How to Make Exercise a Daily Habit

I have an outstanding tip for making exercise a daily habit. A lot of people want to exercise regularly but struggle with executing it over long term. I've been applying this tip to my own exercise habits for a couple of years now. Applying this idea is how I went from a person who wanted to workout regularly but could never stick to an exercise plan to a person who exercises most days of the week. 

Set a Bare Minimum Goal

My trick to make exercise a daily habit is to set the bar so low that there is no way I can allow myself to miss it. I call it my daily bare minimum goal. I set a bare minimum goal that I have to achieve every day. Before you write me off as lazy, hear me out. 

My bare minimum goal is to take 10,000 steps (tracked on my FitBit) and do a two minute (iso-prone) plank. The reason that this bare minimum goal is good for me is because I know it is something that with a little extra effort in my day, I can always achieve.

In order to get 10,000 steps I know I need to make a few laps around my office building during the day, use the bathroom on another floor and park my car really far away from the front door. If I didn't work out that day, this still may not enough to meet my goal, but it gets me most of the way there. On a day that I don't run for exercise, I may have to take a short walk around the neighborhood after dinner to reach my final goal of 10,000 steps.


The two minute plank is a good bare minimum goal for me because it is long enough to be challenging, but not too long to be impossible to achieve on a daily basis. No matter how crazy my day is, I can always find two minutes to get in my plank. 

Your bare minimum goal doesn't have to be the same as mine. My husband's bare minimum goal is to walk one deliberate mile a day. This goal works for him because he works from home and enjoys walking Ollie. He knows that no matter what his day throws at him, he can find 15 minutes for his daily one mile walk. The key is finding your own bare minimum goal that works with your lifestyle. He hasn't missed his mile in three years! (I've seen him walk in the rain, snow and cold!) No one ever got super fit from walking a mile day, but it is a positive step you can take towards better health and establishing healthy habits. 

Your Bare Minimum Goal Shouldn't be Your Only Goal

Don't get me wrong, having a bare minimum daily goal doesn't mean that I don't have bigger, more aggressive goals, plans and exercise schedules.

In fact, I recently posted my six week half marathon training plan over my Running with Ollie Blog. The truth is that I do some sort of traditional workout at least four or five days a week, but I meet my bare minimum goals seven days a week. Exercise became a habit for me by starting with my bare minimum and building from there.

Even as I grew consistent with my daily habits, got stronger, added more workout days, I never changed my bare minimum. The bare minimum is what it is, the bare minimum. That's the beauty of it.


I think it is effective for two reasons. First it helps establish daily healthy habits. My habit now is to park ridiculously far away from the front door at the office and use the restroom on another floor. My husband and I often take a quick walk after dinner if I haven't yet met my goal. This is a habit. It is a daily part of my life that I don't have to think or obsess about. I just do it. Not getting my step goal or missing my plank is not an option. It's non-negotiable.

Secondly it helps me feel accomplished and check a healthy goal off my list each day, even if I fell short on other day's goals. Let's face it, sometimes I have the best of intentions but I sleep in too late, have to work late, get stuck in traffic or get roped into an after-work happy hour (the horror!). My bare minimum goals help me achieve a baseline goal no matter what life throws my way. Even if I miss a traditional workout, I know I did something positive for my health today. It's a form of self-compassion. I can feel good about myself even if I missed a workout. 

How to plan your own bare minimum goal

When you are planning your workouts for the week, start with your baseline bare minimum goals, then build on with your exercise plan for the week. The bare minimum isn't intended to be the only thing you ever do to improve your fitness, it's your back-up plan for when real life gets in the way. 

First come up your own bare minimum goals. The key here is to make it so achievable that you can't miss it. It shouldn't take up a lot of time or too much planning on your part, but should be a little bit challenging.

For example, I wouldn't make my goal to walk 5000 steps a day because I do that every day anyway without any additional energy. My 10,000 step goal requires me to make efforts throughout the day to get additional steps and maybe 15-20 minutes at the end of the day if I didn't do a traditional workout that day. It's achievable but requires a little extra effort on my part.

Now 10,000 steps a day might be too low for some people or too aggressive for others. A good way to determine a step goal is to track your steps for three days, average your steps over the three days, then add 3000 steps to the average for a starting daily goal. 

A bare minimum goal doesn't have to be a step goal or even a mileage goal. A great bare minimum goal is to do 15 minutes of any physical activity. Maybe you like Yoga and want to do 5 to 10 sun salutations as your daily bare minimum goal. Find something that fits your preferences and lifestyle. 

Terrible Bare Minimum Goal Ideas

What you shouldn't do is get overly excited and set super aggressive bare minimum goals, this will only set you up for failure. Working out for an hour a day is a great goal to work towards, it is just not an appropriate bare minimum goal. It takes too much time, too much effort and is too easily missed.

Running a 5K is a great personal fitness goal, but it is a terrible bare minimum daily goal. First of all, you always need rest days from running and you may not always have the time in your day to run a 5K.

100 squats a day is not a great bare minimum goal, because it is best to have have rest days in between resistance training sessions.

Your bare minimum goal should be something doesn't require equipment, support of other people (babysitters, a ride, a partner), a time limit (gym hours) or much time out of your day. It also shouldn't be too aggressive or challenging. It should be something gentle enough for everyday without rest. 

No matter what your current fitness level from beginner to advanced, a bare minimum goal can be an effective way to build new healthy habits into your current lifestyle. Will you try it? I'd love to hear your bare minimum goals.

Coach Lea