How To Make Exercise An Automatic Habit

Aug 04, 2015

With the fun run and marathon season coinciding with the coldest time of the year, many runners may be questioning their desire to follow through with an early morning pavement pound.

Indeed many of us over the course of our lives would have attempted to begin a habit with positive health benefits only to notice a few months later that things haven’t quite gone as intended. Making an exercise or health related habit stick through the long term can be tricky however with the implementation of a few easy steps, long term adherence can be achieved through even the coldest of months.

Over the next few paragraphs we will look at the formation of habits and why they are important to everyday life and how we can use them to make exercise that little bit easier.

Habit is the word used to describe the process we engage in when presented with a cue (internal or environmental) which then triggers a routine which provides a reward.

Let’s take a moment to think about how much thought we put into the everyday tasks we did this morning. How much thought did you put into when you should brush your teeth or which shoe to put on first? My guess is not much and there is a reason for this. Our minds have evolved over time to easily convert common routines into habits because habits allow our minds to ramp down in terms of energy use more often. The region of our minds responsible for this ability is called the Basal Ganglia. People who have suffered damage to their Basal Ganglia through injury or disease have trouble performing basic tasks seemingly unable to ignore minute details.

Research has found that the most consistent exercisers are those that made exercise into a habit triggered by a cue (an instigation habit), like hearing your alarm and going for a run without having to think about it. Researchers found the strength of the instigation habit was the only factor that predicted how often a person exercised over the long term.

And finally the good news is it gets stronger over time.

As people start exercising more often, the instigation habit described above increases in strength making it easier to adhere to. This happens once you have been exposed to a cue repeatedly and our brains start craving the reward such as the endorphin release stimulated by a good cardiorespiratory workout.

The final ingredient that can make a habit a permanent behaviour is the kind of belief (specifically the belief that change is possible) that can be instilled through a sense of community such as exercising with a friend, within a group or under the guidance of a qualified professional.


Oaklander, Mandy – 09/07/2015 – Here’s the Best Way to Make Your Exercise Habit Stick – Time Magazine

Duhigg, Charles – The Power of Habit – William Heinemann - 2012