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Exercise: How To Form Positive Lasting Habits
Have you ever heard of an axiom? It is the word used to describe a commonly believed and accepted fact which is, in fact, not necessarily proven. Let us give you an example. It only takes 21 days to form a new habit. This is repeated worldwide by scientists, fitness experts, behavioural therapists, sports psychologists and many more. However, it simply isn’t true.
Well, for some personality types, it can take as short as 18 days to form a new habit. But the average amount of time it takes someone to do so is, in fact, 66 days (so, more than two months).
This is one of the many wonders of the human body – the ability to ‘re-wire’ one’s own brain and form new routines and habits. The technical term for this ability is ‘self-directed neuroplasticity’ and essentially this ability means that you can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks! So, no matter how old you are, it is never too late to make positive and lasting changes to your health and fitness.
According to Psychology Today, habits form ‘when new behaviors become automatic and are enacted with minimum conscious awareness.’ That's because the behavioral patterns that we repeat most often are literally etched into our neural pathways.
So, here are a few tips for making positive habitual change to your everyday health and fitness.
1. Make a Plan
You know the famous phrase… ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’. Annoyingly, it’s true. So, spend some time working out how you are going to work regular exercise into your daily routine. Where will you go? Who will you be with? Will you need any additional equipment? What do you hope to achieve from this plan? Importantly, write it down or keep a record of it. It’ll keep you honest and increase the chances of you sticking to the plan.
2. Mix It Up
Even though it might seem logical to pick your favourite types of exercise, they may not be sustainably interesting to continue doing regularly for the long term. So, build a few different types of exercise into your plan. This will keep things interesting and give you one less excuse to drop a training session because it is starting to feel monotonous or repetitive.
3. Be Flexible
The best plans factor in variation and an element of the unexpected. For example, is your exercise plan restricted by your location or could you, in theory, maintain it wherever you were in the world? Also, if you had planned to exercise for an hour but your day didn’t pan out as planned, instead of cancelling it altogether, why not still get in a 30-minute workout?
4. Be Kind to Yourself
Sometimes your head just isn’t in the game. We know what it’s like. It’s a tough balance because exercise can often be a great antidote to low mood, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed. However, sometimes, you need to be kind to your mind and take a night off.
Also, over-training is a very real and dangerous phenomenon. It might be that your body is feeling the toll of an increased level of exercise and you need to pull back slightly and reduce the amount or intensity of your exercise in order to carry on sustainably..
5. Celebrate Your Progress
What’s the point in all of the blood, sweat and tears if you don’t make a point of celebrating an achieved goal or reached milestone? So, have you hit one of your goals? Let your hair down! Do something special (with someone special perhaps) to mark your achievement. And make it memorable as that will spur you on when you set your next increased goal for the future ;) !
So, there it is. Don’t believe the axioms. Embrace self-directed neuroplasticity and look forward to forming more positive and lasting habits for your mental and physical health and fitness.
To find out about the range of physical health facilities, teams and opportunities which Exeter University Sport offers, visit https://sport.exeter.ac.uk to find out more.
Date: 7 July 2022