work three to four days a week versus five. I am married with two teenagers (one at home, one at college). I don't have any outside help with cleaning or laundry so I'm a typical busy working person who is often exhausted. My sister is a single mother. She works 6 days a week, with no outside help, and has a teen with autism. She generally has never been a lover of exercise but she planks for five minutes a day. Her abs are rock hard.

I am naturally lazy. I find that it's best for me to be "locked in a class" or have a walking partner or running group so I can't quit. If I'm walking alone I use this time to listen to podcasts, audiobooks, or music.

I have been exercising formally since my teen years but I've never been as consistent as I am in my forties. I've done everything from aerobics to running to spin to group weightlifting classes. My favorites are walking/jogging and yoga.

These days I go to yoga classes most days of the week and I exercise at work. I have a gym at work so my routine is walking during lunch break outdoors and jumping on a treadmill for thirty minutes after work. After work I go to a 75 or 90-minute yoga class. Currently I'm doing a 30-day challenge. When my running group convenes in May I might join them again this year for Saturday "runs". My group is slow and we usually do jogging/walking intervals.

Do you have a lunch break? Use this time to walk if you can leave your desk. I walk outside on my lunch break with a coworker for thirty to forty minutes depending on how much time we have. I eat after work since I usually am fasting during work hours. When it's too hot to walk outside I "do the stairs" -- I walk up and down 6 flights, twice or use the work gym (but usually I save this for after work).

Things I've learned about exercise as I've aged:

1. It's not about vanity as you have stated. It's about mental and cardiovascular health, strength and flexibility. This is why I love yoga. It's something I can do as I grow older and will serve me well as my joints and bones age. I am "bad at yoga". I still do it and enjoy it. Exercise is also my antidepressant. I need it or I get depressed/apathetic.
2. Know yourself. I know I won't exercise very early in the morning before work. I have tried it and can't stick with it. I prefer to exercise on my lunch break, weekends and off days, and after work. Don't do anything that isn't enjoyable or you know you won't stick with. I know I'm never going to like kickboxing or swimming laps. Certain things don't appeal to me and I'm not going to go there. With that being said, don't be afraid to try new activities. I was afraid to join a running group at first but it's one of the best ways for me to stick to exercise.
3. It doesn't have to be vigorous or painful. Walking for thirty minutes every day with some music or just observing your surroundings is so beneficial on a physical and mental front.
posted by loveandhappiness at 10:02 AM on January 12


1) I’ve been most successful at scheduled exercise that takes place right after work. If I go back home first and do something else (eg, dinner) it ain’t happening.

2) I’ve also been most successful sticking with it if I have an exercise partner. If I know someone else is going to show up to the class, or expects to meet me to work out, I will go every time because I don’t want to let them down.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:48 AM on January 12


I am a 43 year old woman with 1 kid. I ride my bike to and from work, weather permitting. It kills two birds with one stone, and adds more than an hour exercise to my day!
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 11:43 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


My mom started exercising regularly in her forties and is in her early sixties now. She works an office job and manages to go to classes four or five times a week. She does this by attending classes during her lunch time three days a week (eating her packed lunch at her desk afterwards) and religiously going to the same yoga class Every Saturday. If she can work it out with her schedule, she goes to another class on Sunday.

For her, it’s more about moving her body and trying different classes that fit her schedule than about staying true to one discipline. By having a flexible approach, she’s discovered that strength training (with weights) is surprisingly great for her body, pi-yo (a pilates-yoga hybrid) helps her move better than if she was just doing yoga, and she actually enjoys dance.

She sticks to it because she’s aware of how much better it makes her feel long term. She also has developed friendships with women in each class she attends regularly, exchanging numbers with them and hanging out with them outside of class from time to time. It helps that she’s passionate about health—most of her exercise friends are interested in getting healthy and enjoy chatting about that with her.

