Let’s be real. When it comes to starting a fitness plan, good intentions don’t always turn into long-term results. How many times have you jumped into exercising with both feet (literally), only to revert to old patterns a few weeks later?
You’re not alone. Losing weight and staying healthy isn’t just a matter of hard work: They require changes to the way you eat, the way you work out, and the way you approach daily life. In other words, you have to break old habits and create new ones.
Making Fitness a Habit
Just how hard is it to change ingrained habits? When researchers at MIT tracked people’s everyday activities, they found that a staggering 90% of what people do each day is so dictated by routine and so consistent, that mathematical equations can accurately predict future behavior. Bottom line, it’s human nature to simply revert to the comfort of our existing routines. This means making exercise a habit requires a bit of conscious effort and some willingness.
The first thing to note is that if you’re going to start an exercise habit, an incremental approach works better than going big right out of the gate. One or two workouts that leave you feeling exhausted and sore aren’t enough to lose weight, and they might just discourage you from getting into an exercise routine. Instead, to fall in love with fitness you should follow this simple, but powerful three-step neurological process: cue, reward, execute.
Here’s how it works:
Let’s say you’re trying to get into the habit of working out. Laying out your workout gear the night before would be an example of a cue. Planning your workouts for the same time each day or the same days and times each week to establish a routine is another helpful cue. Giving yourself a treat, like a decadent bath (we’re talking candles, bath bombs, soothing music…the works), or 30 minutes of guilt-free reality TV after you complete your workout would be your reward. Lastly, following this same pattern for several weeks in a row would be the execute part of the process.
What’s happening is, you’re training your brain to crave the reward and, therefore, the new routine. If you stick with it (#ConsistencyIsKey), over time you’ll create good exercise habits and sustainable results. When you truly make exercise a habit, studies show, it can help keep weight off after you’ve lost it.
How to Get Started (When You Really Don’t Wanna)
The best way to start working out to lose weight is to … well, start. But it’s more important to establish a workout routine you can actually sustain— even build on — long term. To do that, you’re going to have to break unhealthy patterns and create new behaviors.
Since getting into the habit of working out is one of the most important steps to getting and staying fit, here’s how to set yourself up for success:
- Set SMART goals
Working toward a goal is a powerful motivator, as long as it’s the right goal. Whether you’re just starting out or easing back into working out, you need to be able to clearly measure your progress. Therefore, your goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timebound. Instead of “work out more,” try “work out for 30 minutes at least three days a week for the next four weeks.
That’s a SMART goal because it specifies how much time and how often you’ll work out – it’s measurable. The goal is also realistic, requires you to take action, and includes a time frame. Other SMART fitness goals include walking one mile every day this month, running a 10-minute mile in 30days, or being able to do 10 full consecutive push-ups within two weeks’ time.
- Get support
A helpful way to get started working out is to do it with friends or family. When people take part in weight-loss programs with other people, they gain a combination of accountability and social support. As a result, research shows, two-thirds maintain their weight loss six months later compared with only 25% of people who tackle a program on their own. Working out with your significant other can also strengthen your relationship, and exercising with your kids is a great way to strengthen family bonds while instilling healthy habits together.
- Start Small
To ease into working out, keep things so simple that it’s almost impossible to fail. A good way to start exercising is to do three push-ups a day or five minutes of walking a day. Then, gradually increase the intensity. Don’t let a crowded calendar stand in your way. Instead of struggling to find an hour to go to the gym, break it into smaller 15- or 30-minute blocks of time throughout the day or work out at home.
- Commit to consistency
Exercising for weight loss relies on repetition. But how long does it take to form an exercise habit? Research proves that adding one change at a time to your exercise program and sticking to it, no matter what, for at least four weeks is the beginning of habit formation. For example in one study, participants were paid to exercise for 28 days within the same general time frame each day. Ten months later, those participants were more likely to still be exercising than those who didn’t work out at a consistent time.
- Have a backup plan
Life happens. To firmly establish your exercise routine, don’t let yourself off the hook too easily. To ensure you stay on track, create contingency plans — “if this, then that” strategies — in advance. If you usually exercise at home for 30 minutes before work, your backup plan could be to take a 30-minute walk during your lunch break. That way, even if you unexpectedly spend your morning dealing with plumbing, you’ll still get your fitness time.
- Be patient
Most importantly, patience is key. Skip the fads, focus on your behaviors versus the end result, stay consistent and think long-term. You’re creating new habits that you want to last a lifetime. Take realistic steps toward your goal and stick with them.
For help kicking off your weight-loss success story, download Sworkit today and let our trainers and Support Heroes help you get (and stay) fit for life.