Accountability is the key to a sustainable workout habit

Two years ago, Amy Gruenhut developed a near-fatal brain infection that put her in a coma for nearly two weeks. Since then, he’s gone from learning to eat, talk and walk again to running four marathons.

Ms. Gruenhut had been a casual runner before her coma, but after leaving the hospital, returning to the jogging paths of Central Park felt like a return to life itself.

To move forward required patience and willpower that seemed almost superhuman. But like everyone else, Ms. Gruenhut sometimes struggled to get out of bed and put on her sneakers. For those moments, she gathered a group of training partners to encourage her to move.

I didn’t want to put up with them, said Ms. Gruenhut, 44, adding: They were making this commitment to me, too.

No matter how inspired people are to achieve their health and fitness goals, many face barriers to committing time, reps, or steps. But experts say the difference between quitting and not quitting often comes down to having a person, group, app or other external force pushing you to keep going.

Most accountability tricks aren’t universal: One person might find it motivating to share run times on the fitness app Strava; another might find it deeply stressful. The key is to shop until you find a strategy that works for you.

Making plans to exercise with any friend increases your chances of getting exercise. But some experts say we benefit more from teaming up with someone who’s more excited about exercise than we are.

A new study on gym motivation, soon to be published in the journal Management Science, found that participants who had difficulty exercising saw significant improvement when they linked up with a regular gym, said Rachel Gershon, author of principal of the study and assistant. professor of marketing at the University of California, Berkeley.

Partnering with someone who is already doing well in the goal you’re trying to pursue can be effective, he said. And the most dedicated partner also benefited.

if you are As a more dedicated training partner, you can benefit from serving as a motivator and teacher for a friend with less experience, said Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago.

When you give advice, you’re not only holding yourself accountable to the other person, you’re also reinforcing your own commitment by hearing yourself articulate how or why you’re doing something, she said.

Justin Ross, a clinical psychologist in Denver who specializes in mental health and athlete performance, experiences the benefits of this type of asymmetrical partnership firsthand when coaching newer athletes. I have to show up, not just for myself, but for them too, he said.

Deciding to train for a race or other athletic event can provide structure and accountability, experts say. But it’s probably best to keep your plans relatively private.

Sharing a lofty goal widely on social media, for example, can backfire because it can make you feel like you’ve already achieved it, said Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University. Research has suggested that for some people, talking about a nearby goal can feel like a substitute for actually doing it: you get the same satisfaction without putting in the work.

Keep your event going until you’re close to the finish line, he said, both literally and figuratively.

While paying a monthly gym membership gets some people working out, it’s not enough for others: only half of gym members go twice a week.

If you don’t follow through, there’s no real penalty, said Dr. Kevin Volpp, director of the Penn Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics, other than feeling like you wasted money.

To create more accountability, he said, forge a relationship with an instructor or coach and say you’ll show up for a class or training session at a specific time. The social responsibility of not wanting to look like a flake can be a powerful motivator.

If you’re someone who responds well to visual cues or reminders, Dr. Ross recommends creating a chain of clips to keep track of your workouts and keep them somewhere visible.

Start with one clip, and each time you exercise, add a new clip to the end of the chain. You can also make a rubber band ball.

On days when you’re not really feeling it, she said, these visual reminders can help provide some of that energy to get you going.

If you need an extra incentive, sign up for an app that pays or rewards you for moving, said Heather Royer, a health economist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

These apps track metrics like minutes or kilometers through your phone or wearable fitness device and offer product discounts or even charitable donations in your name. They are usually funded by corporate sponsors or commissions from associated brands.

Dr. Royer prefers Paceline, which offers gift cards and discounts for moving 150 minutes a week. Although the pay itself is small only around a dollar or two a week, it is motivation for her. “It’s enough that at the end of the week, if I’m still not on target, I’m training at 10 p.m.,” he said.

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