By Annika Piros, DPT Therapydia Tanasbourne
The health benefits of exercise have been well studied. The American College of Sports Medicine outlines the inverse relationship between physical activity and premature mortality, as well as many other negative health conditions. We all understand that exercise is beneficial to our health, however, finding time for regular exercise can be a challenge on top of an already busy schedule. How can we make exercise a daily habit?
I recently read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear who outlines many useful strategies for habit change. As someone who values daily exercise but admittedly struggles to establish routines in the face of change, I have found his strategies very helpful. Without a routine, I find myself expending additional energy on decision-making which becomes exhausting! We make so many decisions all day long: at our jobs, in our personal lives, even with simple tasks like what clothes to wear or what to make for dinner. Personally, the more I can get out of my own head and automate my behavior, the more successful I find myself to be with executing a desired behavior. Below, I have outlined three of James Clear’s strategies with applications for making exercise a daily habit:
Setting up an environment conducive to forming habits
This rule outlines the importance of your environment in dictating behavior, i.e. if you keep a plate of cookies on your kitchen countertop, you are likely to eat a cookie every time you walk through the kitchen. I think case-in-point for me is Halloween. My husband and I keep the candy next to the front door on Halloween night. However, this year, we left the bag of candy there for the next few days instead of diligently getting rid of it or hiding it. As you may have guessed, the temptation of taking a piece of candy every time I walk by the front door got the best of me and resulted in an excess of candy-eating by me.
Bottom line: Shape your environment to facilitate desirable behavior.
Application: Place important workout items in an obvious place that will act as a reminder for you to perform daily exercise. For me, putting a yoga mat or my workout clothes and shoes at the foot of my bed act as a facilitator. For those early morning movement sessions, I have also found knowing ahead of time what workout I am going to perform, as well as laying out my work clothes the night before, take the decision-making out of the picture and help automate my next steps.
The 2-minute rule to make or break your habit
This rule outlines the importance of starting small. “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.” – James Clear. By starting small, you are using this rule as a “gateway” habit that will eventually lead to the habit you want to instill.
Application: Maybe your goal is to run a 5K or do 30 minutes of yoga. Start by putting on your workout shoes or taking out your yoga mat for the first week. That’s it. Maybe you get one pose in or a walk around the block…or maybe you don’t even get to the exercise part. However, by starting small and making it easy, you can gradually progress towards the goal over time.
Identify a habit that you already do on a daily basis and then “stack” the new desired habit before or after the existing one. This will facilitate the automaticity of making exercise a daily habit.
Application: Current Habit >> followed by or preceded by >> New Habit.
For me, I love enjoying a warm cup of coffee in the morning. My current habit is that I go downstairs and drink a cup of coffee right after waking. By stacking this habit with a new one – putting on my workout clothes right before – I find it that much easier to do at least some sort of movement or exercise. That is…once the caffeine has kicked in.
And of course, if there are aches, pains, or physical disabilities that are keeping you from engaging in daily activity, making an appointment with your local physical therapist or medical provider is a great starting point. A physical therapist will help you restore physical function to get you back to your active lifestyle and help you reach your goals.