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7 Habits of Highly Effective Exercisers

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Borrow these tricks from motivated exercisers and (almost) never miss a workout again.

Five or six days every week, Sue W., 41, a teacher in Grand Island, New York, hits the treadmill in her basement. It’s a habit that started after she named her exercise machine Ripley. “It’s as in ‘Believe it or not, I’m working out,’” she says. “I would never skip out on meeting a friend, so I decided to treat my treadmill like a person.”

Despite what you may think, the trick to exercising regularly isn’t finding your inner enforcer. Rather, “it's getting creative and tapping your natural motivations,” says Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., a health psychologist and fitness instructor at Stanford.

If you’re having trouble sticking with your fitness routine, try one of these tips from exercisers who work up a sweat nearly every day.

1. Don't put away your gear.

From the moment she rises, Kristina C., 26, the CEO of a communications firm in Houston, has exercise on the brain. That's because the first things she sees are her sneakers and workout clothes. Forgetting to exercise is never her problem.

Why it works: Visual cues are a wake-up call to your brain.

Do it yourself: To display your gear “pick places where you spend a lot of time and can use the equipment, like by the TV or the phone,” says Amanda Visek, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of exercise science at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

2. Turn your commute into a workout.

Replace your normal commute from work with a run or a bike ride and you can check exercising off your daily to-do list before you even get home. Stash your essentials—like keys, cash, a credit card, phone and ID—in a small pack and jog or bike home. You may even find that you get home earlier than usual.

Why it works: Running, walking or biking somewhere you have to go anyway makes exercise feel time-efficient.

Do it yourself: If you usually drive to work or don’t have good public transportation available, try carpooling in the morning or park your car a mile from the office and speed walk the distance to and from your job.

3. Invest in more workout clothes.

For years, Gina C., 36, a paralegal in Bronxville, New York, owned only one sports bra. Then one day she realized that she was using her limited wardrobe as an excuse to avoid exercise. So she bought some new workout gear and now she exercises five days a week.

Why it works: “Having the right clothing doesn’t just remove a hurdle; it reinforces your identity as an exerciser,” McGonigal says.

Do it yourself: Stock up on at least a week’s worth of gym outfits to eliminate any laundry excuses. Find clothes that are comfortable and flattering so you’re motivated to suit up and get moving.

4. Log your workouts online.

When Michelle B., 38, a nurse in Columbus, Indiana, started to post her exercise routines on Facebook, friends began to comment. “Now they're my biggest cheerleaders,” says Michelle. Why it works: Online friends can help hold you responsible.

Do it yourself: Get in the habit of chronicling your progress online after your workout every day so that your friends know when you usually exercise—and when you've slacked off.

5. Involve your causes.

A political junkie, Rachel S., 31, a lawyer in Minneapolis, vowed to donate $25 to the library of a former president she didn’t like for every week she didn’t meet her goal of working out four times a week. Three months later, Rachel was down 16 pounds.

Why it works: Strong feelings often provide additional motivation.

Do it yourself: Pledge to give a minimum of $5 to a charity or an individual you like if you meet your goal, or to one you dislike if you fall short.

6. Make friends with class regulars.

The thought of spending time with her Spinning buddies pushes Marie B., 24, a coach and teacher in Austin, Texas, to her morning class three times a week. “We're a tight-knit group,” she says.

Why it works: It’s smart time management. “You get your social fix while doing physical activity,” says Michelle Fortier, Ph.D., professor of health sciences at the University of Ottawa. Do it yourself: Some classes foster friendships more than others, so arrive early to see if people tend to be social before class. It’s generally a good sign if the instructor seems to know everyone’s name.

7. Create an exercise contest.

Taking a page from The Biggest Loser, Elizabeth K., 35, a photographer in Denville, New Jersey, and her friends are embroiled in a sweaty battle to see who can diet and exercise off the most weight. Every six weeks, they call the winner. “There's money at stake, but it’s really the bragging rights that keep you returning to the treadmill,” says Elizabeth. So far she’s dropped 10 pounds.

Why it works: Competition turns a solitary pursuit into a fun group one.

Do it yourself: The contest can be for anything: most steps walked, most hours logged at the gym, highest percentage of body weight lost. Aim for four to 10 participants. To keep group members engaged, limit the competition to six-week rounds and have weekly check-ins, when people put money in the jar. Let the games begin!

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