I went from 2 days a week to 7 days a week of physical activity after following a simple process called ‘Habit Formation’.
Habit Formation is a process by which an action, through repetition, is etched into your neural pathways and becomes automatic.
From birth, humans are trained to form certain habits, mainly ‘good habits’, such as making our bed, brushing our teeth, showering, going to bed early, etc and these habits become an integral part of our daily lifestyle. Every hour, every minute, every second of our life is consumed with nothing more than a series of habits that come naturally to us. Observing any task that we perform, it’s most likely a habit we’ve learned by rote. However, none of these quotidian habits involve physical activity. Why is that?
It’s because of the Industrial Revolution
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, our daily work involved a great amount of manual labor, including lifting and moving materials with our hands, walking from one destination to another, etc. Humanity didn’t have access to machinery or other technologies. Physical activity was deeply ingrained in our work, hence we weren’t required to find separate time for it.
But that changed since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Automation was introduced and our daily work became less labor-intensive and more machine-driven. Machines transformed our field jobs to desk jobs. Our robotic lifestyle became sedentary. Now, at the swipe or tap of a finger, you can get anything done in your house or packages delivered to your doorstep. Physical activity that came with working jobs or household chores plummeted exponentially and we never adjusted our lifestyles to make up for this lack of physical activity. We completely ignored it and as a result, physical activity never got added to our list of daily habits.
This sedentary lifestyle is one of the leading cause of obesity, a serious epidemic in the 21st century.
Obesity increases our risk of diseases and health problems. And it’s getting worse every day in almost all developed countries because of poor lifestyle habits — lack of physical activity and poor nutrition.
We have all sorts of excuses to not workout, with the most common one being “I don’t have the time”. What people really mean by that is, “I don’t want to work out”. But we don’t say that out loud because of a fear of being judged, thus we find an easy way out.
An average person spends at least two hours on social media and messaging platforms during the day, at least five hours on the TV and/or phone, fifteen minutes or more on deciding what to wear, ten minutes or more on what to eat, and all sorts of other foolish things. These are developed habits, and they are BAD habits. If you replace even three minutes from each of those habits, we will have at least fifteen minutes to spare for some sort of physical activity. Fifteen minutes of high intensity physical activity is all a person needs to lower the risk of certain diseases and extending our lifespan by a few years.
In a study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, men who did thirteen minutes of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) burned more calories than men who did steady-state cardio for forty minutes. According to another study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, participating in seventy five minutes of vigorous activity per week can decrease your risk of getting cancer or cardiovascular disease. That’s just twelve and half minutes a day.
When we think about working out, we conjure at least thirty to sixty minutes of physical activity outside our home. That concept seems daunting and laborious, so we immediately brush it off by saying “I don’t have that time and/or energy”. But a workout does not have to be that long and it certainly does not require you to go “somewhere”.
It’s a myth that you have to go to a gym for strength training.
Body-weight exercises, such as pull-ups, push-ups, squats, etc have been around for eons, and they’re equally as effective as lifting weights. All you need is fifteen minutes, a small empty space and an internet connection. There is a whole gamut of free workout content from top trainers on the internet at your disposal. Searching Cross-Fit or HIIT on YouTube will unearth a massive library of fifteen minute of workouts with no equipment required. There is not one type of movement that is better than the other. If you enjoy playing sports, then go out and play sports. If you enjoy dancing, do that. Change your activities every day and perform high intensity activities that you enjoy doing.
Additionally, if fifteen minutes looks burdensome, then break it down further and do five minutes of three sets at different times. A five minute workout should not sound intimidating; that’s almost as long as brushing your teeth. Many times, I would do these short five minute workouts while cooking my food, while watching TV, or while playing with my three year old daughter. She would sit on my back and I would do quick push-ups. There is absolutely no excuse for not finding three slots of five minutes on your calendar.
The first step is always difficult. Once you take that first step into starting your workout, you will quickly find yourself on beat with your heart pounding and adrenaline rushing through your blood. The body releases chemicals called endorphin that interact with your brain and it makes you feel really good and energized. You hit this inflection point where your body wants to keep going and you don’t want to stop, until you’re exhausted, fatigued, and finally hit the proverbial wall. At this point, you feel you’re on top of the world.
A phenomenon commonly known as the “runner’s high” — a state of euphoria where all your stress, pain and anxiety vanishes, and you feel invincible. In order to achieve this state, you need to push yourself, and push hard. It gets addictive after you have repeated it a few times. The constant repetition programs your brain to form this habit. Once programmed, the brain will automatically find time for a workout and keep pestering you throughout the day until you fulfill its wish. Your body starts craving it daily and it will want to go longer than five minutes every time. That five minutes of intense workout will slowly increase to ten, fifteen, twenty minutes and so on.
This repetition is how habits are formed.
You have to train your brain daily and once its trained, it will do the rest for you. Just like that, I went from 2 days to 7 days a week of workout. However, habits are easily broken, especially the good ones. Any time you take a longer break, you are reprogramming your brain and then that becomes the norm. If that happens, just go back to step one, rinse and repeat and you will get back in the rhythm!