One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to increase physical activity. But a grand goal of losing dozens of pounds, or going from zero weekly gym visits to seven can feel daunting, which leads many people to throw in the towel by February. A study published by the Statistic Brain Research Institute last year showed that roughly 50 million Americans pledge to start exercising more each year, and yet only 37 percent of people stick to their new habits.

We know from science that the key to developing new habits is focusing on small, realistic changes — which is why we asked our Thrive community for the fitness Microsteps that have successfully helped them exercise more this year. Which of their tips will you try?

Mark it in your calendar

“Every week, I put my workouts in my calendar and schedule them like a meeting. That way, I have no excuse not to show up! This little hack is a great way to remind myself to prioritize my well-being, and actually stick to it.”

—Lisa Abramson, executive coach, San Francisco, CA

Commit to 15 minutes a day

“Four months ago, I decided to commit to doing three things every day for fifteen minutes: piano practice, exercise, and journaling. I’ve been journaling for years, and have wanted to make the other two a part of my routine as well. Now that exercise is part of my day to day, there’s no stress around trying to fit it in. It’s an established habit!”

—Janice Taylor, career coach and writer, Brighton, UK

Recruit an accountability buddy

“Earlier this year, I started going to Barry’s Bootcamp. It’s a tough workout class, but a fun one! A friend me saw me posting my visits on social media, and asked if she could come along so that she could try something new. It’s now the end of the year, and we’ve bought packages to tie us over long into the new year. I’ve found it to be really beneficial to have a workout buddy who has similar fitness goals, and can encourage you to go to class in a non-stressful way. We push each other to keep going!”

—Kathryn Djordjevic, pharmacist, Toronto, ON, CA

Write out a “care plan”

“I stopped setting goals I couldn’t attain, and instead I developed a ‘Care Plan.’ It is a specific plan for how I plan to take better care of myself in the coming year. It includes a walk in the park with my dog every morning, cooking vegetables more, slowing down, reducing multi-tasking, reducing time on the computer, and doing community service. So far, it’s working!”

—Gerry Tucker, life coach and author, Austin, TX

Celebrate what your body can do

“The number one habit that’s helped me move this year was changing my mindset. I used to treat exercise as a transactional relationship. I would think, ‘I will work out six times this week so that I can lose two pounds.’ It always set me up for disappointment. Now, I see exercise as a celebration of what my body can do. The shift has made exercise fun, and has helped me incorporate feel-good activities, like yoga, rather than just movement to lose weight.”

—Krista Resnick, self-care coach, Rice Lake, WI

Download a workout app

“There are many free apps you can find to help you stay consistent. I am a big fan of the seven-minute workout app. It provides twelve different 30-second segments for different body parts and muscles. Who can’t spend seven minutes a day getting active?”

—Isabelle Bart, marketing director, Irvine, CA

Keep your workout clothes on your dresser

“I am a two-time, 68-year-old breast cancer survivor. I’ve made friends at my gym, which makes it more fun to go. When I’m not inclined to get up and go, I put my favorite outfit on the dresser next to my alarm clock with everything I need to wear in the morning, which inspires me to show up.”

—Carol M., handbag manufacturer, singer, songwriter, Hillsdale, NJ

Embrace healthy competition

“I thrive on competition. Our team at work started to compete with one another, and I ended up walking five miles a day. I won a $200 gift card!”

—Kim Bailey, director of business travel sales, Henderson, NV

Try virtual walking meetings

“Working remotely, I have several video conference meetings each day, and it leaves me tied to my desk for hours. I started converting some meetings to phone calls, and taking a walk while I talk, even if it’s just around the house. Sometimes I’ll even schedule ‘virtual walks’ with co-workers to encourage my team to get moving too! It helps hold me accountable to my goals while we catch up.”

—Tricia Sciortino, COO, Charlotte, NC

Stay optimistic

“My tip has allowed me to stick to the first New Year’s resolution I have ever kept this long, and it is elegant in its simplicity: optimism. Staying positive was tough at first, but as time went on, I found myself becoming naturally optimistic, and I began regularly exercising. I feel like my life was magically transformed, and I feel so much better.”

—Phil La Duke, global business consultant and author, Detroit, MI

Declare a small, specific goal

“Last year, I pledged to hold a plank for four minutes. I declared it in writing, said it out loud, and got an accountability partner to check in with me every couple of weeks. Having a specific fitness goal kept me accountable!”

—Loreta Pivoriunaite, performance coach, Lithuania

Give yourself a little bit of leeway

“One of my favorite strategies is to see your health habits as a zone or continuum. Instead of saying, ‘I’m going to work out four days per week,’ create a range for two to four times per week. That way, when life happens and you don’t achieve all four days, you still feel like a success anyway, and are inspired to stay consistent.”

