Get Your Brain in the Habit of Exercising

Many people who are dissatisfied with their body image or personal health choose to start an exercise routine, but unless it becomes habit, they may lose their motivation. A new article explains that the basal ganglia, or “habit-learning system” of the brain is responsible for developing long-term habits. “It’s all about competition between short-term reward and long-term gain,” says David Eagleman, a Houston neuroscientist and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine and Rice University. “It’s the fight all of us make every day. On the short-term, it’s much more comfortable to stay on the couch or on Facebook and not get up. Long-term knows it will benefit you if you get out and exercise.”

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Andrew

    Andrew

    April 16th, 2011 at 10:14 PM

    Our brain resists all change and this remains the same even if the change is a favorable one. So what is required and something that personally works for me is to tell yourself what the benefits are constantly and whenever you feel like dropping out of the habit. This normally helps me and I’d recommend you the same.

  • leslie

    leslie

    April 18th, 2011 at 4:03 AM

    i’ve been guilty of signing up at a gym,working out there for a couple of days and then stopping to go not once but twice.i don’t know what the reason is but it is really annoying because when I’m away from working out I’m always thinking to myself “I’m gonna go to the gym at any cost starting today” but when the time does come(after work) I simply back out due to one reason or another. I do not know what to do.

  • Jim

    Jim

    April 18th, 2011 at 4:50 AM

    Oh yeah it definitely has to become a habit and if you don’t work to make it a habit then becoming committed to it is never going to happen. And I will not say that making exercise a habit is easy. There have been a lot of times that I would have rather gone out with friends or gone straight home after work and vegged on the couch. But it is exactly like you said. I have to get past that feeling that I am giving up something and think about all of the benefits that I get in return. So go hop on that bike or hit the trail. The benefits are well worth it in the end! And when it does start to feel like a habit for you then you will wonder what you ever did without it.

  • Miss Vickie

    Miss Vickie

    April 19th, 2011 at 4:37 AM

    What I really wantt o know is how do you get to that point where it is a habit? How long does that take? I have embarked on many diet and exercise programs in the past and have never been able to see them through I guess because I do not give it enough time. I want to see immediate results and when I do not get that I tend to give up and go back to my old couch potato ways. I guess I need to hire a live in trainer to get me past that hump! :)

  • DK.B

    DK.B

    April 19th, 2011 at 12:27 PM

    ^^Maybe you and your partner could start off together and keep each other on your toes so that you do not give up on your diet! Even a family member or friend staying with you can accomplish this :)

  • zane

    zane

    April 20th, 2011 at 2:42 PM

    it is hard to get into the habit when you are tired all of the time. i work crazy hours so exercise usually falls pretty low down my priority list, usually way lower then sleep. so i make that choice and i can’t say it makes me feel good but nothing to be down about that right now.

  • judith

    judith

    April 20th, 2011 at 9:30 PM

    @Andrew That’s the annoying thing about the brain. Once you’re into the habit of something, you can become irritable and annoyed if things start changing away from it. Ironically you probably felt the same way when you took up the habit.

  • Nathan

    Nathan

    April 20th, 2011 at 11:14 PM

    @leslie You and several other people. That’s why gyms practically run a scam where they make you sign up for several months or years, because nobody goes to the gym for long (apart from the diehard fitness freaks). They wouldn’t make any money if they counted on us paying at the door on the way in. If you don’t enjoy it, you don’t do it.

  • Donald

    Donald

    April 21st, 2011 at 11:30 PM

    A habit of exercising is a good thing, but the problem is that between work, family, recreation, and sleep, there is absolutely no time to regularly work out (especially if it’s something you don’t particularly like doing and aren’t willing to look too hard). ;)

  • Helen

    Helen

    April 21st, 2011 at 11:53 PM

    It’s the lack of willpower and how sore you end up afterwards that puts people like me off. They just think “Well I’m not too overweight” and end up forgetting about it until they are having a heart attack because they are so unfit. Denial is a big problem.

  • Jodie

    Jodie

    April 23rd, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    @Helen: It’s also the time and energy it takes. Folks don’t want to invest time in anything hard nowadays, and we’re now conditioned to think that quick fix lifestyle is real. Those rock hard abs didn’t come about in 14 days no matter what the ad says. We’re lazy and very good at making excuses for that.

  • Nina

    Nina

    April 23rd, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    Short term gain is what people want. You can talk about investments and rewards until you’re hoarse. They want satisfaction and they want it now. These days, someone is more likely to complain about having no room in the fridge. We’re a greed oriented society.

  • gretel

    gretel

    April 25th, 2011 at 9:25 PM

    Even if you make it a habit, it just takes a day or two of saying “Nah, I’ll do it tomorrow” and you lose it all. On a semi-related note, am I the only one who sees eating and sleeping as a huge chore?

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