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For a sustainable workout habit, accountability is key

Two years ago, Amy Gruenhut developed a near-fatal brain infection that left her in a coma for nearly two weeks. She has since gone from learning to eat, talk and walk to running four marathons.

Gruenhut was an occasional runner before the coma, but after leaving the hospital, returning to the jogging trails of Central Park felt like a return to life itself.

Progress required a patience and willpower that seemed almost superhuman. But like everyone else, Gruenhut sometimes had trouble getting out of bed and lacing up his sneakers. For those times, she gathered a group of workout buddies to encourage her to get moving.

“I didn’t want to stand them up,” said Gruenhut, 44, adding, “They were making this commitment to me, too.”

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

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

Some research suggests that if you train with someone more dedicated or experienced than you, it may push you to try harder.

(Peter Garritano / The New York Times)

Find a more committed friend…

Planning to exercise with a friend increases your chances of working out. But some experts say we benefit more from teaming up with someone who is more enthusiastic about working out than we are.

A new study on gym motivation, soon to be published in the journal Management Science, found that participants who struggled to work out saw significant improvement when they teamed up with a regular exerciser. the gym, said Rachel Gershon, lead study author and assistant. professor of marketing at the University of California at Berkeley.

If you’re the more dedicated workout buddy, you can benefit from serving as a motivator and teacher to a less experienced friend, said Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral sciences at the University of Chicago.

When you give advice, you not only make yourself accountable to the other person, you also reinforce your own commitment by hearing yourself express how and why you do something, she said.

A runner and her coach stretch in a park.

If you’re training for a race, some sports psychologists suggest, keep the news to yourself as long as possible. Telling people too soon can create the false feeling that you’ve already done it.

(Peter Garritano / The New York Times)

Above all, keep silent about your shopping

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

Sharing an ambitious 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 psychology professor at the University of New York. Research has suggested that, for some people, talking about an upcoming goal can seem like a substitute for actually achieving it: you get the same satisfaction without working hard.

Wait to promote your event until you’re close to the finish line, she said, both literally and figuratively.

Promise an Instructor You’ll Show Up

While paying a monthly gym membership encourages some people to work 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’ve wasted money. money.

To create more accountability, he said, establish a relationship with an instructor or coach and say you’ll show up to a class or workout at a specific time. Social responsibility – not wanting to seem like a flake – can be a powerful motivator.

Use paper clips to track progress

If you respond well to visual cues, Justin Ross, a clinical psychologist in Denver, recommends displaying a string of paperclips to track your workouts. Start with one clip and each time you exercise, add a new one to the chain. Or make a ball out of a rubber band.

When you’re not feeling well, he said, these visual reminders “can help provide a little bit of that energy to get you going.”

Two runners set their watches to time their exit.

On the other hand, if you’re the exercise enthusiast, being a mentor can push you to practice what you preach and be a good role model, said Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago.

(Peter Garritano / The New York Times)

Get paid

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 miles through your phone or wearable fitness device, and offer discounts on products or even charitable donations on your behalf. They are usually funded by sponsored companies or by commissions from partner brands.

Royer prefers Paceline, which offers gift cards and discounts for moving 150 minutes a week. Even though the payment itself is small – only about a dollar or two per week – it is motivating for her.

“Just at the end of the week, if I haven’t reached that goal yet, I do workouts at 10 p.m.,” she said.

Friedman is a freelance writer and the author of “Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World.” This article appeared in the New York Times.

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