If you’ve been working out long enough, you’ve had that moment where you debate the pros and cons of going to the gym. Deep down you know you should and that it will be an hour well spent, but you still manage to come up with a few excuses—you’ll need to shower again, you’re just too busy, the list goes on. But what if you could avoid this debate all together? What if your daily workout was basically automatic?
Researchers at Iowa State University are studying that exact issue and their preliminary research suggests cues might be helpful in making your trip to the gym more of a natural reflex. The study recently published in the journal Health Psychology found that people most likely to go to the gym regularly were the ones who made it a habit, prompted by either an environmental or internal cue. In other words, people who go to the gym first thing in the morning after hearing their alarm or those who feel the need to work out when angry, have a better chance of making the habit stick in the long term.
The study examined how two types of habits affected the subject’s likelihood of exercising regularly and researchers concluded that only the instigation habit (the one where cues signal that a person should go to the gym) helped form long-term habits.
"From a health perspective, we want people to engage in physical activity frequently, and so instigation habit is the type of habit to promote that to happen," Alison Phillips, an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State and one of the authors of the study, told Science Daily. "Regardless of the type of exercise you're going to do on a particular day, if you have an instigation habit, you'll start exercising without having to think a lot about it or consider the pros and cons."
Although this study is a good sign for those of us who want to make it to the gym more often, Phillips said there’s more work to be done on the subject. This research suggests that you can maintain an exercise habit without having to do the same thing at the gym every day and that cues might help keep you on track, she said, but it’s most important to figure out what works for you personally.