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Important Factor in Forming a Fitness Habit

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AMES, Iowa – It can be hard to start an exercise routine. Researchers are trying to figure out how to help you form a fitness habit.

ISU Student Robert Anderson lifts weights. "I started a few years ago, and I wanted to get into shape," he said.

Now, it's a habit for the senior. Researchers are trying to figure out how to make that happen.

"If somebody needs to start an exercise routine for their health, up to 80 percent do not follow through on those recommendations. And, then you think about young people, what do they have to do to maintain health for the long haul?" said ISU Assistant Professor of Psychology Alison Phillips.

Phillips and a colleague recently published a study in “Health Psychology.” It shows to start an exercise routine, you need to focus on the instigation cue, like your morning alarm clock or going to the gym after work, instead of what you actually do. "Once you have an instigation habit, there's no threat to your exercise routine, if you vary your routine. And, I think that that's a positive message and something that could help people down the line," Phillips said.

Another important factor in making exercise a habit is how long you stick to it. “A month is a really good rough estimate. You have to stick to it for a period of time, and it will be tough, in order for that habit to develop," Philips said.

Phillips says there is still more work to be done in the way of research, but your phone could eventually help you form the exercise habit. "I'm going to work with the human computer interaction group here to develop mobile phone apps to help people develop these habits because it is really tough, and I think people could use guidance," she said.

Phillips and other ISU researchers will next look at stigma with body image and how to get past that to start exercising.

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