Have Trouble Sticking with Exercise?

I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to establish a regular exercise program that I can stick with, and that will fold neatly into my ever-changing schedule. I have been successful for periods of time only to drop off when circumstances intrude. You might say that’s just an excuse, and you may be right, but even so it does sometimes seem easy to let exercise go when other things require your time. You go along on schedule and then an unexpected event occurs that throws you off track, and before you know it, you’ve stopped exercising.

The Obstacles

I decided to go at it this time by first listing all of the impediments that usually get in the way of continuing with a program I have started.

Here’s my list:

  • It takes too long to carry out the program I’ve set up. It’s just too ambitious.
  • I don’t always have the energy I need.
  • If I am supposed to exercise three times a week (which seems reasonable), I seem to resist it some days and end up putting it off with the intention of picking it up the next day, which rarely works.
  • I’ve got too many things on my plate today. It’s inconvenient.
  • It takes away my small “me” time I’ve carved out for the week.
  • It interferes with family time.
  • It interferes with my sleep if I decide to do it early in the morning.
  • It’s impossible to do after work.

The Solutions

After I made this list, I thought about what I could do that would avoid or circumvent all of these obstacles.

I decided I needed something that wouldn’t take much time, which for me would be 15 or 20 minutes. That ruled out going to the gym. I wanted something I could always get in during the morning hours, but without getting up a lot earlier. It needed to be something that wouldn’t be too physically taxing, at least until I got in the swing of it and decided I wanted to do more. Lastly, it needed to be everyday so that there was no possibility of putting it off to another day. In short, it needed to be in the morning, fast, fairly easy, every day, and not require getting up a lot earlier or going to the gym.

What fits that? I came up with walking a mile a day.

I got in my car and mapped out a mile in my neighborhood, and for testing, walked it. It took about 17 minutes. I didn’t walk too fast, needless to say.

Next I figured out where that 17 minutes could be taken out of my morning routine, and I tied it to things I already do. I decided that the best time for me would be right after I feed my dogs and take them out, and just before a shower. (Side note: my dogs are too old to walk a mile or I would take them with me.)

Now the time is set, the route is set, the trigger activity (feed the dogs) is set, and I am ready. Next step was to make a pact with myself that I would do this for 30 days without a miss. Why 30? Because research has proven that’s the magic number to establish a new habit. Once you’ve done something for 30 days in a row, your brain doesn’t have to expend much energy to keep it going. It goes on autopilot. It is scheduled in. There is little to no resistance left to counteract.

How Did it Work?

It worked really great!

The first week required some additional energy to do it because it was a new habit, and I had to plan and push through any residual resistance I had after feeding the dogs, but because the time I needed was only 17 minutes, it was pretty easy to counteract the resistance and get out there to walk. It’s only 17 minutes!

By week two, I was starting to really enjoy it. I was noticing the trees, birds, squirrels and other life on the path. I also noticed that I was having some interesting thoughts while walking. Creative ones mostly, and sometimes finding solutions to things I was mentally working on. In fact I got the idea for writing this blog on those walks.

By week three I was looking forward to it everyday and anticipating it with enthusiasm. No resistance left at all. Not only that, my creaky knee was feeling better and I was enjoying the rest of my day more once I was done.

Week four! Habit has been established. Bravo! On the weekends, I find myself walking longer and really enjoying it, although I have not changed the minimum of one mile and most days, one mile is all I get in. Over a year, that will be 352 miles! Awesome!!

The Benefits

The benefits are many and increasing as I go. To name them so far, they are:

  1. More energy in the day, especially the first four hours after walking.
  2. A reduction in stress.
  3. A sense of accomplishment.
  4. Happiness that I am taking care of myself and watching out for my health.
  5. A desire to eat better.
  6. A desire to establish another new and great habit, because this one has been successful.
  7. Happier knees!
  8. Encouragement to loose some weight.

I’m sure there will be more benefits as time goes, and I’ll let you know about them.

What About You?

Your turn now. Do you have a new habit you want to develop? If so, share with us.

Walking Increases Creative Thinking

As if there aren’t enough good reasons to walk, Stanford University has come up with another one. A study co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, has provided evidence that walking significantly increases creative thinking, or in more scientific terms “creative ideation.”

Who knew! Well, if you’ve had the experience already yourself, you knew. So did I! I get some of my best ideas when I take a walk. Now there’s real scientific evidence to support it.

The study, which included four different experiments, revealed that regardless of whether one walks on a treadmill or walks outside, creative thinking increases during the act of walking, and for a period of time after stopping. This occurred whether there was a rest period before or after walking.

I think there was some surprise that walking outside was not more inspirational than walking on a treadmill, but the evidence was clear that it is the act of walking itself that is the pivotal factor.

Divergent versus Convergent Thinking

Creativity was measured in terms of the use of “divergent thinking” applied to specific problems or questions offered to the experimental group, which was comprised of college students.

In one experiment, students were asked to come up with as many uses for a button as they could within a specific time period. Answers included such items “as a doorknob for a dollhouse, an eye for a doll, a tiny strainer, to drop behind you to keep your path.”

These ideas are all novel and also appropriate meaning that buttons could actually be used in these ways. This type of thinking is outside-the-box thinking. It “diverges” outward from the concrete, hence the name “divergent thinking.” This is the type of thinking we normally call brainstorming. It’s imaginative and free-flowing.

Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is a different process altogether and requires focusing in towards a single answer to solve a problem. It’s usually based more on gathering and making use of information to come to a correct, singular solution.

A 60% Increase in Creative Thinking

It was found that walking in all four of the experiments conducted correlated with a minimum 60% increase in divergent thinking. Walking did not, however, show a significant increase for convergent thinking, and in some cases actually decreased it.

It would be interesting to know exactly what about walking produced these results. Is it the physical activity itself, and maybe something it releases in the brain? Or is is that you just get a break from your usual ruminations about everything that’s on your plate and have to do? Maybe some of each.

Either way, it’s good to know that walking is a great activity for coming up with new ideas. In fact, some businesses apply this idea by having employees take walks together to brainstorm.

I have found that some of my best ideas for writing occur during my walks. Sometimes solutions to problems that I had put aside will just pop up in my mind during a walk. There is a sort of mental letting go during a walk that I believe relaxes us and allows our minds to work without interference. We get out of our own way. Many people say the same thing about taking a shower. Maybe that’s the next experiment to pursue!

Oppezzo, M., & Schwartz, D. L. (2014, April 21). Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/xlm-a0036577.pdf

Consistency is the Key!

I'll email you new blogs, not more than once every 2 weeks.  And, of course, I never share your information.