If you think of exercise as a chore, you're not alone. But believe it or not, with the right strategies and mindset, you can transform exercise into a reward. It makes sense if you think about it, since exercise provides so many benefits. According to the Cleveland Clinic, exercise helps improve your mental well-being as well as your overall health. The U.S. News & World Report notes the following additional benefits of staying physically active:

  • Stronger immunity
  • Quicker recovery from injuries and illnesses
  • Reduced risk of developing health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, and depression
  • More efficient metabolism
  • Improved confidence

Despite these clear benefits, you may be wondering how you can turn exercise into a reward if you don't like it. But imagine if you enjoyed a physical activity so much, you would jump at the chance to participate. This is your opportunity to get creative and indulge in a few daydreams.

Activity Brainstorm

Have you ever dreamed of crossing the finish line of a race? Or wanted to feel the excitement of being on a winning team? Or felt a slight twinge of envy upon learning that someone was a skilled ballroom dancer?

Any one of hundreds of activities--from bowling to walking to tap dance--can help you get physically active. Moreover, many of these activities are easy to get involved in. Most local community centers and YMCA/YWCAs offer a wide selection of courses for people of all ages.

As a first step, sit down with a piece of paper and pen, and brainstorm activities you might like to try. The process of writing out your ideas is a concrete action that will help you make the decision to get involved. As you brainstorm, indulge yourself with some wild ideas--maybe you've always wondered about salsa dance or a martial art? Write it down. Do you have a close friend or family member who is passionate about a certain activity? Write that down, too. Did you excel at a particular sport as a child? Make a note of that, as well.

After you have a list of activities, pick one or two that really stand out for you. Remember, even if your list includes some exotic ideas, you should feel free to pick a simple, calming activity--like walking. You may also decide on an activity that requires lessons or joining a team. If so, do some quick research on the internet, or with a phone book, to find out where you might be able to participate in your area. You'll be one step closer to discovering a form of exercise that feels truly rewarding

Schedule It

The Cleveland Clinic suggests that you can stick to an exercise program better--and help it to become habit-forming--by scheduling time for it. It's important to ensure that you give your new active hobby a fair chance. So take out your calendar, and plan dates and times that you will regularly commit to it.

Research conducted at the University College of London suggests that people need 66 days to form a new habit. This means that if you want to make your new activity a part of your life, you need to commit to it for at least a couple months.

Does this mean you should stick with an activity you don't like? Of course not! But once you find an activity that you do enjoy, make sure you put a solid two months into making it part of your routine. If you choose an activity that you only do a couple times a week--such as taking salsa lessons--it may take even longer for it to become part of your lifestyle.

HealthAhead Hint: Get Moving

It might take some effort to build a new type of physical activity into your regular routine. But there's some good news, too. According to Duke psychologist Wendy Wood, an expert on habits quoted in Duke Today, "once you form a habit, it takes willpower to inhibit the triggered response." This means that once you make a habit of being active in a certain way, you'll have to resist the temptation to do it. Whether you invest in squash lessons, take a dance class, or join your local bowling association, you can find a pastime that makes you smile and keeps you on your toes. Once you find something you love, you won't have to search for the reward--you'll just feel it.