Inside: Learn how habit stacking has helped me to get more exercise and improve my health.

Often on the top of many people’s New Year’s resolutions is to get healthier in the coming year. For some that specifically means eating better. For others, it’s going to the gym regularly.

Well, due to the number of times I set that as a New Year’s resolution and promptly lost steam, I decided not to do that to myself anymore. After all, it doesn’t feel great to fail at something.

What I did do this year was take a small action to help make exercising more convenient for me. While I didn’t have a set numeric goal of any kind, this one habit-stacking step has made more of a difference for me than anything else I’ve tried before.

I went from walking maybe once per week to 3 to 5 times per week (on average). Have I done that every single week for the past five months? No, but I’ve gotten pretty close and have been amazed how such a small thing had such a big impact.

If you’ve been wanting to get healthier or achieve any other specific goal, read on to learn how habit stacking has helped me to get more exercise so that you can apply these same principles in your own life.

habit stacking helped me get more exercise

What’s Habit Stacking?

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If you haven’t heard of habit stacking before, it is a trick to help you more easily start a new habit that’s from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits.

And if you haven’t read his book yet, I highly recommend it and discuss it in greater depth in this post on how simple Atomic Habits create big results.

Atomic Habits is an easy read with many personal stories woven in with practical tips on how to effectively create habits in your life.

The idea behind habit stacking is to pair a new desired habit with an existing habit that you already have. The habits that you already have are ones you don’t even think about such as brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, or having your first coffee (or tea) of the day.

Building a new habit that’s attached to a pre-existing habit reduces the friction and difficulty of starting something new. Habit stacking allows you to more easily automate your new action so you can easily incorporate it into your routine.

habit stacking helped me get more exercise

How Habit Stacking Has Helped Me to Get More Exercise

Here are seven ways that habit stacking helped me to get more exercise. Whether your goal is also to get more movement into your day or something else completely, these same principles will still apply.

1. Habit stacking made it easy

Recently, I purchased a walking treadmill to help me incorporate more movement into my daily life. I’m using it with a standing desk and it’s allowed me to get more steps in each day.

Now simply buying a piece of exercise equipment isn’t always the answer to actually exercising more. Ask anyone who has a treadmill or bike that has become a place to hang clothes.

However, using habit stacking with the walking pad made adding exercise to my day easy. By pairing an activity I enjoy (walking) with tasks I already do (writing and responding to emails) it was simple to add this healthy habit.

Incorporating a habit of exercising into your schedule doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By embracing habit stacking, you can more easily add physical movement to your daily routine. As you’re consistent with this new habit it will feel less effortful over time.

2. Habit stacking saved me time

How often have you thought that you can’t start a new habit because you don’t have time? I’ve been guilty of this one myself.

But the beauty of habit stacking is that you can fit in your new habit at a time that makes sense for your schedule.

Consider where you have time available in your daily routine. Take into account when you have optimal energy and focus (depending on what habit you’re working on).

I have the most physical and mental energy earlier in the day, so that’s when I started walking. Being thoughtful about your needs can help set you up for success as you work to implement a new habit.

Adding a walking habit to my pre-existing work tasks allows me to use my time efficiently while working toward my goals.

raindrops on a window

3. Habit stacking eliminated my excuses

I’m what you might call a fair-weather exerciser. And I also have a pretty narrow range of temperatures that I find comfortable.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, where we do get a fair amount of rain, can make it a bit more challenging for me to find the motivation to get outside and walk. And yes I have heard there isn’t bad weather, just bad clothes, but I haven’t been able to fully embrace it in my own life just yet.

By having a walking pad and a standing desk that are adjacent to the desk I normally sit to type at, it’s made exercising easy regardless of the weather outside.

It would actually be a challenge to come up with a reason why I couldn’t walk for twenty minutes because on most days there would literally be no valid excuse.

notepad with plan written on it on top of a desk

4. Habit stacking helped me make exercising part of my routine

With exercising feeling so much simpler with my current setup, it’s made creating the habit of exercising much easier.

It’s become part of my daily routine and I’ve been able to stick with it without much difficulty.

What used to feel challenging is now just a normal part of the day. I even find myself looking forward to it sometimes.

Once a habit becomes entrenched in your daily routine it requires less thought and effort. While it still requires some discipline to stick with it, I’ve found that it’s easier to continue with the habit than it was to establish it initially and even that wasn’t too difficult thanks to habit stacking.

two pairs of tennis shoes on the floor

5. Habit stacking uses visual reminders

Habit stacking takes advantage of visual reminders to help nudge you toward the habit you are trying to build.

In my situation having the walking pad and a pair of tennis shoes right next to it makes it very easy for me to put those shoes on and get started.

Consider how you could make building a new habit easier. What could you do to not only trigger your mind to remember to do the activity but also make it simpler to start it?

The easier you make it to start that habit, the more likely you’ll be to do it.

habit stacking helped me get more exercise

6. Habit stacking made exercising enjoyable

Through habit stacking, I was able to make exercising more enjoyable. When I’m walking faster I often pair it with listening to a podcast or YouTube episode.

Even when I am simply walking and answering emails it feels good to get something else accomplished while getting my steps in. I’m often not even thinking about the fact that I am walking and working simultaneously.

Now if you’ve seen walking pads and wondered how do people manage to pair these activities together, I will say it can feel a little awkward at first.

If I am typing I have to keep my pace slower. If I’m just listening I can increase my speed. I cannot look to the side quickly or I will likely end up tripping.

It took a bit of coordination with a very small learning curve for me to figure out how it worked best for me, but you may have a different experience with it.

healthy smoothie bowl with fruit

7. Exercising has also had a trickle-down effect

Creating the habit of exercising has caused me to develop additional good habits in my life. I’ve found that getting more movement has a trickle-down effect to help me make other healthier choices.

Walking encourages me to drink more water both while I walk as well as after. It’s also made me more thoughtful about the foods I consume.

Getting consistent exercise has also helped improve my mood, boost my energy levels, and positively impact my overall well-being.

Prioritizing my needs isn’t always easy, but I have realized that taking care of myself and working to create self-improvement habits is essential to my being able to care for others well.

Using habit stacking has empowered me to make positive changes in my life without a great deal of effort.

woman walking

Final Thoughts on How Habit Stacking Has Helped Me to Get More Exercise

Habit stacking is a great tool to help you more easily create new habits in your life.

Some people take a strict and rigid approach as they work to begin a new habit. Others, like me, find that oppressive and prefer a gentler and more gracious approach.

If you tend to be overly hard on yourself or get stuck reflecting on past failures, try taking a more positive approach. Be realistic with your expectations and be kind to yourself as you work to change your life.

If you’ve struggled to start new habits in your life, test the power of habit stacking for yourself.

With effort, discipline, and some patience you can work toward your goals as you create habits that support them.

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  1. HA! To me, ” habit stacking” is leaving stuff where there is room for it, layer on layer, until my house is like an archeological dig! ☺😉😥 After caring for my bedbound mom elsewhere for 3 1/2 years, it will take about that much time to dig out! sad and embarrassing, but true….. 😶☹🤯😱

    1. you are definitely not alone in that Laura! It’s exactly the same in my house and life – I stack one thing one top of another, even mentally, until there’s just an enormous pile of ‘stuff’. I’m so overwhelmed with it all, it’ll take me forever to sort it out – if I ever get started 🙁 I feel your pain….

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