Do you eat breakfast as soon as you wake up? Do you adjust your rear-view mirror before putting your key in the ignition? Do you have a coffee as soon as you walk into work? These are simple things that some people do on a regular basis. But what you don’t realise is that these are all habits, and they have slowly formed over time and become so autonomous with your daily routine that they can go unnoticed.
The benefits of exercise are well documented with numerous research, but often the hardest place to undertake regular exercise is the start, and then to make it part of your daily routine. I often see people who have tried numerous exercising programs and diets based on what they have read on the internet, found it’s not working for them which has resulted in them throwing away whatever it is that they were doing. Whether it’s because they didn’t see any results as they were promised or didn’t enjoy what they were doing, this in turn resulted in no habit being formed and therefore no ability for it become automatic and apart of your weekly routine. Hopefully by the time you read this, you will understand how habits work and some tips on making healthy habits that can positively impact your life.
The origin of habit’s
For years, the basal ganglia was only thought to play a role in Parkinson’s disease (a neurological condition in which damage is caused to a region of the brain that produces dopamine). That was until researchers at MIT, Cambridge in the 1990’s noticed that injuries to the basal ganglia in animals saw them struggle with running through a maze and opening jars of food. During the experiment, in which they got mice to run through a maze, the researchers noticed significant changes in basal ganglia activity.
The graph below shows the changes in basal ganglia activity when they initially ran through the maze (left), to when they ran through it after several turns (right). As you can see through in decision making process through the middle of each graph, much lower brain activity is required to produce the same outcome on the right graph. This data lead the researchers to believe that as the pattern became recognisable, the basal ganglia would decrease its output to perform the same task.
How do we develop habits?
The researchers proposed that a loop system could be operating as to how this recurring pattern developed. The “Habit Loop” (see below) describes the process in which a habit is formed.
In regards to the mice, the buzzer sounded to begin the maze, the routine was going through the maze, and the reward was the chocolate if they got to the end.
So……how does this all relate to you?
Developing a sustainable habit, although may sound easy, can be a long and highly individual process. What I mean by that is that what works for 1 person isn’t going to work for the other, and that the time for it to feel apart of your weekly routine can take longer for some than others. Below I have written just a few key things you can do, that can assist you in developing a habit for regular exercise and reaping the rewards for a lifetime.
- See a qualified health professional – A qualified health professional can assist you in developing numerous aspects of your training regime from goals to helping keep you accountable.
- Block out a regular time during the week – Having a regular time slot during the week can help make this feel autonomous
- Train with friends – Training with friends can make exercise more enjoyable while also encouraging the social aspect of exercise
- Leave cues – Do things that will help remind you of performing regular exercise. These may include: leaving gear at the front door, an alarm for when your session is about to start or having a spare change of clothes at work that is visible from your work station
- Reward yourself – Don’t be afraid to indulge, in moderation of course. If you have had a good session with your Performance coach or friends, reward yourself with something you generally don’t do.
Remember, hitting the gym may not be your go to form of exercise, nor will performing long runs on the weekend. Finding out what works for you and what you enjoy will go along way in helping you develop a habit for exercise that is not only sustainable but enjoyable.
By Exercise Physiologist & Performance Coach Adam Luther.