• Ask Well: Making Exercise a Habit

    January 16, 2015 MVP Blog comments

    NYTimes.

    What’s the best way to create a habit of exercising? I want to exercise regularly but its hard for me to do things daily.

    You are not alone, especially now, when many of us make New Year’s resolutions to be more active, which we promptly break.

    But there are ways to bolster your resolve, said Ryan Rhodes, a professor of behavioral medicine at the University of Victoria in British Columbia who studies exercise intention and compliance.

    First, set a realistic goal, Dr. Rhodes said. “People who intend to exercise a lot, such as four or more times a week, are more likely not to meet those intentions,” he said, than people who aim lower.

    Also, don’t undermine yourself at the outset. “Someone can plan to go to the gym Friday at 5:30 a.m. before work and do powerlifting,” he said. But if that person hates waking early, doesn’t enjoy the gym, and knows nothing about weight training, those intentions will evaporate.

    Instead, consider all of the practical obstacles that stand between you and exercise, and address them, Dr. Rhodes said. Pack your gym bag the night before and set it by the door. Check public transportation schedules if you do not have a car. Plan workouts for when you are most awake and energetic, and consistently set aside that same time for exercise so that it becomes habitual.

    Finally, and most importantly, choose an activity that leaves you feeling happy and confident, he said. Studies consistently show that people who dislike their workouts — a surprisingly large number — or feel clumsy and inept at them will not continue, he said, no matter how sincere their intentions. So if the treadmill bores you and CrossFit intimidates, try a spin class or water aerobics.

    “We all desire the health outcomes from regular exercise,” Dr. Rhodes concluded, “but we also need to work on finding the most pleasant experiences to actually achieve that behavior.”