How to Work Out Every Day (Kind Of)

I work out every day. Hah, no I don't. I do work out most days, though. I didn't used to be a workout-every-day person. I got to this point through years of incremental changes and adjustments in my habits and attitudes.

People are impressed that I work out. They say, "I'm so impressed that you work out so often!" They say, "That's great, that you go to the gym every day!" It's one of the few things that I get randomly acclaimed for. (Of course, that says less about the magnitude of the accomplishment and more about what we value as a society.)

But valued or not, exercise is profoundly important. If there is such a thing as a panacea, it's not aspirin or vitamin D or fish oil, it's exercise. It's good for your body, it's good for your brain, and it's good for your mood. Apart from the actual doing of it, there is no downside to exercise.

That's the trick, though, isn't it? The actual doing. The taking time out of your day, the sweating, the special clothes. It's a bit of a drag.

If you want to enjoy the benefits of exercise, you need to minimize the drag. This is how I manage it.

Don't exercise for too long.

Don't feel like you have to give up your whole morning or evening to get your workout. The amount of exercise you need to significantly improve your health is surprisingly little: just 150 minutes of cardio a week will do it. That's 21 minutes a day if you work out every day, 25 if you work out six days a week, 30 minutes if you work out five days a week. (I am not a doctor. I just read this somewhere.)

Make it easy.

I work out in the morning, after I have sent the children to school but before I start work. Or sometimes before the children wake up, if I'm feeling all Michelle Obama and wake up at 5:30. I chose the morning for a couple of reasons. First, I know I will be fresh out of energy and self-discipline by evening so I'll make up all kinds of reasons not to work out. Second, this way I don't have to shower twice: my after-workout shower is the same as my start-of-day shower.

Maybe you don't have to start your day with a shower like I do, so this will change your calculations somewhat. That's cool. The point is, fit your workout into your day in a way that doesn't mess up your flow too much.

Make it really easy.

I wake up, reach over to my dresser and grab a workout outfit, rolled up and ready to go. When I fold laundry I create rolls with socks, underwear, workout pants and a top, and stack them in a drawer like logs. Then I can grab one without even turning on the light — no hunting around. (I don't have enough sport bras for each outfit, but they are always in the drawer with the rolls.)

Some people sleep in their workout clothes. Whatever it takes.

All I carry to the gym is my sneakers and some magazines, so my gym bag is always ready to go. No phone, no lock, no wallet. Easy.

Make it fun

I don't enjoy working out — I don't hate it, but I don't enjoy it. I do enjoy reading New Scientist and The Walrus, so I save those magazines up and only read them when I'm at the gym. Maybe you like listening to podcasts, or watching the Food Network shows that are always on at the gym. Whatever it is, find something fun to do while you work out and you might even look forward to it a bit.

Know what benefits to expect

I don't know what working out does for you. I know what it does for me: it loosens up my back so I don't throw it out doing something stupid like tying my shoelace or picking up a cat.

Here are some things that might improve when you work out:

  • how well you sleep
  • your mood
  • how energetic you feel
  • how strong you are
  • how much stamina you have
  • breath control if you're a singer

Here's one that probably won't change much:

  • your weight

Exercise doesn't actually do a whole lot for weight loss. Basically, it's hard to burn a calorie, and easy to eat one. It's even harder to burn 500 calories — but still easy to eat them. So don't work out hoping to get thinner, and then give up when you don't. You'll be losing out on all those advantages in the first list.

Make it a habit

Do you look in the bathroom mirror every morning and think, "Hm, should I let that sticky goo sit on my teeth all day, so my breath is rank and everything tastes like birdcage? Or should I scrub them until they are clean and minty?"

No.

You just brush your teeth.

That's how working out is for me. I don't think about whether I feel like going to the gym or not: if I don't have a good reason not to go, I go. I just go. Every day. Weekends. Weekdays. I go.

Don't let it ruin your life

But actually… I don't go every day. If I have an appointment in the morning and I won't have time to fit in a workout, I skip the workout. If it's the weekend and we want to get an early start on some adventure, I skip the workout.

The beauty of automatically going to the gym (almost) every day is that I know I can skip when I need to and still get in five or six workouts each week. So I don't beat myself up about it when I miss one: no guilt, no shame.

Big Finish

So in conclusion, this is how I work out every day:

  • keep workouts short and manageable
  • pick a time that fits into my life
  • set up my workout stuff so it's easy to get out the door
  • add something I enjoy (reading magazines) to my workout
  • keep expectations realistic
  • go every day whether I feel like it or not
  • … but don't stress if life gets in the way occasionally

Of course, this is not medical advice. It's just my experience and lessons I've learned along the way. I hope it's helpful for you. Exercise is definitely worth it.

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