The #1 Way to Create a Fitness Habit That Sticks
Sticking with a fitness program long-term isn’t easy. Life gets in the way, even for those with decathlete-worthy dedication and willpower of steel. Add to that the inexact science about what it takes to turn intention into a lasting habit, and we can end up rolling our eyes instead of lifting our weights.
But a new study suggests that you can create a fitness habit that sticks by following a simple formula:
- Make the habit small, frequent, and short-term
- Start with a smaller habit (like walking for 10 minutes a day)
- Make the habit short-term (don’t try to do it all at once)
- Do it frequently (at least once a day)
I’ve found that following this formula helps me to create a fitness habit that sticks — and that means I’m more likely to get to the gym, get in a workout, and have a productive workout experience, whether it’s lifting weights, running, or playing a game of pickup basketball with my friends, family, or roommates — and that’s a huge win for me and the world at large!
Why Make Your Habits Small, Frequent, and Short-Term?
There’s a reason that the “10,000-hour rule” is so popular among elite athletes: It’s a proven fact that if you practice something enough, you’ll become good at it, and you’ll become good at it quickly — you can become an expert at something within a few years of practicing it, even if you start from scratch and have no prior experience (as is the case with most of us).
But if you practice something too much, it becomes hard to get to that expert level, because you’re not making new neural connections in your brain anymore — you’re using the same neural connections over and over again, and that doesn’t allow for new learning to occur (as a neuroscientist, I know this to be true).
So, the key to creating a habit that sticks is to make it small, frequent, and short-term, which means that you’re not practicing a habit all the time, but instead you’re practicing it just once or twice a week for a few minutes at a time — and then you move on to the next habit, and so on and so forth, until you have a series of small habits that you follow throughout the week, and then you follow those small habits for the rest of your life, until you’ve created a lifelong habit that will help you reach your fitness goals!
The Importance of Small, Frequent, and Short-Term
In the study, the researchers found that it’s the small, frequent, and short-term nature of the habit that helps people create a fitness habit that sticks:
“Small” refers to the habit being relatively small, and in this case, that means that the study participants were asked to follow a habit that involved walking for 10 minutes a day (although they could increase or decrease that time, and the researchers also included a “no habit” group as a control).
“Frequent” refers to the habit being repeated at least once a day, so that it’s something that people could do as a way of reinforcing their motivation to follow the habit (they could also repeat the habit multiple times a day, but the researchers only asked about one time a day).
“Short-term” refers to the habit being a short-term activity that people could do for only a few minutes a day, and the researchers found that this helped to keep people focused and motivated to follow the habit, because it would only take a few minutes out of their day (they could also repeat the habit multiple times a day, but the researchers only asked about one time a day).
Why Small, Frequent, and Short-Term?
Here’s why making your habit small, frequent, and short-term helps to create a fitness habit that sticks:
Small: It’s easy to follow a small habit that only takes a few minutes, and that’s what we’re trying to do in this study — we’re trying to create a habit that people can follow for a few minutes each day, and then move on to the next habit, and so on.
I grew up at the summit in Lee, Missouri, and knew from a young age that I’m interested in health and wellness. This interest stems from my passion for dancing and my understanding of the connection between health and performance. When I realized that I would no longer participate in competitive dance after graduating from high school, I knew I needed to find a way to maintain an active lifestyle and then find the motivation to succeed in the gym.