fitness

Science has figured out the one way to make your fitness habit stick.

Image via Comedy Channel.

I’ve lost count of the number of fitness and exercise resolutions I’ve made. There was that time I decided to become a yogi, yet never attended a class. Or that time I was sure a gym membership would force me to exercise. It didn’t.

So what’s the secret to committing to exercise and actually following through with it?

Well, a new study claims to have figured out the solution to your inability to do regular exercise, and it’s all about creating a habit that’s harder to break.

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The research published in the journal Health Psychology found that it’s not the action of exercising that is key to maintaining a routine, but rather the “instigation habit” or the cues that signal that it’s time to work out that will actually increase exercise frequency. (Post continues after gallery.)

So, if you hear you alarm go off in the morning, and without question, know that it’s time to throw on your joggers and head out the door for a walk, you’re on the right track. Your exercise routine needs to be as much of a no-brainer as brushing your teeth.

Researchers asked 118 healthy adults to rate their exercise instigation and execution habit strength, then tracked how often they exercised over the course of the following month.

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Five per cent of participants reported not exercising, while 50 per cent said they had regularly exercised for longer than 12 months. The results showed that exercise instigation habit strength was the only unique predictor of exercise frequency.

Is a spin class after work part of your daily routine?

"From a health perspective, we want people to engage in physical activity frequently, and so instigation habit is the type of habit to promote that to happen," said co-researcher Alison Phillips, an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University.

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"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."

Phillips has a point - half the time it's the immediate period before I exercise that is make or break - as I weigh up whether I have time/can be bothered/ would prefer that extra twenty minutes in bed.

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By making it a natural, reflexive action associated with an event or signal that regularly happens in your day, you lessen the power of that internal debate.

The study gives examples of people who exercise after work, with the end of the work day acting as their cue to drive to the gym rather than home.

Alternatively, if you exercise in the morning your cue may be your alarm clock.

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However Phillips warns it's not going to happen overnight, with most research suggesting that it could take a month or longer of repeated behaviour before a cue automatically triggers a behaviour. But sticking with the same time of day can be helpful at the beginning.

And it's for people wanting to start a new routine that the researchers believe these findings could prove most helpful.

"For anyone who is new to exercise or uncomfortable going to the gym, following the same routine can help build self-confidence at the activity and being active in general," they say. (Post continues after gallery.)

It's important to remember that you don't have to do the same type of exercise over and over again for fear of breaking the habit.

"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," she says.

"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."

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As for finding out exactly which cues get the best results, Phillips says as this study is preliminary, more research is required - but it's a promising start.

"It's really just the first clue that maybe what we have been doing isn't right for everyone. And, I think it's hopeful that the research shows you can keep up an 'exercise habit' without having to stick to the same boring activities over time." she said.

Do you have a trick to exercising regularly? We'd love to hear it below!

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