User Post: 11 tips for sticking to an exercise routine.

Exercise helps make you happy. People who exercise are healthier, more energetic, think more clearly, sleep better, and have delayed onset of dementia. They also get relief from anxiety and mild depression, comparable to medication and therapy.

But even when you acknowledge the tremendous benefits, if you're not already exercising regularly, it can be hard to adopt the habit. I managed to change myself from a natural sloth to an enthusiastic exerciser by using all these tricks:

Always exercise on Monday. This sets the psychological pattern for the week.

Never skip exercising for two days in a row. You can skip a day, but the next day, you must exercise no matter how inconvenient.

DON'T link exercise to weight loss as a way to motivate yourself. Although it's quite true that people who exercise regularly are far more likely to keep weight off, you'll find yourself justifying missing your run by turning down two Saltines. And if you don't lose weight easily (who does?), you're likely to give up exercise as futile.

Give yourself credit for the smallest effort. My father always said that all he had to do was put on his running shoes and close the door behind him.

Think about context. I thought I hated weight-training, but in fact, I hated the weight-training area of my gym. Do you try to run in the mornings, but recoil from going out in the cold? Do you hate the loud music in your gym? Is your work-out so exhausting that you can't face the rest of your day? Re-think your choices.

You must exercise frequently. If you think you're staying in shape by joining games of pick-up basketball, you should be playing four or five times a week. Twice a month isn't enough.

If you don't have time both to exercise and take a shower, find exercise (weight-training, yoga, walking) where in many cases you don't need to shower afterward.

Look for affordable ways to make exercising more pleasant or satisfying. Could you upgrade to a nicer gym? Buy yourself a new iPod? Work with a trainer? Get a pedometer? (they're $25). Exercise is a high life priority, so this is the place to spend some money if that helps.

Think of exercise as part of your essential preparation for times you want to be in especially fine form-whether in performance (to be sharp for an important presentation) or appearance (to look good for a wedding) or mood (to deal with a stressful situation). Studies show that exercise does help.

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, i.e., don't decide it's only worth exercising if you can run five miles or bike for an hour. I have a friend who never exercises unless she's training for a marathon.

Beware of magical thinking:
-- Having a gym membership doesn't mean that you go to the gym, and owning a yoga mat doesn't mean you practice yoga.
-- Just because you were in shape in high school or college doesn't mean you're in shape now.
-- Saying that you don't have time to exercise doesn't make it true.

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Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you'd like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the "at" sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I'm trying to thwart spammers.) Just write "Resolutions Chart" in the subject line.