Many Iowans who made New Year’s resolutions a month ago to get fit may have already given up on shedding the pounds, but an Iowa State University study is looking at ways to help you stick to the weight loss plan.
ISU psychology professor Alison Phillips says having what she calls an “instigation cue” can light the spark that prompts you to succeed at developing good exercise habits.
“An instigation cue is a cue that tells you, ‘Okay, it’s time to start exercising,’ or to head to the gym or go for a run,” Phillips says. “It’s a cue in the environment that lets you know automatically, it’s time to go exercise.” The ISU study, published in the journal Health Psychology, finds that these cues can push you to get moving and may help to increase frequency, more so than the type of activity.
She’s still researching the best way for anyone to create an effective cue for themselves.”If you exercise consistently after the cue, then it will become habitual just through repetition,” Phillips says. “You do have to stick with it and it will take effort in the short-term, but if you repeat it enough, your exercise, in the same context, we think an instigation cue will develop.” If you have a schedule that changes from day to day, it’s important to pick a cue that’ll work for your lifestyle.
“I have chosen something that I know happens every day, at least every work day, which is the end of the work period,” Phillip says. “Whenever that happens to be, 3 P.M., 5 P.M., 7 P.M., when I’m finished working, I exercise before dinner. I try and pick a consistent cue that I know will fit into my daily schedule, at least most days of the week.” If you pick a type of exercise you enjoy, whether it’s swimming, walking outside or playing racquetball, if you find something you like, you’ll be more likely to latch on to it for the long haul.
“Not everyone likes exercising when they begin, in fact, most people don’t when they first start, but that’s okay,” Phillips says. “I have found that when people stick with a behavior long enough, even if they don’t find it enjoyable at first, they come to like it.”
Phillip says if you’re exercising for long-term health benefits, exercise must be a life-long behavior, as it’s not a temporary fix.
Photo courtesy of Iowa State University.