Making Fitness Work: How To Develop A Sustainable Routine – 2024 Guide

Exercising is an important part of managing your health, both physical and mental, but for many who are new to working out, it’s easy to overdo it and feel too worn out to exercise for days at a time.

As a result, it can be hard to establish a real routine because you feel too tired and overwhelmed to be consistent. It can be a tough problem to overcome, but any expert will tell you it’s possible and will serve you well in the long-term.

If you’re determined to develop a sustainable fitness routine, keep in mind that getting started is the hardest part. Once you’ve got a practice that makes sense for your body and lifestyle, you’ll find your fitness routine actually brings a lot of structure and joy to your daily life.

Here’s how to get started.

Evaluate Your Schedule


Part of making exercise work for you and your life is understanding how you structure your time. For example, if you want to exercise before work, when will you have to get up in order to complete your workout, shower, and get out the door? Or maybe you’re hoping to fit in a workout during your lunch break or while your child is at an extracurricular – does that seem feasible?

Don’t forget that, when it comes to exercise, it doesn’t all have to happen at once. If you examine your schedule and all you can find are small chunks of time, use them! Experts agree that you’ll benefit as long as you’re active for at least ten minutes at a time. If that means you’re squeezing three brisk, ten-minute walks in during your day instead of one longer walk or another more time-consuming activity, that’s okay. Eventually, your schedule may change and you can change your routine with it.

Identify Key Barriers


Do you struggle to get motivated to exercise? This is a common problem, and one that can arise for multiple reasons. For some, it may be an executive function problem; people with ADHD and autism can struggle to initiate activities. Others, however, struggle to start exercising either in general or on specific days because of other mental blocks. Common mental blocks that can keep you from getting started include:

  • Fear of Failure: What if I’m not good at this activity? What if I get started and then fall off the wagon and return to my old lifestyle?
  • Fear of Injury: What if I get hurt engaging in these activities?
  • Fear of Judgment: What if other people stare at me or think that I’m too big or too uncoordinated to do this? What if people treat me like I don’t belong here?

There are a few things that can help you overcome these mental blocks, and the most important of these may just be realizing that you’re the only one judging you in these ways. As with so many forms of anxiety, when you realize that other people aren’t thinking about you or paying attention to you at all, the source of your anxiety falls away.

Slow And Steady


Having conquered the cognitive barriers and logistical challenges to developing a fitness routine, the next step is to start actually establishing a schedule. So, how often should you workout? According to, there’s no cut-and-dry answer. Instead, frequency will vary based on a number of factors.

How often you should workout depends on your level of fitness and the intensity of the activity you’re engaged in. If, for example, you’re focused on a relatively simple activity like going on a brisk walk, you can likely do this daily, especially over a short distance, without worrying too much about fatigue.

On the other hand, if you’re getting started with a more intensive activity like weightlifting, you may find that you can only do that two or three times a week to start, and need to intersperse it with rest days or days of lighter activity. Pushing yourself too hard is a surefire way to sabotage your developing routine.

Encourage Recovery


As noted above, how often you exercise and how much energy and effort you can commit to developing a sustained routine will depend on factors like how hard you’re pushing your body and, as an extension, how long it takes your muscles to recover. Establishing a recovery routine, whether that’s rest, using recovery supplements, or cross-training to emphasize other muscle groups, can all help you bounce back. You’ll also want to make sure you’re fueling your body properly. You need to get enough protein to support muscle repair, as well as sufficient carbohydrates to keep up your energy during workouts.

Find Support And Community


Sometimes the best tool for developing a reliable fitness routine is to ensure you have a supportive community and even friendships that encourage you to get out there every day. This doesn’t even have to be in person, though finding a gym where you feel comfortable can go a long way toward helping you build a solid routine.

Many people thrive in online communities, on message boards, or just by having friends and family who support their fitness journey. These people aren’t necessarily there to hold you accountable, but for some, those social connections make a world of difference.

Make It Joyful


Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when you’re trying to establish a fitness routine, it’s important that you choose a form of movement you enjoy. If you pick a type of exercise that feels like pulling teeth, you’ll always struggle with motivation and consistency. When you choose a type of movement you enjoy – whether that’s swimming, running, or dancing – you’re more likely to show up day after day.

The fact is, when we’re children, many of us find joy in movement – in spinning and jumping and climbing trees – but as adults, movement comes to be associated with responsibility, and that’s not doing you any favors.

It takes time to establish a new routine, so spend some time mapping out your plan to ensure you can maintain the necessary consistency during those early days, but make sure you listen to your body, too.

If you’re too tired or your muscles are too sore, it’s okay to take the day off – just don’t let a rest day turn into day after day of excuses. As you build up your strength and stamina, you’ll need less rest and it will take less cognitive effort to show up and move your body.