5 Research-Backed Habits of People Who Never Skip a Workout
Never fall off the wagon again: In her new book, a motivation scientist explains how to keep fitness a part of your life forever.
The first few weeks of a new fitness routine, you couldnâ€™t be more stoked. You practically pop out of bed to hit the gymâ€”rain or shine, snow or sleet! And then life happens. A colleague calls an early-morning meeting. A nasty cold strikes. You start to feel deflated, and your willpower fades.
Sound familiar? Itâ€™s a â€œvicious cycle of failure,â€ according to Michelle Segar, PhD, director of the Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center at the University of Michigan. For 20 years, sheâ€™s been studying motivation to figure out why so many of us struggle to keep itâ€”especially when it comes to healthy habits.
Her new book, No Sweat ($17, amazon.com), reveals how to make one of those key habits, exercise, a part of your lifeâ€”for good. (Hint: It involves banishing "should" thoughts!) Here, Segar, who also coaches clients, shares five simple tips that make perfect sense:
Count everythingâand add it up
Physical activity doesnâ€™t have to be time-consuming or intense to count as exercise. â€œMany of the things youâ€™re already doing qualify as healthy movement,â€ says Segar. So give yourself credit for crossing the parking lot (2 minutes), walking the dog (10 minutes), playing tag with your kids (15 minutes), gardening (20 minutes), even pushing a cart around the grocery store (25 minutes). â€œVirtually all of my clients have told me that the notion that â€˜everything countsâ€™ has been transformative for them,â€ Segar adds. â€œIt makes them feel successful every time they move, which leads to higher energy levels all day long.â€
Focus on the now
Once you start counting all the physical activity in your day, you realize itâ€™s possible to squeeze in a little more (without changing into workout clothes). â€œRather than thinking, I donâ€™t have time, you start thinking, I can fit this in!â€ Segar explains. Whenever you have a small pocket of timeâ€”even if its just five minutesâ€”ask yourself, What can I do right now? You might end up jogging the stairs 10 times, or knocking out a series of ab moves on the floor.
Do what feels good
â€œOur brains are hardwired to respond to immediate gratification, and to do what makes us feel good,â€ says Segar. This is one of the reasons we tend to give up on chore-like workouts. Segarâ€™s advice: Choose a type of movement that feels good to you, and you will want to choose it again and againâ€”whether itâ€™s as simple as hiking or as trendy as Buti yoga (think power yoga fused with tribal dance and plyometrics!). Research backs up this advice: A Portuguese study from 2011 found that enjoying exercise was among the strongest predictors of whether a person continued exercising and maintained weight loss for the next three years.
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Take ownership of your fitness
There are a lot of voices proclaiming that you â€œshouldâ€ exerciseâ€”from your friends and family to your doctor and the media. But the most important voice is your own, says Segar: â€œResearch suggests that a behavior change is more likely to ensue when youâ€™ve identified what you really want from it.â€ You may be seeking better moods or stress relief, or maybe you just want to catch up with your workout buddyâ€”it doesnâ€™t matter, as long as you know what youâ€™re after. (Not sure? Segarâ€™s book can help you identify goals that will really work for you.)
Make one change at a time
Many of us feel so excited about â€œgetting healthyâ€ that we try to do multiple things at once, Segar says. â€œWe decide to simultaneously work out more, learn to meditate, and start a new dietâ€”and thatâ€™s a recipe for burnout.â€ Try focusing on just exercise first, Segar says. And above all else, remember to keep it fun, because that is the true secret to lasting motivation. As Segar puts it, â€œDo the physical movement you want to do, when you want to do it, for the amount of time your life allows.â€ That's the best way to keep from lapsing altogether.
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