It’s now the middle of September 2020 and I just completed a FREE Back to School – no – wait – Exercise Challenge. I had been hearing from a lot of members and friends that the summer slump was real and I wanted to help. My goal for this challenge was to help those that joined learn the best ways to exercise over 50, to remember how good it feels to make their health a priority and to get back into the “habit” of exercise again. That got me thinking…how long does it take to create a healthy habit…
Everyone is familiar with these scenarios: you join a challenge, like we just did, and you are pumped up and can’t wait to keep going OR you find that diet, THE diet that’s going to fix you right up, OMG this is going to change your life. And you start and it goes really well but then suddenly, quickly, you lose interest or you skip a few workouts, you make excuses, get distracted and before you know it, it’s done and you’re done.
Enthusiasm and willpower can only go so far. What will help you achieve your health and fitness goals in the long run is to make them a habit!
“OK, Amy, so how do I do this?” I’m glad you asked and here is some really good information I found!
This was a really cool study: Time it Takes to Form a Habit (here is the study) Participants were asked to pick something to do that was health promoting – an activity or behavior and tie that to a daily cue.
For example, some people chose to drink a glass of water each day right before breakfast. Drinking water was the health promoting activity and fixing breakfast was the cue. Some decided to exercise before dinner; exercise was the activity and before dinner was the cue. Get it?
For each day during the experiment, participants were asked about how automatic that behavior seemed to be to them. After the study concluded, researchers found that it was an average of 66 days before an activity felt natural.
And it’s the natural or automatic element of this that’s important.
A habit is a behavior that’s often done naturally without any meaningful thought.
For example, fastening a seat belt when you get into a car. There was a time when this wasn’t a legal requirement but now the vast majority of us do it without thinking.
But 66 days?? That seems longer than the 21 days I was told it took to form a habit and the problem is that although 66 days was the average, for some people it took far longer – up to 254 days in fact.
254 days! That’s a long time!
Don’t get discouraged by this. The important thing to remember is that habits are formed one day at a time and if you want to make exercise a habit I have 4 tips that might help.
Carve out a space you can exercise in and keep all the equipment there, neat and ready to go. Keep your gym clothes ready-to-go. Put your workout shoes so you see them right when you wake up. The more obstacles in front of you the harder it will be to create a routine, and the harder something is, the more likely you are to make up an excuse not to do it.
Create some consistency
For me, 9 AM is the perfect time to exercise so I block it out. I’ve had my coffee, walked the dog and had some time to catch up with those “caffeine needed” work tasks (like writing blogs or emails!)
But remember, the right behaviors are developed through consistency, not frequency. What do I mean by this? When a new member joins the Be Healthy Enough Online Exercise Platform I give them the lecture to start slowly, watch the “newness” excitement and work to build a strong foundation first. Be consistent for 3 days a week at first for no more than 30 minutes – no excuses, no skipping out on it regardless of what you’re doing (treat it like you’re fastening your seat belt…it’s that important). Once you develop that consistent routine then you can increase the frequency by adding a day or a longer workout.
If you have to miss a day, no biggy because you’ve got time to make it up. If you workout too often you’re likely to hurt yourself or get discouraged because you can’t fit it all in and stop all together.
Make exercise fun.
There are thousands of different ways to move so don’t think you have to do the one you hate. In fact if you hate it, you won’t do it unless you are super disciplined! If you enjoy walking do that and find ways to make it a good workout like adding weights or hills or speeding things up.
While I know a lot of people like group classes (and so do I), as I’m typing there aren’t many in person ones available in our area. Find online workouts or classes that you identify with, enjoy the instructor and make sure it fits your skill level and personality. I know of one really good one, hint, hint 🙂 The Be Healthy Enough Online Exercise Platform where I have over 100 workout videos designed for us over 50 crowd. I also create a new plan each month and have custom plans for you to follow along with so you don’t have to figure out what workout to do each day…one less obstacle!
Track your progress.
Keep track of the days and the progress you’re making so that you can see how far you’ve come since day 1. Set some goals, too, having something to aim for can give you a motivating reason to get out of bed or off that couch! If you’d like to find your OWN motivation download my Motivation Statement Guide where I step you through the process of finding your WHY!
You’re going to have to accept that there will be rough days. There will be days when there is no way to fit in exercise or get motivated to even put on your workout shoes. That is OK!. Pick it back up again tomorrow or switch to something you do feel like doing that day.
We’re all looking for a quick-fix but nothing worth doing well is ever done easily or quickly.
Making exercise a habit is going to take patience, time and consistency but it’ll be worth it.
And 66 days is nothing, really.