Before I had a baby, I worked a very intense job where I felt busy all the time. To keep myself sane, I started doing an Ashtanga practice every morning at my place. I knew that people would start expecting me to respond to emails by 9am, so I made it my goal to be on the mat by 7am ever morning. Knowing exactly what to do every morning (Ashtanga follows a set sequence) helped, as did feeling like this was my me-time for the day.
posted by saltypup at 11:53 AM on January 12


I didn’t start having any sort of consistency in work outs until the day after I signed up for a 5K. After that was done I signed up for another, and then another, and then another until I signed up for a half marathon. I did two of those and hated them so last winter I registered for a summer sprint triathlon. This year I’m training for an Olympic triathlon.

I have two small children and a full time job. The only way I will suck up the discomfort of working out is if I’m externally motivated to do so.
posted by teamnap at 11:54 AM on January 12


No kids here, but:

I'm currently enjoying a kickboxing circuit gym. It the same thing every workout, but within the circuit I get upper body, lower body, and core activities. It's also built around HIIT (high intensity interval training), so the circuit takes half an hour. (I do some stretching afterwards. With travel to and from the gym, the whole thing takes me an hour, pretty consistently.) There is always a trainer working in the gym, who helps folks with making sure that we have good form or teaches us new variations once we get good enough at each level. The trainers also have an encouraging patter. But it's not part of a class per se - for me, it's a good balance of having some external encouragement and feedback but also some being left alone to do my own thing, without having to do the extra work of planning out or deciding on my exercise routine.

First thing in the morning works best for me. No decision fatigue, so fewer instances of talking myself into not going.

I can vary how intensely I do the exercises in the circuit depending on how I'm feeling. But, again, not having to do the work of deciding which exercises removes one of my hurdles to exercising.

Relatedly, I was very active and fit in my younger days, then more recently had a several year period of not doing a whole lot. So I notice that I have a strong tendency to over-do things when I first get back into exercising after a break, in ways that my body can't handle like it used to. Recovering from injuries takes longer, and I get injured more easily. So one thing that's been a bit tricky for me is learning that there's nothing wrong with starting slow - that just the doing something and continuing to do it is more important than putting in an intense workout.

I really notice a difference between going three times and week and going only twice a week or less often. At three times a week, my post-workout soreness or stiffness is noticeably lessened, my overall energy levels are noticeably higher, and the activation energy to starting my workout next time I go in is noticeably lower. Not just with my current gym, but in general I would recommend that even if you do very little at a time - even if it's just 20 jumping jacks or something - do it three to four times a week.

I tried signing up for a variety of weekly classes for a few years - yoga, pilates, spinning, weight training, etc. And it just wasn't working for me, in part because it was only weekly. Oddly, not having a fixed class time at my current gym has also been helpful, though. I do have my regular time range (mornings on specific days of the week) that I go (and the trainers notice when I don't come in, though are good at commenting positively when they do see me rather than making any negative comments about me "missing" days), but if I'm running a little late one day, I don't have the excuse of "oh the class has already started, too late" to keep me from exercising.

There's the social aspect, too, although for me this is a more complicated issue around balancing social and individual elements. I didn't really get to know anyone in the exercise or fitness classes that I signed up for; or I vaguely knew one or two other folks, but there wasn't really social interaction during the class. So there were other people around and I wasn't just doing my own thing, but I didn't get any real social benefit from that. In the past, when I've had regular exercise buddies or sports-type activities with friends that I regularly engaged in, having part of the point of the activity be social interaction with friends has helped my motivation. But I also like doing stuff on my own. Eg. some years I've been in the regular habit of going for more solitary runs when I get up (when the weather is decent enough out). My current gym is a nice combination of the two for me: I'm working out on my own (I'm the only person on a given station at a given time), but the trainers are friendly, and by now they know what days to expect me and we've chatted a bit at the ends of my workouts and they're nice people who I look forward to interacting with, which is another motivator for going to the gym.

