Exercise Is Genuinely Habit-forming

Many of us fail to reach our exercise goals. Then we can feel guilty or like we let ourselves down. New research might be comforting. While picking up working out can be difficult, once you start, it becomes a habit you stick to — even for people who are averse to exercise!

A seven-year study looked at 110 people who lived sedentary lives before starting. For a year, they were in an instructor-led walking group. Initially, there were 650 people in the study. By the end of the year, 326 were still walking. Four months later, 258 were exercising regularly even though the group no longer met. Seven years later, the researchers reached out and connected to 110 of them. They were mostly in their early 60s.

Fifty-nine percent of the participants still exercised the recommended amount, despite not being enthusiastic about exercise prior to the study. Only 11 people in the group had gone back to being sedentary. The remaining members of the group exercised for fewer than 150 minutes a week. Overall, the group weighed less than they had seven years before, prior to the study. Walking speed is a sign of longevity and health and was faster than before the study for the people who exercised.  

This could indicate that even a low level of physical activity tends to keep weight under control,” the researchers wrote.

Many of us overthink exercise, stress out about it, push ourselves too hard and then give up. The great thing about the walking group was that it gave people structure and accountability while also being a gentle form of exercise. They could form the habit without it being hard on their bodies or a source of stress or frustration. Walking is a form of endurance training, but it can be done with friends. It can be a social activity that may help people build confidence in their physical abilities as they become fitter. Starting with just one step is the beginning! It’s not about walking a marathon — just getting out and going around the block is a great start. You can build up gradually as you get fitter.

Remember, unless you’re in an actual competition, you’re not in any competition at all. Health isn’t about winning; it’s about improving. Getting fitter physically is a journey. Once you start moving, you’ll find it becomes easier. This new research shows that you’re likely to stick with it! So put on your walking shoes and walk out your front door!  

Since walking groups are effective and safe, with good adherence and wide-ranging health benefits, they should be adopted as part of public health policy,” the researchers wrote.

Banner image: Greg Rosenke via Unsplash

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