Focusing on how habits are initiated is key to getting regular exercise, a new study finds.
It’s all about making sure there are regular cues which prompt you to automatically exercise.
The cues are likely different for different people.
Some people may automatically get up and exercise first thing in the morning.
For others, the cue might be the end of the working day.
The cue could even be an internal feeling that you’ve been sitting down too long.
For the study, 118 people reported the strengths of two types of habits:
- Instigation habits: what cues you to start doing any form of exercise.
- Execution habits: the exact type and form of exercise you do.
The results showed it was the strength of instigation habits that predicted how much exercise people actually did.
Dr Alison Phillips, who led the study, said:
“Regardless of the type of exercise you’re going to do on a particular day, if you have an instigation habit, you’ll start exercising without having to think a lot about it or consider the pros and cons.”
Execution habits, meanwhile had little connection to exercise frequency.
This suggests that to create good exercise habits, you should focus on what starts you exercising, not what type of exercise you do.
Dr Phillips said:
“This study shows that you don’t have to be afraid of trying new things.
You can have an instigation habit and try new types of exercise without worrying about losing the habit.
It might be important for people just starting out to do the same thing until they realize they can do this, but in the long-term there does not seem to be a benefit of doing the same things over and over again.[this research shows that] you can keep up an ‘exercise habit’ without having to stick to the same boring activities over time.”
The study was published in the journal Health Psychology (Phillips & Gardner, 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Exercise image from Shutterstock