Overall, I'd recommend figuring out what your hurdles to exercise are, then planning around them so that you work with yourself instead of against yourself as much as possible. Celebrate every time you do the exercise thing, even if it's not as major or intense an exercise thing as you might have hoped for. And definitely pay attention to any pain - exercise will be difficult and uncomfortable when you first start out and are not in the habit, feeling unmotivated or having your body be like "ugh, let's not" is normal. But it shouldn't hurt - in my experience, overdoing things when I start out (again, each time) has been a major impediment to maintaining consistent activity levels as I age! ('Course, there have been whole FPPs on the blue about women and societal conditioning to blur our ability to sense and maintain boundaries between "good", "okay but uncomfortable", and "painful/bad/not okay", in both physical and emotional aspects of our lives.)
posted by eviemath at 1:15 PM on January 12


I exercise with a other people: evening yoga class, lunch runs with colleagues (I work in town and we often discuss work tangential things), weekend bike rides. I also do really short yoga workouts at home.

I love biking and rode my bike to the train for years, until our morning routine changed that I would need to ride on bike-hostile roads during rush hour to continue. That's not possible for most people. Additionally, I try to walk at least one way between the train station to my office, which gives me about 15 minutes.
posted by JawnBigboote at 3:11 PM on January 12


Our circumstances have changed over time but roughly:

Up at 5/coffee, dogs out, cat gets milk
Gym 5:30 to 6:30/7 (wear the same stuff every day, pretty much, changing socks and t-shirt)
Mr. Llama does in-house exercise roughly 6 to 6:30AM or 6:45.
Little llama up at 6:30.
Shepherding/bugging kid about eating breakfast/making lunch/driving kid to school: 7- 7:30

I don't like to eat in the early AM (never have) so I skip it until around 11:00 or later.

Pass out around 9:30 PM

Two things I've found helpful: clothes out for the week on Sunday. We have more time right now so we don't do this, but also: lunches for the week in brown bags labeled for day of the week. For people who eat breakfast, it's a pretty cookie-cutter breakfast.

I feel strongly that going to the gym is necessary, like going to church 'that is where I do that thing', so I need to go and do my thing there. Mr. Llama hates that notion...he has a machine he uses in-house, which works for both of us.

The other thing is my running schedule has two days that are longer and one of them is Sunday (so timing is no big deal) and the other is Tuesdays. Tuesdays are challenging, but because my schedule ebbs and flows and I have two days off, it's not horrific to maintain like if I were doing five miles every day.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:51 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


And of course, I have two other tricks that get me on the road every day:

1. On days when I really really don't want to go out and run, I tell myself, "Okay, fine. Then do it for 10 minutes. Get running for 10 minutes. You can always head home then," and by the time I'm 5 minutes in I forgot that I didn't even want to run and;

2. Nothing feels as good as being done with a run, and every day I get to do a little happy dance because I did one good thing and now I can now not care about anything else.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:00 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


I’ve been pretty consistent for more than a year using MommaStrong workouts. There’s a daily HIIT-ish 15 minute routine (new one nearly every day) plus a lot of prefilmed “fix-me’s” for various issues. I really like the instructor, Courtney Wycoff - she is very focused on helping women get their bodies working well. Not appearance based at all.

I’m 46 with a full time job and a kid. I do my 15 minutes just about every morning before doing anything else, and I really notice a difference in my strength and lack of aches and pains.
posted by Kriesa at 4:51 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


With that schedule, in the past, I did well by having a snack 30 mins before finishing work and going to the gym RIGHT after work, at a gym 5 mins into my route home. Just went home in my gym clothes, carrying work clothes with me. Rented a locker there for toiletries and gym clothes.

Also this way, you’re waiting out the worst of the commute.

Dinner would be something doable in 30 mins or less, or leftover stuff from a Sunday meal prep.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:52 PM on January 12


I have a full-time job and work on a side job at home. What has finally seemed to stick for me is buying a treadmill, mounting a TV on the wall in front of it, and realizing that what I most resented about exercising was that it took so much time away from my evening. So I get up half an hour earlier now, get on the treadmill, and watch mindless YouTube videos for 30 minutes, then shower quickly and go about my day, feeling pretty good...not because of the exercise, but because my evening is now free to do what I actually want to do.

