How to Form a Good Habit
Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter for The New York Times and the author of The Power of Habit. He is a winner of the National Academies of Sciences, National Journalism, and George Polk awards. A graduate of Harvard Business School and Yale College, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.
Charles Duhigg: What studies say the number one best way to start an exercise habit is to give yourself a reward that you genuinely enjoy. So most people, when they start exercising, this is what they do. They say, "I'm going to go to the gym and my reward is going to be that I went to the gym," or, "I'm going to let myself have some kale chips or a salad or something." Something they don't actually enjoy. But a habit is a cue, a routine and a reward. That reward has to actually be rewarding for it to develop neurological patterns.
So here's what studies say is the number one way to start an exercise habit, eat a piece of chocolate after you work out. And what's amazing about this is that--if you like chocolate and chocolate is genuinely rewarding--what's amazing is that, and I did this myself so I can attest to this, you will only eat that piece of chocolate for like the first week and a half. You'll set up a cue, running clothes by your bed or you lace up your shoes before breakfast, something to trigger the behavior. You go on your run or you work out then you come home and eat a piece of chocolate or right after the workout you need a piece of chocolate. And your brain will begin encoding. Your brain will eventually enjoy exercise for exercise sake, right, endorphins and endocannabinoids will create a sense of reward, but it doesn't know that at first. You have to trick your brain into forming this habit by giving it chocolate or something it genuinely values and enjoys. And after a week and a half your brain will have learned that it likes the intrinsic rewards of exercise. You won't even want to eat the chocolate anymore because you'll feel healthy right? We all know this that, like, once you start exercising you eat better because you feel so good, but at first you have to trick your neurology into accepting the pattern. And the answer is, eat a piece of chocolate.
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Jonathan Fowler and Elizabeth Rodd
Here’s how not to put yourself on an exercise regimen: by making a firm resolution, gritting your teeth each day through a 45 minute workout, then grimly enduring a salad.
Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.
- Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
- Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
- The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.
- New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
- Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
- The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.
Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.
The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.
The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.
Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.
"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."
University of Colorado Boulder
This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.
Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.
The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.
Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.
What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.
"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."
Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
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