Freedom, health, happiness

Dr. Maia Hightower, MD

So asks the patient with skepticism. We know what is good for us, including regular exercise, but it can be so hard to develop the good habit of regular exercise. What keeps you from getting out of the door?

Make Exercise a Habit!

Stealing a play from Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit, try to make exercise a habit. Duhigg walks us through the science of habit formation, both bad and good. By leveraging our brain’s tendency to form habits in a trigger – action – reward cycle, we can purposefully build good habits and make them stick.

I have been a regular runner for years, but sometimes my routine would slack off. I am especially vulnerable to slacking off after meeting a challenge, such as my annual marathon. Once the marathon is over, my running routine often stalls. The trigger – action – reward cycle of my morning run is something like, I wake up, see my running clothes in the bathroom (TRIGGER), put them on and head out the door (ACTION), followed an endorphin rush and sense of accomplishment (REWARD). My day of physical exams and extorting the virtues of regular exercise and other healthy habits flow easier after having run 6 miles.

When a Habit Needs Help

But sometime my old lazy habit of sleeping in until the last moment possible before rushing off to the office takes over the wake up early and healthy exercise habit. I now have a new tool in my running habit tool box…my Fitbit and Endomondo. Fitbit is like a supped up pedometer that measures your steps, calories burned, activity level, stairs climbed, hours of sleep coupled with software that allows you to record your food and other data points. Endomundo is a GPS enabled smart phone app that records your exercise and lets you post your results on your Facebook or other social media page.

My goal is 10,000 steps per day…without fail. In my experience, 10,000 steps is equal to the following: a 5 to 6 mile run, a 5 mile walk, a whole lot of tag and hid-and-go seek (one to two hours’ worth),  4 or 5 trips to a mega store like Costco or Target. Alas, a day of seeing patients in my office is only 2000 steps. My new habit loop is wake up, look at by Fitbit (TRIGGER)  – disappointment at the only 10 steps or so taken to get to the bathroom. See my running clothes, put them on with determination, and go run (ACTION). Return home to hear Endomondo’s automated coach say “6 miles, lap time 9 minutes and 43 seconds”, look at my Fitbit 10,0508 steps, and smile. Goal achieved for the day…(REWARD!!)