Exercise is a physical activity that has a ton of health benefits. In fact, it’s an important part of having a healthy lifestyle as it can reduce stress, lower the risk of complications brought about by high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and more. Exercising prevents health problems, builds strength, tones muscles, and boosts energy. Not only is it beneficial to our physical body, but it also improves our emotional and mental health.
While every person can benefit from exercising, numerous people don’t do so, let alone make it a habit. If you’re finding it difficult to motivate yourself to start on a workout and stick to it, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Committing (or re-committing) to make exercise a habit is often more of a mental battle than a physical one. We’re focused on getting motivated to exercise, but motivation isn’t necessarily the aspect that makes exercising a regular occurrence. In this article, we’ll be giving you some tips to overcome that barrier and make exercise your new habit.
How Long Does It Take To Create A Habit of Working Out?
A habit is a behavioral pattern that is performed repeatedly and consistently. Habits come in all forms, and every person has a lot of them, from getting ready in the morning to folding the laundry, and the like. Habits often happen automatically and the more one does them, the deeper they get embedded in the brain.
A specific part of the brain called the basal ganglia rules routines and habits. It’s the one responsible when you do things in an automatic manner or without much thought, such as loading the dishwasher, driving a car, and more. When you need to drive a car, you don’t need to think of a hundred movements. Your brain automatically signals to get your keys, open the door, sit on the driver’s seat, put your seatbelt on, and the like.
The automation process done by the basal ganglia allows you to do those things without thinking. However, the only way to make behaviors automatic is by doing them over and over. According to Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” there are three elements to creating a habit. There needs to be a cue, behavior, and reward.
An example of a cue is putting your work clothes next to your bed. The moment you wake up, you see your clothes, and that’s your cue to prepare for work. The behavior is completing your morning routine, and the reward may be a nice cup of coffee when you get to work, a breakfast, and more.
When it comes to making exercise a habit, Duhigg mentions that there are two other things a person needs to make it work: a craving for the reward and the belief that you can do the workout you’ve planned.
According to experts, on average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic. Research shows that it can take anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit. Not only that, but a person also needs frequent, early repetitions of that certain behavior for it to become something that one does automatically.
How Did You Make Exercise A Habit?
Building Your Own Personal Exercise Routine
Making exercise a habit can be quite difficult for most people. We’ve established earlier that the more consistent and frequent behavior is, the more likely it is to become a habit. Unfortunately, a lot of people try to exercise 3 or 4 times a week only, and that makes creating a new exercise habit difficult since it isn’t done in a consistent manner.
Exercising everyday is more likely to result in it becoming a habit. When your body gets used to daily exercise, it becomes almost automatic and easier, instead of it being a constant struggle. After all, working out involves a number of small behaviors, and when added up, it can feel daunting. The process of having a solid workout routine is usually hard, and one has to put a good amount of work in to reap the rewards.
The difficult process is just one of the many reasons why a lot of people fail to stick with an exercise habit. Fret not, we’re here to help you out in establishing the habit of regular exercise. Here are some tips and suggestions to make building an exercise habit easier.
Lay Out Your Workout Clothes and Gear
Having a cue that triggers your brain to think it’s time to exercise can help a lot. Your cue can be something such as laying out your workout clothes and exercise gear the night before will remind you to put them on in preparation for your workout. This could help a lot, especially if you aim to exercise first thing in the morning. If you’re not a morning person and have to get up early to gather your outfit, your running shoes, water bottle, fitness watch, and other gear while you’re half, you’re less likely to start exercising. You might just want to go back to sleep instead of going through all those steps.
When you have your workout gear already prepared, you’ll be ready to go and start right away. The fewer obstacles there are in forming your new habit, the more likely you are to be successful. If you’re aiming to exercise after work, you can prepare your gym bag the night before, take it with you, and set it right next to you as you do your tasks to remind yourself of your goals.
Start Small and As You Mean To Go On
Some people think that hitting it big right away a few days a week or doing hour-long gym sessions will do the trick in incorporating workouts in their day-to-day, but that isn’t really the case. Science shows that the best thing to do is to start small. As mentioned earlier, frequent and early repetitions of certain behaviors can make it more likely to become a habit. If you start too hard in each of your workouts, your intentions will melt away. Beginning small, slow, and comfortable is the key.
