Sunday, November 13, 2016

More than just a cue, intrinsic reward helps make exercise a habit

Public Release: 3-Oct-2016
More than just a cue, intrinsic reward helps make exercise a habit
Iowa State University

The morning alarm is more than a signal that it's time to get up - for many people it means it's time to hit the gym. But if exercise is not a habit, that cue from the alarm may trigger a debate over whether to exercise or go back to sleep.

New research by Alison Phillips, an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University, finds that it takes more than a conditioned cue to stick with an exercise routine. Instead, it's the combination of a cue, such as a morning alarm or the end of the workday, and an intrinsic reward that helps develop and maintain exercise as a habit. Phillips says if exercise is intrinsically rewarding - it's enjoyable or reduces stress - people will respond automatically to their cue and not have to convince themselves to work out. Instead of feeling like a chore, they'll want to exercise.

"If someone doesn't like to exercise it's always going to take convincing," Phillips said. "People are more likely to stick with exercise if they don't have to deliberate about whether or not to do it."

Intrinsic reward is specific to each individual. Phillips says it could be physiological, such as from endorphins or serotonin, or from spending time with a friend while working out. It's important to note that intrinsic reward takes time and experience to develop - not everyone loves exercising when they first start, Phillips said. Ultimately, the reward must make it so that you prefer exercising to not exercising in response to your cue. If you do not feel better or enjoy exercising, you're going to do something else when forced to make a decision, Phillips said.


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