Building healthy exercise habits: a guide for Australian seniors
We all want to create healthy habits in our lives – but it’s all about our willpower, right?
James Clear, author of the book ‘Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones’, argues that it may not be that complicated. By tuning in to our human psychology through behavioural science, we can actually create an environment where new habits flourish.
In this article, we will explore James’ unique four-step system of habit formation based on the Four Laws of Behaviour Change. I will also share some personal insights on what has helped me to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Step 1: Cue – ‘Make it obvious’
A ‘cue’ is simply a signal for action – something that you may see, feel, observe or be that prompts you to perform a particular behaviour. There are five primary cues for habit formation: time, location, preceding event, emotional state and other people. The key to selecting a successful cue is to choose something specific and immediately applicable.
A few examples below illustrate this point:
- At 8am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will put my joggers on to walk (time).
- When I walk into the kitchen, I will have a sip of water (location).
- When I wash my hands, I will complete three knee bends (preceding event).
Make the cue as obvious as possible, so you consistently kick off the process of thinking about the new habit.
Pro tip: Tie in a new habit you want to form with a routine that is already well established. This is called ‘habit stacking’.
Step 2: Craving – ‘Make it attractive’
A craving is how you respond to a given cue. This will be different for different people.
For example, a tea-lover may see a kettle (cue) and think: “Ooh, I would like a cup of tea! I should boil the kettle.”
Unfortunately, the things that are most healthy for us often aren’t the most attractive. So how do we make positive habits more attractive?
One helpful strategy is called ‘temptation bundling’. Temptation bundling is pairing something you really want to do with the thing that you need to do. Using the example above, this could be: “When I have a cup of tea, I will lift my arms up 10 times while the kettle boils.”
Some exercises and movements are inherently more enjoyable for us than others. Take a moment to consider the exercises and activities you genuinely enjoy (not what you think you should enjoy). Jot them down. I love to be outdoors and play sport. It is no surprise, therefore, that my habit of playing a ball sport was much more successful than attending the indoor gym.
Consider the activity that works for you and tap into it. The exercise routine you have is most attractive when it includes the activities you enjoy.
Pro tip: Where possible, ask a friend to exercise with you virtually, on the phone or in person. TPC’s online exercise class is a great way to do this. It keeps you accountable and often makes the activity much more fun.
Step 3: Response – ‘Make it easy’
The response is the action itself. The more straightforward, frictionless and convenient the action is, the more likely you are to complete it. Consider how to make exercising as easy as possible. Where is your exercise gear at the moment? Is it easy to access?
I hate to dig through my washing to find an exercise top, shorts and clean socks – and it slows me down. I am more likely to go for a walk if I have an easy-to-reach place for my workout clothes and gear (they now have a little sectioned spot together in my drawer). This makes the idea of exercise much less demanding for me as everything I need to get going is in the same place.
Can you change your environment to make it easier for you?
Step 4: Reward – ‘Make it satisfying’
Yay! At TPC, celebrating is encouraged in our core values. Getting healthy and working at maintaining an exercise routine deserves to be celebrated!
The core idea with this step is that when a new behaviour is followed by a feeling of pleasure, satisfaction and/or achievement, then you have a reason to repeat it in the future. Your brain figuratively sends a signal saying: “This is good. Let’s do it again.” Your mind may even begin to anticipate the reward when you start to exercise. Let’s go back to our tea-drinker for a moment. If the prize is a nice cup of tea, as soon as the arm lifts start, they know that a nice, hot cuppa is on its way. Now comes the fun part: think of personal, unique rewards for yourself.
We have just walked through James Clear’s four steps of building effective habits and examined ways to apply this to exercise.
To help you apply these things right away, you can download a planner that summarises these four steps. There is space for you to write down your own ideas. You can find it here – TPC Habit Planner
I would love to see what you come up with to stay mobile, safe and happy!
By reading this article, you have already made a crucial start towards forming healthy exercise habits. Now keep up the excellent work!
The Physio Co’s team of physiotherapists are available to visit you wherever you call home, and available for online consultations. We are here to help, so get in touch today for more information – please call on 1300 797 793 or email [email protected]
Article written by Emily Johnson – Physiotherapist, Sydney