Ditch these ideas of what exercise has to look like for a happier, healthier year.

Jessica Ball, M.S., RD
January 06, 2021
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At the start of a new year, many of us feel our motivation renewed for exercise and healthy living. Maybe you unwrapped some new fitness gear over the holidays, or you have a specific resolution around getting more movement into your day. Exercise has so many benefits—from reducing stress and boosting your mood to improving your heart health and helping you get stronger (here are the top 5 exercises to try for better health, according to a Harvard doctor). But working out consistently can be hard to do after the first few weeks of motivation wear off and our calendars fill up. To save yourself some stress, ditch the strict definition of exercise and find ways to make movement work for you.

Here are 10 workout "rules" that you should feel free to break around exercise.

1. You need to workout every day

This one is a recipe for burnout. The World Health Organization recommends that adults ages 18 to 64 get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. If you can, they specify that two days should be focused on strengthening muscles, like resistance or weight training. This criteria can easily be met by working out just five or fewer days a week. Plus, rest is crucial to help your muscles recover, especially from high-intensity exercise, like running or weight lifting. Skipping rest days can result in overuse injuries over time. Long story short, if you feel worn out, respect your body and take a day off.

2. A workout needs to be 60 minutes long to count

This might be one of the biggest misconceptions about exercising, and it is one reason it can seem intimidating to many. Exercise does not have to be a full hour of working hard. For many people with busy schedules, that may not be realistic. Instead, try adding in movement where you can. Go for a walking meeting or do 10 minutes of yoga before starting your work day. Little things add up over time. Plus, sitting for long bouts can be damaging to your health. Getting up often and moving your body will help you be healthier, more focused and more energized.

3. You need to break a sweat

Just because an activity doesn't leave you drenched in sweat doesn't mean it isn't great exercise. Things like gentle yoga, body weight exercises, walking and even cleaning the house burn calories and can help you add up movement throughout the day. Working in exercise this way can cut down on the time you have to spend getting cleaned up after, as well.

4. Exercise has to be a formal "workout"

You don't have to suit up and hit the gym or go running to reap the benefits of exercise. Moving your body in other ways also burns calories and can help you stay fit without even noticing you are doing it. Things like gardening, playing with your kids, cleaning the house, raking leaves and shoveling snow can all burn as many calories as a 30 minute walk.

5. You need to wear a fitness tracker

While they may be helpful for some, you don't need to wear a fitness tracker to get in a good workout. Instead, try other ways to stay in a routine. Write workouts in your agenda or schedule them into your calendar for a reminder that is built into your day. Even if you do have a fitness tracker, dedicate some workouts to focusing on how you feel instead of obsessing over data.

6. You should (or shouldn't) listen to music

This is an age-old debate, but let me be the first to tell you there is no right or wrong answer here. Some people never exercise with music, others have to and many of us are somewhere in the middle. Regardless of your preference, your workout is just as effective.

7. It has to feel like work

Exercise does not need to feel like a chore. It should feel fun! You may not find running, cycling or going to the gym particularly enjoyable and that is totally OK. However, it can make it hard to motivate yourself to do those activities. Instead, scrap it! Half the battle in being consistent with exercise is to find something you look forward to doing. Try a virtual yoga class or throw some music on and dance around for a bit. Choose ways to move that you enjoy and make you feel good.

8. It needs to be at the gym

Especially these days, getting to the gym may not be top priority (or even possible). Luckily, you can get just as good of a workout at home or outdoors. Find a nature trail or path near you for a walk or jog instead of a treadmill. Plus, there are plenty of bodyweight exercises to help you feel the burn at home, no equipment required.

9. You need fancy equipment or gear

If workout gear and equipment is not part of your budget right now, don't stress. There are ample ways to get in a great workout with just a mat or towel and some space. We even have a personal trainer's top six at-home exercises to inspire your next workout. You can also do yoga or find a workout app, many of which are free. When in doubt, there are also several workout videos on YouTube if you are stuck in a rut.

10. You need to stress about fuel

Don't get me wrong, making sure you give your body the fuel it needs is important. However, you don't need special sports drinks or foods to do so. For most people, water and regular whole foods works just as well. Plus, they are much more affordable than specialty products. Try a banana before a workout and peanut butter toast, a smoothie, vegetables and hummus or cheese and crackers after. Be sure to drink plenty of water as well. There are many ways to energize your workout without having to be super strict.

Bottom line

When it comes to exercise, there is no one-size-fits-all workout plan. But it is true that you will be more likely to get movement into your day if it fits your schedule and lifestyle. No need to stress about the small stuff or force types of exercise you don't like. Instead, make your own rules and focus on exercise that works for you to keep you healthier and happier this year.