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True secret to healthy exercise habit

Nearly 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions each year and getting more exercise is always one of the top ones. But a survey of personal trainers shows that 85% of those who begin an exercise program for the new year will give it up by the end of February.

So what’s the secret for building and maintaining a healthy exercise habit? Stop making a conscious decision to run, bike, swim, etc. and make exercise a habit, not a choice.

Charles Duhigg, business reporter for the New York Times and author of the 2014 bestselling book, Power of Habit, describes the brain’s function in forming a habit. He explains that at first, activities are conscious decisions made by the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s center for higher thought processes.

With time and repetition, the activity becomes a habit. The pre-frontal cortex goes on autopilot, leaving the activity to the basal ganglia, the center of the brain that plays a major part in development of emotion, memories and pattern recognition. We now act without thinking at all.

According to Duhigg, a habit has three parts: the activity itself, a reward and a cue or trigger. If you choose these wisely, in two to eight months, not the widely accepted 21-day period, you’ll develop a fitness habit to last a lifetime.

The activity. It’s not enough to say, “I’d like to begin running,” or “I want to lose weight.” A specific goal is much easier to visualize and to quantify and small, simple changes are more likely to become habit forming.

How about, “I’d like to run three days per week,” or “I’d like to lose weight by eliminating my nightly ice cream indulgence.” Signing up for a goal race, whether it’s a local 5k or a destination half marathon offers motivation to stay on track.

New York psychiatrist Dr. Lama Bazzi advises breaking your goals into smaller parts and holding yourself accountable to goals weekly, not yearly. As my yoga instructor says at the beginning of each class, “Set your intentions for this practice.”

Reward. Most habitual runners I know run for the reward of feeling good about themselves, for the intrinsic joy of the activity itself. But if you’re just starting out, running is tough. It may take months to reach the fitness level where you experience that “runner’s high.”

If you’re just beginning, the reward may be in seeing that you’ve reached your daily step goal or in sharing your completed workout with family and friends on social media. Keep a running log or journal and be sure to log at least miles or minutes run, conditions, how you felt or anything unusual that happened on the road. Reliving the experience in your log will reward you double.

Trigger. Before you trigger a new habit, it helps to un-trigger the old one. Try to identify the triggers most likely to get in the way of your new running habit.

If your goal is to run after work, but you find yourself picking up the remote and slumping to the couch as soon as you step in the door, don’t step in the door. Trigger your new habit by changing into running clothes at work and stopping by the park on your way home.

Those are the basics of forming a good running habit. Behavioral experts also recommend making exercise a priority and exercising first thing in the morning if possible when your mind and body are fresh. Run even just one mile or ten minutes when you think you’re too tired. And commit to exercising with another person so you can lean on each other.

Upcoming Events

Saturday, 9 a.m.: North Park Half Marathon, Allison Park. Starts at North Park Boathouse, Two loops around the lake.

Saturday, 1 p.m.: Run 2 Read Half Marathon, Fairmont, WV. Starts at Prickett’s Fort State Park, runs on 2 rail trails. or

Jan. 28, 10 a.m.: Groundhog Day 4 Mile, Punxsutawney, Run to Gobbler’s Knob and back. Collector coins to all finishers. 814-938-6362 or

Feb. 4, 9 a.m.: Groundhog Day 5k, Allison Park. Starts at North Park Boathouse.

Feb. 4, 9 a.m.: Groundhog Day 5k, Painesville, OH. Run at Lake County Fairgrounds.

Feb. 11, 10 a.m.: Cupid’s Chase 5k, Butler. Run at Lake Arthur Golf Club. 724-613-8133 or

Feb. 11, 10 a.m.: Community Options Cupid’s Chase, Pittsburgh.

Feb.12, 10 a.m.: Valentine Prediction Race, Erie. Time prediction run of between 4 and 6 miles with chocolate awards.

Feb. 18, 9 a.m.: Epicenter Eight(.5), Fredonia. Race #1 of MCTA 26.2 Series starts at Fredonia Presbyterian Church. 724-301-6775 or

Feb. 25, 10 p.m.: The Spring Thaw 5, 10, 15 or 20 Miles, Allison Park. Run loops around North Park Lake.

Feb. 25, 7:30 a.m.: Olde Girdled Grit Trail Run Marathon, Concord Township, Ohio. Scenic run through 2 parks. Half marathon starts at 9 A.M.

Feb. 25, 4 p.m.: Big One Run Mile Race, New Castle. Fast, point-to-point course in Cascade Park.

March 4, 9 a.m.: Shamrock Run 5k, Cranberry Township. Run at Graham Park.

March 4, 9 a.m.: South Park Half Marathon, South Park.

March 4, 11 a.m.: Ellport Boro Community 5k, Ellport. Scenic 5k with post-race pizza.

May 6 & 7: Pittsburgh Marathon Weekend. Registration is open for marathon, half marathon, relay, 5k, kids’ and toddlers’ runs, pet walk.

