Creature of Habit: How to use cues like toothbrushes to add more physical activity into your life
I walk to work every day at a similar time, and during my journey I frequently meet the same people along the way. There are travellers on bicycles—and some on foot. I have realized that this is my active transport community, and look forward to seeing them each day, and depending on where we meet, they remind me of my daily progress. In one place in particular, as I walk down a long, and steep hill, I enjoy having brief exchanges with the cyclists, runners and walkers, who wave as they slowly make their way up the hill.
My excitement for walking each day is usually because of the joy of being outside and also recognizing that I don’t have to be stuck in a car in traffic. Since deciding to give up car commuting to work, my physical activity has changed dramatically to the point where I’m doing a few thousand extra steps per day. During these active trips, I have the opportunity to examine how to create sustainable habits within my own daily routine.
I often reflect upon my reasons for committing to daily active transportation (even in rain, wind and sometimes heat), and I too am often baffled. However, I formed these health sustaining habits that are now embedded into my morning routine.
Creating sustainable habits is an important way to adopt a healthy lifestyle. We recently explored exercise habit formation in women at midlife using regular prompts throughout the day. Here is a link to our new paper.
In this new feasibility study, we used a theory-based framework to support women to add more balance and strength exercises into daily life routines. The program was based on the Lifestyle Integrated Functional Exercise (LiFE) by Clemson and colleagues.
However, for this study, we trialled the model in a group setting, and with a younger age group. For the first time, we evaluated this new delivery model in terms of psychosocial outcomes such as habit strength and self-efficacy. We also included behaviour change techniques including habit formation, and at each session participants generated and wrote action and coping plans for doing the daily activities.
Our study participants reported that it became more and more automatic for them to do the exercises, and told us how they used every day activities rather than time-based cues as prompts to remind them to engage in the exercises. For example, a tooth brush was a reminder to complete a tandem stand position or even standing on one leg! Our study participants also told us how important the social component of the group program was in creating a commitment to completing the program.
As for me, I’m enjoying this new phase of my physical activity life through active transportation and look forward to making new commuting friends along the path.
- Lally P, Gardner B. Promoting habit formation. Health Psychol Rev. 2013;7(sup1):S137-S58.
- Fleig L, McAllister MM, Chen P, Iverson J, Milne K, McKay HA, et al. Health Behaviour Change Theory Meets Falls Prevention: Feasibility of a Habit-based Balance and Strength Exercise Intervention for Older Adults. Psychol Sport Exerc. 2015.
- Clemson L, Fiatarone Singh MA, Bundy A, Cumming RG, Manollaras K, O'Loughlin P, et al. Integration of balance and strength training into daily life activity to reduce rate of falls in older people (the LiFE study): randomised parallel trial. BMJ. 2012;345:e4547.