Photo by TexasDarkHorse

Have you ever started on an exercise regimen, hoping to get fit, lose weight, or tone up? How long did it last? We've probably all had the experience of starting off keenly, going to the gym three or four times a week. That is until life gets busy, enthusiasm wanes, and we end up skipping just one or two workouts. Before we know it, those few missed workouts have become a month of no exercise.

So how can you help yourself stick to an exercise routine? Well, it's not just a matter of will power: don't tell yourself that you're just not disciplined or determined enough. Rather than beating yourself up for being lazy, think about how you can create a structure that supports your exercise routine.

Work Out With Others
Either go to a regular gym class (most run on a weekly basis) or pick a set day each week to meet up with a friend to do something energetic. There are two big motivational benefits to this approach:

  • Having a set time to work out means you can't do that Oh, I'll go later on... thing. (Where later on ends up becoming tomorrow, then next week.)
  • Having a friend or a group of friends to work out with makes it much harder to flake out. None of us want to look bad in front of others, and none of us want to let people down.

Keep An Exercise Log
Get hold of a little notebook or diary that you can jot down details of your exercising in. This doesn't need to be an obsessively detailed training log - just write down what you did, and for how long.

It's motivating to look back on all the successful days in your log, and writing it down can be enough motivation to get off the sofa and go for a jog: you don't want to skip a planned session.

Another approach to this is to tick off or mark the days on a calendar when you've met your exercise target: again, you'll find that you're motivated by not wanting to break a good run.

Get Enough Sleep
If you're struggling to prop your eyes open all day at work, you're unlikely to feel very keen to hit the treadmill afterward. Plus, your performance will be under par if you're tired. It's much easier - both physically and psychologically - to stick to an exercise routine when you're well-rested.

Even if you are tired, try not to use it as an excuse to skip a planned session. Go a bit easier if you have to, but you'll probably find that the exercise is a great way to wake up and get some energy back.

Eat Healthily (And Enough)
When you're exercising regularly, it's particularly important to eat healthily and sensibly. That means making sure you're not trying to work out straight after a heavy meal - or on an empty stomach. It also means getting enough protein (for muscle growth) and carbohydrates (for energy).

Unless you're training intensely, you don't need energy gels, bars or shakes - just eat a snack an hour or so before working out. Good snacks are a banana, oatcakes with peanut butter, a small sandwich, or plain popcorn. A Mars bar might give you an initial sugar rush, but it won't provide the lasting energy you need to see you through a work out.

When you're exercising for weight loss, make sure that you are eating enough. Your body can't perform without fuel, and you could risk injuring yourself. Cutting your calorie intake too low has health risks.

Get Your Kit Ready The Night Before
This is such a simple tip, but it can make all the difference in your chances of success. Pack your gym kit, and any equipment you need, the night before. This means you won't be scrambling around in the morning rush before work, trying to get everything together.

If you exercise first thing in the morning, lay out your running kit and your trainers (or your yoga mat, or your exercise DVD) - then you can jump straight out of bed and get going, rather than wasting time (and talking yourself out of it) while looking for things.

Do you have an exercise routine? How do you help yourself stick to it?