I can't do going to a gym. The travel adds even more time that it takes away from my day, and I just resent the hell out of that.
posted by telophase at 5:37 PM on January 12


One useful thing is to link a new habit with an existing habit/everyday occurrence. (I think I read this on Leo Babauta's Zen Habits?) For example, I am trying to link coming home and changing into house clothes, with lying on the floor and doing hip flexor stretches.

I also co-sign with people who used weekday lunches as gym/exercise time. There was a YWCA half a block from my old office and they offered lunch time classes. Working out seemed so much more appealing when the other option was sitting at my desk eating a sandwich (which I could do after working out anyway).
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:52 PM on January 12


51, single mom of teen & tween. I'll write more later but one of the things that has had a surprisingly outsize impact on getting me moving is setting out 6 days of workout clothes at the beginning of the week. Six yoga pants, sports bras, undies, socks, t-shirts. I dress directly into those. For a while I was caught, flailing between laundering 2-3 sets of workout clothes and thinking I couldn't possibly justify 6 sets of clothing. Both of which meant I exercised less.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:14 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I am 38, fairly sedentary lifestyle, and have finally managed to maintain a consistent exercise routine for the past year by doing the MommaStrong videos, which have a $5 a month membership fee. There's a couple of descriptions of them further up thread, but to add to that - what I like about them is a fresh 15 minute workout video every day, how real they are in relation to fitting exercise into your life (the instructor Courtney often has her baby sitting next to her on the floor, or her older children will wander in and ask her a question), and how the focus is on feeling good, strong and functional. The workouts are bodyweight style workouts, and while many of them have some optional equipment (a resistance band, a couple of cans) you can easily do them without equipment. The whole program is set up to be really easy and doable wherever you are - there's a selection of workouts that can be downloaded if you're going somewhere without internet access, there's a supportive Facebook community, there's daily emails you can opt into where you get a little story/insight/musing from a different member every day which is encouraging. There are lots of "Fix Me" video series for particular issues, and a series of 5 minute "Hack" workouts, for a huge variety of situations (baby sleeping on me, I feel terrible, headache, I feel sleepy) - the whole idea is that it's better to do something than nothing, and to make it easy for you to do that.

How I fit it in - I don't have a private area at work, otherwise I think I would try and squeeze it in in the middle of the day before I eat. I started off doing the videos at the end of the day, before I ate dinner, but that became too hard, so I started getting up a little earlier and doing the video first thing. I like this - it sets me up for the day, makes me feel energetic and positive, makes it easier to maintain other healthier habits I'm trying to make stick, etc.

How I finally stuck with it - I think it's a combination of all the above things I enjoy about the program, plus the fact that 15 minutes a day with no equipment is much easier to fit in. I find it much easier to maintain a daily habit than a "three times a week" habit, even if I occasionally can't do a day.

(If you're interested in trying it out, I'll gift you a couple of months' membership - just send me a memail).
posted by fever-trees at 8:18 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


A couple things that work for me because they require NO planning, commitment, or special clothes:

1. Planking. I just plank several times a day, either in my office, or at home. It's just a minute out of your day, it's over quickly, but the core strength that comes from it is real and almost immediate and especially if you're having back issues that might just knock it out quickly.

2. Standing desk at work. I dance/walk in place/move around while I'm working at my desk. Yes, if anyone looks into my office I probably look like a dork, but hey it works.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:14 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Thank you - such great advice here! Marking the ones that I think I'll try first.
posted by yawper at 1:39 PM on January 13


I'm not a parent, mad props to you for that. Just thought I'd add my two cents' worth if it might help:

1. I have Things I like to Do, and regular exercise happens in service to them. I'm a climber, and I lift in ways that will help all of me be strong to climb so when I do get outside, I'll be ready. That motivates me through some weekday doldrums even when just regular 'want to be in shape' motivation doesn't. For some people this might be an external goal, like a 5k you signed up for in a few months. But some more specific goal then just a general health goal.

2. Options. Have lots of them. Mine have evolved to climbing gym, home gym setup, bike on trainer, regular gym and its classes, having a few yoga studio schedules on hand or bookmarked, a walking circuit .... There's several reasons for giving yourself options.
posted by Dashy at 9:19 PM on January 13


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