How many PT's does it take to form an exercise habit?
Is there a point at which I can tell my clients that their routine is fixed, that they'll always make the right food choices and be positively effervescent about their workout?
(Hmmm, sometimes it's more like how long until they'll get fed up of me and find a more pressing use for their time?)
Is it possible to know that your exercise routine is now fixed, especially if you've never been a regular exerciser? Won't you still feel the sofa calling or be distracted by work?
The internet is full of success stories about how it only takes 21 days to form a habit. In truth, the only study I can find puts the number from anywhere between 18-256 days. So is it possible to find a routine and how have other people succeeded?
One client of mine crams a quick daily cardio in before his morning shower. Recently, he had to work on a weekend (when he wouldn't normally do his cardio) and yes, he completed an extra session without thinking about it. He has spent decades failing to find a routine that suits but it's so ingrained now that it seemed easy. It took him 9 months of maintenance before he had formed the habit.
Another client would usually complete a single physiotherapy exercise shortly after breakfast. When I added her toning moves in as a follow on she immediately struck up her new habit and feels incomplete without her daily program.
All good news for them but what about you?
Googling "how to form an exercise habit" took me down a rabbit hole of well meaning advice but it was low on success stories from non-exercisers making good. The best one was from someone who advised a "fake it 'til you make it" approach which I loved. Just pretending they were doing a great job had been enough to inspire them to make real change.
In the study on routine change participants could choose their own goal. Some vowed to eat an extra piece of fruit every day, others to run for 15 minutes before dinner every evening. I can imagine one of those goals being more accessible for most of us than the other!
I think there's 2 parts to the routine change. Firstly, make the change. Secondly make the change feel like the normal. If the change is to lose a stone then do that (feels tricky? Get in touch!) Then keep working towards the normal. In this case you could vow to keep the meal planner going long term, continue to make packed lunches or have a ceremonial burning of the fat person wardrobe (I'm kidding!).
Maybe routine isn't just one thing. Maybe it's a catalogue of mental shortcuts that help streamline our day (for example, shower, breakfast, coffee, work). So maybe it's too much to expect routine change in just one area of life. Once the change has filtered down through every potential daily situation then we have more chance of it becoming the new norm.
My advice? Don't feel disheartened if your change doesn't follow the guidelines. As long as you feel committed to the end goal you're still in flux and still working towards the new norm. And that's a good place to be.
Enjoy Good Health!