It’s time to lose weight and improve my heart health so this nurse has committed to at least twenty minutes of exercise five days a week. Each morning around 5:15 a.m. my Springer Spaniel, Buster, rests his head across my neck stirring me out of bed and towards our morning workout. Most of the time his persistence has paid off, catching my stride about 20 minutes in and feeling exhilarated enough to start the day. On occasion when his cuteness is not enough to drag me out of bed, I miss the workout and end up feeling tired the rest of the day. Which got me thinking, how long will it take before exercising gets easier, becoming more like a habit than a chore? When will I start to reap the benefits of all my hard work?
Creating healthy habits takes commitment to change how you live your life. A very wise patient of mine said “the first hundred years are the hardest”, but thankfully it doesn’t take that long to see the smallest efforts paying off! Research from the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine (2019) showed that, depending on the individual, it took “sixty-six days before habits become automatic”. Changes in physical exercise took “1.5 times longer to become habit than healthy changes made in diet” amounting to between “18-254 days” (Arlinghaus et al; 2019). It is the combination of regular exercise and healthy eating that are the key to finally reaping the health benefits of hard work.
Aside from simply feeling better, the long-term health benefits to reward your efforts include lowering blood pressure, improving muscle strength and weight loss (Johns Hopkins, 2021). Exercise can also stop or slow the development of diabetes, reduce inflammation in joints and even help you quit smoking (2021). For the best bang-for-your-buck, the doctor’s at Johns Hopkins have compiled three types of exercise that contribute to increased cardiovascular health: aerobic exercise, resistance training and flexibility/stretching workouts (Stewart, 2021).
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