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Want To Make Your Exercise Habit Stick? Here's The Best Way

July 14, 2015 2 min read

After a long day at work, the last thing you're looking to do is workout, I'm sure. But we all know people who manage to do it. Those people may be using a simple trick -- even if they don't realize it. A study published in the journal Health Psychology, found that the most consistent exercisers were those who made exercise into a specific habit, triggered by a cue like hearing your morning alarm and heading to the gym without thinking about it. “It’s not something you have to deliberate about; you don’t have to consider the pros and cons of going to the gym after work,” explains L. Alison Phillips, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University and one of the study’s authors. It becomes an automatic decision based on environmental and internal cues. The researchers wanted to determine if this type of habit, called an instigation habit, was better than other types of habits for predicting who would stick with exercise for a month. At the beginning and end of the month, they asked 123 university students and faculty questions about how often they exercised and how strong their exercise habits were -- like, if they do it without thinking, for example. From this they were able to determine if someone had a strong instigation habit and whether they had a strong execution habit (knowing exactly what they were going to do when they hit the gym). The only thing that seemed impact how often a person exercised over the long term was the strength of their instigation habit. “When people started exercising more frequently over the month and became more active, I saw that their instigation habit strength increased with that frequency, but execution habit didn’t really change in relation to frequency at all,” Phillips says. Checking out, mentally, during exercise didn't impact things one way or the other. “In the long term, it seems beneficial, or at least not harmful, to have variety in your routine,” Phillips says of the results. “A lot of people might shy away from starting to exercise because they think, oh man, I can’t possibly imagine myself doing this forever. They might think of one boring routine—running on the treadmill—and to them it sounds like torture, so they give up before they even begin.” But some repetitive behaviours do reinforce your exercise habit, however. “When you’re just starting to develop an exercise routine, I think it might be helpful to engage in the same behaviors, to have this patterned action." It appears, though, that sticking with the same cue, and not the same routine, will be what ingrains your habit. What that cue becomes, is entirely up to you. Do you have a cue -- conscious or otherwise -- that you use to get going on your workout? Share it with is!        

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