Just starting a new fitness routine or diet? New analysis reveals science-backed tips to ensure you stick to them
About 40 percent of Americans will embark on a new health kick each year – usually within the first few months.
But research shows that less than 10 percent of people will stick with their plan — whether it's a diet or exercise regimen that lasts more than a few months.
Now experts have offered some hope: They say new healthy habits CAN work, provided you follow a few simple, evidence-based rules.
“Science has proven that there are tools that can greatly help you pursue goals,” says psychologist Katy Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
'There are times that are much more motivating for setting new goals than others – and the most famous of these is of course the new year.'
Experts say it's possible to maintain new, healthy habits, provided you follow a few science-backed rules
So what are these rules?
According to a new analysis, there are four essential behavioral adjustments to keep in mind that will give you the best chance of sticking to a new routine.
DO A QUICK HOME WORKOUT INSTEAD OF THE GYM
Research shows that while it takes about three weeks for big habits – like going to the gym daily or overhauling your diet – to develop, smaller changes become the norm much more quickly.
Last month, a team of behavioral scientists studied the habits of tens of thousands of gym-goers and hospital staff to determine when and why people exercise less and wash their hands frequently.
Reporting their findings to CNNAccording to the experts, a clear pattern was that those who started less intensive or low-key changes were more likely to maintain them.
'If you want to build a habit around physical activity faster, consider trying a faster form of exercise – for example, a few jumping jacks or squats – and do this every hour,' the experts advise.
“If you do that, you can put your new habit on autopilot in a shorter time frame.”
As for those who have invested in a new gym membership, “DDon't beat yourself up if you don't put on those running shoes without thinking about it come week four. It will probably take a few months for your workouts to feel automatic. A good dose of patience will serve you well,” say the scientists, including Professor Katy Milkman.
New Year's is the most popular time for people to embark on a new health kick – whether it's exercise, diet or both
PLAY OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN BEFORE THE GYM
According to experts, habits last longer if they are accompanied by a “friendly cue.” That means something that you enjoy, look forward to or that gives you a positive feeling.
Moreover, pinning your new behavior to a certain day or time creates associations, which strengthens the habit.
'So if you want to go to the gym, our research and that of others suggests that it's best to plan the day of the week you want to go and perhaps add a unique cue, such as an alarm on your phone that says 'Physical' plays. by Olivia Newton-John when you are meant to go to the gym,” the scientists advise.
Experiment with different signals for the first few weeks until you find something that works, they say.
BE FLEXIBLE… YOUR HABITS WILL BE SUSTAINABLE FOR LONGER
The experts warn about the 'dark side' of healthy habits: once you set them up, it's hard to stop.
And research shows that the more inflexible you are about a given routine—for example, canceling plans with friends to go to the gym—the shorter the habit's lifespan.
Additionally, studies have also shown that becoming obsessive about healthy behaviors can cause mental health problems, including eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
DON'T GIVE UP HOPE
If your new healthy habit goes as well as you hoped, it's no reason to give up.
The experts say a common mistake is throwing in the towel if the gym routine of the eating plan doesn't stick within a few weeks.
But there's nothing that says you can't start the process over and over again.
'I“If it's been 21 days and you still have to put a workout on the calendar to make it happen, don't lose hope,” they write.
“There's nothing wrong with you, and a gym habit could still be just around the corner.”
Habits are not a pipe dream. Through repetition, most people can eventually develop predictable routines that are difficult to throw off course.”