—Gillian Goerzen, health and fitness coach and author, CA

Find small pockets of time

“I’ve started focusing on always getting in some kind of movement during the day, instead of stressing out about finding time for an ‘official’ workout session. It’s all about finding pockets of time. On a normal day, that’s my regular hour-long morning hike with my dogs. But if I’m traveling or just extra busy, I’ll huff it on foot to my first appointment or arrange for something on my schedule to be a walking meeting.” 

—Kara Goldin, founder and CEO, San Francisco, CA

Park far from the entrance

“I started making small changes in my day that help me stay active. When I go shopping, I park in the farthest parking spot so I can get some extra steps in. I always choose the stairs over the escalator if that is an option. I also set up an exercise corner in my house with a yoga mat and TV, and I follow a quick 20-minute yoga or cardio workout video. Boho Beautiful and HASFIT are my favorites!”

—Brenda Myburgh, workplace well-being consultant, Auckland, New Zealand

Wear slippers

“Being cold in the morning makes it more difficult to get moving, and for a while, it was ruining my momentum to get out and exercise. I came up with a Microstep Solution! I’m normally not a fan of wearing shoes indoors, but with the cold being my nemesis, I started wearing slippers more often in the house. Now, remembering to wear slippers every morning has ignited my internal burner, helped me warm up, and pushed me to get moving!”

—Mardi Fitzgerald, account manager, Vancouver, WA

Try habit-stacking your exercise

“I try to move in small ways throughout my day, but it’s all too easy to let the hours go by and think, ‘I’ll get to it later.’ The most helpful thing for me this year has been linking these movements to something else I do during the day, like washing my hands in between patient visits. At the sink, I’ll stretch, rotate my joints, practice a few kicks, take a slow breath and release a little tension, and then get back to work. It’s brief, yet powerful.”

—Leilani Navar, acupuncturist, herbalist, and dreamworker, Boulder Town, UT

Share a post-workout photo

“Once a month, I’ve started to post photos from my run or yoga practice — so naturally, I need to actually run or go to yoga to do this. I’ve found that the comments people post can be so encouraging, and they inspire me to keep working out!”

—Kristin Meekhof, author and life coach, Birmingham, MI

Aim for two percent of your day

“My online fitness coach, Dave Smith, taught me that I should aim to move my body ‘two percent daily.’ That’s just about half an hour each day. That simple suggestion changed my whole outlook on daily movement. I now must move my body every day. I try different activities, but the goal is always daily 2 percent movement.”

—Cathy Pérez, certified wellness coach, Phoenix, AZ 

Walk around the block before dinner

“I’ve started using Ultimate Meal Plans online this year, which helps me make dinner much faster. With the extra time, I do a walk around the block before I sit down to eat. The small habit is a nice way to kick off the evening.”

—Nick H., Consultant, San Francisco, CA

Replace goals with “themes”

“I came across the idea of having ‘themes’ in a blog from serial entrepreneur James Altucher in 2018, and decided I would try it out. I set out with only three themes at the start of 2019: ‘Commitment, Gratitude, and Growth.’ I made a commitment to exercise no matter where I am at least three days a week. I was grateful to my body and to have the opportunity to make time to exercise. And I knew that I was growing each time I followed through on that commitment. Now my exercise — whether it’s light jogging, yoga, strength training, or a barre class — has become a regular part of my life.”

—Hayat Ahmed, project manager, Cambridge, MA

Mix up your activities

“I try to mix it up as much as I can, which helps keep me motivated. I alternate between biking, rowing, taking different fitness classes — even going to the tennis courts with friends for a doubles game. The variety helps keep me positive and proactive in my daily habits.”

—Arlene B.Englander, L.C.S.W., M.B.A., licensed psychotherapist and author, North Palm Beach, FL

Do you have a certain tip or trick that’s helped you exercise more this year? Share it with us in the comments!

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  • Marina Khidekel

    Chief Content Officer at Thrive

    Marina leads strategy, ideation and execution of Thrive's content company-wide, including cross-platform brand partnership and content marketing campaigns, curricula, and the voice of the Thrive platform. She's the author of Thrive's first book, Your Time to Thrive. In her role, Marina brings Thrive's audience actionable, science-backed tips for reducing stress and improving their physical and mental well-being, and shares those insights on panels and in national outlets like NBC's TODAY. Previously, Marina held senior editorial roles at Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour, where she edited award-winning health and mental health features and spearheaded the campaigns and partnerships around them.