Stephanie Mansour, a personal trainer and CEO of Step It Up with Steph, advises that starting with a mini 5-minute workout can encourage and ingrain that muscle memory. These can range from doing crunches as you watch TV, doing squats while folding laundry, or walking around the block. Mansour adds that it’s easier to convince oneself to do something for just five minutes rather than 30. Once you slowly start to condition your mind and get your body used to move on a regular basis, you’ll be able to build motivation over time.
Not only that, but you’ll also be able to gradually increase the intensity of your exercises and challenge yourself more as you go on. You’ll find yourself building more energy, strength, and stamina, leading to a better lifestyle.
Plan Your Workouts
Schedule your exercises like you would with your other appointments. You can make use of your calendar to schedule and set up reminders for your regular exercise appointments. It can also be helpful to do your workouts at the same time every day, if possible, so that it gets ingrained in both your body and mind, therefore resulting in a habit.
Aside from scheduling your exercises, it can also help if you create workouts that you know you can do. If you’re feeling too exhausted or stressed, you can drop doing hardcore training and opt for easier ones instead. For example, you can do a quick walk around your neighborhood, do simple bodyweight exercises, beginner core workouts, and the like.
Don’t Focus On The Need To Lose Weight
Let’s face it, most people want to start doing an exercise program so that they can lose weight, tone muscles, get their body in a better shape, and the like. It’s not bad at all to set goals, however, it’s recommended to focus on the habit first and then on the results later. It’s also important to set realistic and achievable goals. Forming habits is a journey, not something that happens overnight.
For the first 6 months, establishing a new normal and building workout plans that you will stick to is more vital than it is to make progress. Once your body is used to daily workouts, you can slowly start to increase the intensity of your exercise. As you get more fit, you’ll gain muscle and become more toned. Gaining more muscle will slow down the weight loss, but as you measure the other factors involved in your workouts and make exercise a part of your daily life, you’ll notice that you’ll be fitter, healthier, and slimmer.
Make It Fun
According to the National Institute on Aging, it’s important to find simple ways to make exercise fun and enjoyable in order to stick to your routine. Some people like walking around, some people like to run on a treadmill, some are passionate about strength training, and some find yoga to be the one that works for them. The key takeaway here is to do workouts that you like and are comfortable for you. Make it pleasurable and enjoyable because if you associate an activity with pain, you’re more likely to shy away from doing it.
Focus on activities that you can look forward to, and not something that you have to force yourself to do because it’s good for you or because other people are doing it as well. What works for one person may not work for you, and vice versa. When you enjoy the activities that you do, they’re more likely to become habits.
You can also try a variety of activities so you don’t get into a rut and bore yourself with doing the same thing over and over. For example, if you did bicycle rides this week, maybe you can do some indoor activities that you like on alternate days. If you find working out alone boring, find a gym buddy so that each of you can keep track of each other’s routines, and so on.
Plan Your Rewards
There are rewards that come naturally with exercise. But also, you can create your own rewards to make you feel good that you finished your workout for the day. When you’re consistent and when you stick to your routine, you’ll find yourself craving for the feeling of satisfaction and earning yourself a reward after working out.
Some examples of rewards that you can give yourself are a glass of wine with dinner, taking a hot bath, getting a new book, a picnic in the park, a massage, and such.
Stay Flexible With Your Exercise Habit
Sometimes, things just happen in life. Your schedule changes, you move to a new community, you get a new job, you acquire an injury, you’re off to a vacation, and such. Anything can throw you off your routine, but the important thing is to not give up. You can always get back on track. If your old habits don’t work for you anymore, you can always create new exercise habits to fit your new normal.
Another thing that you can do is make up for your missed session by doing a few minutes of workouts in your living room or even while you’re in your office chair. If you weren’t able to run the treadmill today, maybe you can walk home instead. Persevering in any small way that you can do allows you to maintain your routine rather than lose it.
You don’t have to spend hours in the gym to force yourself to build a workout routine that you may not even end up sticking to. In order to create a habit that you’ll maintain, it’s important to keep the aforementioned tips in mind. Make it as convenient for you as possible, choose activities that you like, keep them simple, and focus on just showing up. The easier your start is, the more successful you’ll be and soon, you’ll have a habit that comes to you naturally.