Sometimes it takes getting back to the basics for something to really make sense.

You hear from fitness pros all the time that you need to “make exercise a lifelong habit.” And doesn’t that sound wonderful? One day, you wake up naturally at 5:00 am, and before you know it your shoes are tied and you are at class ready to sweat. You have little to no memory of how you got there – you just did it. Instinctively. Like covering your mouth when you sneeze. It has become a habit just like your foot hitting the brake when you see a red light.

But, does anyone really do this? How can something as complicated and broad as working out become a habit? And how long until it (finally!) happens for you?

Let’s look a little deeper into what a habit actually is and how you can use this knowledge to make sure exercise becomes second nature.

What is a habit?

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines habits as:

1. an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary
2. the prevailing disposition or character of a person’s thoughts and feelings
3. a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior
4. a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance

Habits are routine behaviors done on a regular basis. Habits don’t have to be completely involuntary, and most of the time they are not. People are smart- we only do things if we get a positive result, even on an unconscious level, so often habits are something we feel compelled to do to achieve that benefit as opposed to something that just happens. Even if the action is negative, like cigarette smoking, smokers get something positive out of it: decreased anxiety through the chemicals themselves, the actual act of smoking, or a combination of the two. That’s why quitting smoking is so difficult: because in order to break the smoking habit, one must find a positive in NOT smoking that the body will crave more than positive it usually gets from smoking. This is also why replacement therapy (with exercise or a different oral stimulus) is such an effective quitting tool.

Exercise works much the same way. You must receive a benefit from exercise for your body to begin to crave it. Sure, you can use your lifelong health as a benefit to get you to the gym but long term effects aren’t as powerful as instant gratification. What is? The amazing feeling you get after a workout. Physically, after exercise, your body receives a flood of endorphins, boosting your mood, relieving stress, increasing energy and clearing your mind, leaving you better suited to tackle your day. It can be easy to miss this when you rush to grab your stuff, head to car and dive right back into busy life immediately after boot camp, but it does happen. If done on a consistent basis, your body will recognize that exercise makes you feel good, and it will begin to urge you to move everyday. Your legs won’t magically start running out of nowhere of course, but you will notice a change in how you feel and your attitude toward fitness. Eventually, you won’t feel good if you don’t workout. You just won’t feel right. People that experience this are the people that have developed a fitness habit.

Those that don’t yet know what this feels like to have a habit of fitness think people are insane when they say, “If I don’t workout, I’m off all day” or “I can’t wait to get into the gym” because they haven’t experienced that yet, but it happens. Everything we do is controlled by impulses firing across synapses that dictate communication in the brain. When any behavior is repeated often enough, the synaptic pathways associated with that specific pattern become more used to being accessed, making it easier for those impulses to travel along those pathways and the behavior becomes more natural and less of a struggle.

Most experts say a habit takes 3 weeks of solid effort to begin to form. After 3 weeks of consistent exercise, you should begin to feel a change in how you view exercise. The longer you are consistent, the more fitness becomes ingrained in who you are. With time and repetition, your body will get so used to being flooded with feel-good endorphins, feeling a high you can only get from a good, sweaty butt kicking that you’ll want to feel that great everyday. You’ll still have to make the effort to get your butt into the gym, but it gets easier as exercise turns into something you look forward to consciously and crave subconsciously.

Also Read:

Early Workouts: How to Become a Morning Person

Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals

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