How to Make Exercise Part of Your Daily Routine—Without the Gym

Your workout doesn’t have to include treadmills or dumbbells. Try these simple ways to make exercise part of your daily routine.

I woke up one morning and, for the first time, decided to walk to work. 

The route took me a mile along West Grand Traverse Bay, and then when I reached the city limits I threaded through the neighborhoods along Washington and State streets. By the time I reached the office in downtown Traverse City, I had been exerting myself for an hour. But because my mind was on the goal of reaching work—not working up a sweat—I had barely noticed I was exercising. 

That morning was an epiphany: I arrived at my office feeling alive and awake and good. I had discovered the joy of the destination. For some people, exercise for exercise’s sake is fine, others (like me) need a more seamless way to work it into their lives. 

Giving your physical activity a tangible endpoint requires a simple shift in the way you may think about exercise. It’s based on the solid premise that to get fit you must make physical activity a habit. Europeans know it: When you walk to places where you need to go anyway, exercise weaves easily into your life. As you approach a gradual and permanent way to make exercise part of your day, the benefits will go beyond the physical. A mere 10 minutes of brisk walking is enough to improve your mood and reduce tension. 

My destinations became the grocery store, the beach, occasionally a restaurant for dinner. Yours could be the library, the post office, the hardware store. Once you start looking, you will find everyday ways to get moving crop up all around you. Here are a few strategies to let destination give purpose to your workouts. 

Start easy. First, figure out what you can truly fit into your day. Devote a weekend morning to determining how long it takes to bike to the store, walk to work, pull the kids in the wagon to the park. It might surprise you how quickly you arrive at your destination. If walking from home to places you need to go isn’t realistic, try parking farther than you typically do and find a scenic route to your endpoint. 

Run an errand (well, walk or bike an errand). Walk over to a friend’s house. Walk to the farmers market and buy fresh vegetables and herbs. Buying a basket for your bike is much cheaper than joining a gym. If you are going to invest your time into pedaling on a stationary bike, you might make that time more productive by hopping on a real bike when you need a jug of milk. This becomes the ultimate in multitasking, but in a way that leaves you feeling revived and healthy instead of stressed. 

Create your own carrot. Walk to coffee or to your 7 p.m. dinner reservation. Although strolling to a pancake breakfast may seem counterproductive, working out with a motive is not. 

Let your destination take beautiful forms. Don’t just limit yourself to practical destinations like the post office. Make time for relaxation and recovery from daily stress. Your destination can take the form of a great vista, a quiet park or the river. When your destination takes on significance, exercise becomes more than a means to the end. Exercise becomes more enjoyable. Purposeful. Regular. And a part of your everyday life.