Learning to Love Exercise

Boxing match at Houston's Bayou City Event Center. January 10, 2013.

Boxing match at Houston's Bayou City Event Center. January 10, 2013.

As a child, I did gymnastics, swimming, ballet, and tennis. I had fun, yet nothing active compelled me. Without the parental prompt, I’d have stayed home to read.

In high school, I climbed on a stair machine and worked out to videos in the game room out of teen appearance pressure. (I still have some Jane Fonda moves memorized.) In college and graduate school, I attempted racquetball and swimming.

None of it took.

So how did I get from forcing my body into exertion to excitedly pushing my physical limits? And how can other people do the same? My friend Rebecca wrote about exercise inducing crushing boredom. She’s not alone in the feeling.

Find a Lifestyle Fit

In school, I hated to run. Stubbornly, I would walk the President’s Challenge Fitness Test mile. Yet when I made the decision to get fit, running looked like my adult lifestyle default:

  • I can run anywhere with running shoes and a few easy-to-pack clothing items. (I’ve even run in the Galapagos Islands.)

  • I can run for a few minutes or a couple hours.

  • I can run from my front door. I don’t need to go anywhere special.

  • Running gets you fitter in less time than most other aerobic activities.

  • I can run with friends. I can run solo.

  • Running does not require expensive or bulky equipment or membership fees.

Psychologists say it takes six weeks for an activity to become a habit. For me, it took six months. And then: I loved running. The lesson? Keep at it.

Find Two Go-tos

Once you find something that fits your lifestyle and you grow to love it, you may obsess. Once I found a passion for running, I ran as much as I could. Unfortunately, overdoing anything turns into eventual burnout.

Try new sports that look fun yet still fit your lifestyle. Exploring led me to boxing. (You know you love a sport when your trainer has to tell you to take a break and drink some water.) Find two activities you enjoy for regular workouts. Options and variety make a difference for motivation.

Integrate Friendships

Hearing my friends talk about bike rides and marathons and watching them in the ring gets me charged up. Being around active people makes you crave activity.

In addition, meeting friends in the same sports gives you people with whom you can exercise—which holds you accountable and turns exercising into socializing. Running, walking, and biking have grown into some of my favorite get-togethers. When you know you’ll see friends, you look forward to an activity more.


Today, I don’t struggle with exercise but with eating. I’ve baked activity into my schedule. And if I don’t exercise, I feel grumpy and sluggish and it seems like my body doesn’t function optimally. And I miss the fun.

I won’t lie: Getting into the exercise groove will challenge anyone. But once you’re there, you’re there.

And it’s worth it.