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Making exercise automatic can reap benefits, says study.
If you’re having trouble jumping into a new exercise routine and sticking with it, you may need to take a step back and consider exactly how best to form a healthy new habit.
The trick is to focus on cues that make hitting the gym or going for a run automatic, according to a new study out of Iowa State University. Lead researcher Alison Phillips, an assistant professor of psychology, uses the term "instigation habit" in her paper, which appears in a recent issue of the journal Health Psychology. It’s all about getting out the door so that “you’ll start exercising without having to think a lot about it or consider the pros and cons,” she says in a press release.
Whether it’s leaving work at the end of the workday or an alarm in the morning that signals to you it’s time to sweat, it appears that meaningful cues are the key to staying on track with fitness. For instance, if you're just starting an exercise routine, it may be more effective to work out at the same time every day than trying to squeeze in workouts at various times.
Phillips and her colleagues asked 118 healthy adults about their exercise routines and found that nearly 50 percent said they had regularly worked out longer than 12 months. Phillips found that the stronger the instigation habit in those people, the more frequently they exercised—regardless of what regimen they were following. She suggests that forming the habit is independent from what that habit is. In other words, you can "try new types of exercise without worrying about losing the habit," Phillips says.
Phillips cites other research indicating that it may take a month of repeat behaviour before your new habit sticks.
More research needed
Phillips says more research is required to determine what kind of cues work best. If you’re starting a new routine, though, it can’t hurt to focus on the timing more than the particular sport or fitness class you choose for the first month or so. If the habit sticks, you can always switch from spin to zumba, after all.