For many people a common goal of the new year is to increase the amount of exercise they are doing as part of a way to improve their physical and mental well-being. However, trying to incorporate exercise into your busy lifestyle and maintain being physically active as a healthy lifestyle habit can be difficult.
Research suggests that a behaviour, like exercise, is likely to become a habit when an individual engages in this behaviour frequently and consistently.
But how do I start?
Well, by setting the goal to increase your level of exercise is one of the biggest steps you can take towards maintaining a physically active lifestyle – just make sure your goal is S.M.A.R.T.
Specific: Well defined, clear, and unambiguous
Measurable: With specific criteria that measure your progress toward the accomplishment of the goal
Achievable: Attainable and not impossible to achieve
Realistic: Within reach, realistic, and relevant to your life purpose
Timely: With a clearly defined timeline, including a starting date and a target date
E.g., On February 1, I will cycle 3 times week around my neighbourhood for 30minutes. My aim is that by start of June I will be able to ride 30km in an hour.
If you cannot think of specific goal or unsure how to get going, you may wish to start small and/or look for opportunities to incorporate exercise into your daily life. For example, taking the stairs to work rather than the elevator or packing your swimsuit in your work bag to stop by the pool on your way home.
Another tip to help increase the chance of exercise becoming a habit is to combine it with social support or an area of interest (e.g., going to gym/a walk with a friend, playing a team sport). An added benefit of working out with another person is that it adds extra motivation as well as enjoying the social interaction.
Address any barriers. For example, for myself a big barrier is getting out of bed in the morning. To help with me following through and going for a run is to charge my phone in the kitchen so I have to get out of bed to turn off my alarm in the morning and lay my workout gear out.
Right, so you’ve set your goal, made plans, arranged a time and place, now it is time to take action! While believing that you can change things for yourself and having self-motivation is a powerful part of maintaining a behaviour/habit, it is important to remember that action often needs to come before motivation – so get moving!
And if you get stuck, don’t forget that psychologists are great at helping people make positive changes in their lives. Give us a call if we can be of service.
van der Weiden, A., Benjamins, J., Gillebaart, M., Ybema, J. F., & de Ridder, D. (2020). How to form good habits? A longitudinal field study on the role of self-control in habit formation. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 560.