Race Results

One Day to Remember Bo’s Run 5k, Oct. 30: Eric Harbison, 1st Overall M, 16:47; Catherine Hrach, 1st Overall W, 22:47; Ethan Hrach, 24:53; Jeremy Shaffer, 27:35; Michael Bryner, 27:52; Tomor Karpuzi, 28:56; Zachary McCall, 31:49

Spooktacular 5k, Oct. 30: Justin Reno, 1st Overall M, 17:57; Maggie Goodman, 1st Overall W, 23:28; Dominick Degilio, 1st 40-49 M, 23:41; Lisa Jamison, 1st 50-59 W, 33:33; Debbie Jamison, 3rd 50-59 W, 37:07

Butler YMCA Turkey Trot 5k, Nov. 5: Brendan Eicher, 1st Overall M, 19:05; Douglas Basinski, 3rd Overall M, 20:29; Tifany Berry, 1st Overall W, 20:41; Kim Platt, 2nd Overall W, 22:42; Zari Golojuh, 3rd Overall W, 23:42; Jake Taciuch, 2nd 19-29 M, 21:20; James Dankovich, 1st 50-59 M, 22:14; Brent Baldauf, 1st 40-49 M, 23:50; Levi Fowler, 1st 12 & Under M, 23:59; Mark Dupont, 1st 30-39 M, 24:14; Kevin Fazio, 2nd 50-59 M, 24:20; Carrie Birckbichler-Smith, 1st 40-49 W, 24:25; Angela Schandelmeier, 1st 19-29 W, 24:31; Jim Elsenheimer, 1st 60-69 M, 24:37; Matthew Schaefer, 2nd 40-49 M, 24:47; Amelia Turner, 1st 13-18 W, 25:22; Cooper Rauschenberger, 2nd 12 & Under M, 25:35; Gary Boyd, 1st 70+ M, 26:11; Brian Zarzulo, 3rd 50-59 M, 26:23; Beth Graham, 2nd 30-39 W, 27:10; Henry Meiser, 3rd 12 & Under M, 28:02; Lucy Doutt, 2nd 13-18 W, 28:20; Tricia Schaefer, 2nd 40-49 W, 29:01; David Komlenic, 2nd 60-69 M, 29:02; Garret English, 2nd 30-39 M, 29:16; David Adams, 2nd 70+ M, 29:30; Alexia Mechling, 2nd 19-29 W, 29:33; Amber Zwigart, 3rd 40-49 W, 29:34; Josh Claypoole, 3rd 30-39 M, 29:39; Michelle Dlugas, 3rd 30-39 W, 29:39; James Smith, 3rd 60-69 M, 29:53; Lauren Breshahan, 3rd 19-29 W, 30:02; Bailee Ewell, 3rd 13-18 W, 30:32; Kenley Graham, 1st 12 & Under W, 30:38; Madelyn Weyandt, 2nd 12 & Under W, 31:19; Tony Sunseri, 3rd 70+ M, 31:50; Traci Morris-Soule, 1st 50-59 W, 32:05; Ashlyn Brunazzi, 3rd 12 & Under W, 33:52; Terri Turrano, 2nd 50-59 W, 35:24; Amy Farr, 3rd 50-59 W, 37:28; Carole Zwigart, 1st 70+ W, 44:39; Susan Kelly-Smouse, 1st 60-69 W, 53:06; Jordan Stutz, 22:24; AJ May, 24:08; Shields Fowler, 28:12; Bruce Soule, 28:20; Dane Winkler, 28:50; Eddie Trizzino, 28:52; Matt Nocera, 28:59; Henry Dlugas, 29:49; Jack Meiser, 30:57; Camden Schaefer, 31:12; Jenn Fesler, 31:46; David Morris, 32:31; Madison Glew, 32:34; Mason Kraynik, 32:38; Shannon Weber, 32:39; Michael Kraynik, 32:40; Willem Meiser, 33:04; Scott Meiser, 33:09; Eli Burr, 33:30; Shane Brunazzi, 33:53; Kathleen Baraniak, 33:54; Ashley Trott, 35:22; Patrick Kennedy, 36:13; Natalie Weyandt, 36:22; Stephanie Weyandt, 36:31; Amanda Daugherty, 36:39; Jeffery Mechling, 37:29; Abigail Haughey, 38:18; Wess Ewell, 38:46; Charlotte Weyandt, 39:11; Dhyana Keefer, 39:35; Howard Kossover, 39:56; Denise Schandelmeier, 40:14; Lincoln Beals, 40:23; Brian Beals, 40:24; Ashley Ramer, 41:19; Sara Kuhns, 41:26; Darcie Paule, 42:42:53; Darcie Paule, 42:53; David Paule, 42:53; Jessica Burr, 43:06; Leisl White, 44:42; Joshua White, 44:42; Maddy McGrady, 45:22; April Quinn, 46:02; Sheana Kurtz, 47:00; McCoy Kurtz, 47:00; Lori Haughey, 48:50; Bob Kline, 49:31; Channing Kline, 49:31; Thomas Turner, 50:59; Willie Burr, 53:26; Piper Burr, 53:30; Karla Carranza, 56:38; Tyler Zymroz, 56:39; Megan Zymroz, 56:39; Brian Griffin, 1:03:00

Butler YMCA Turkey Trot 1 Mile, Nov. 5: Sawyer Vavro, 1st Overall M, 6:49; Kameron Warheit, 2nd Overall M, 7:28; Lucas Baldauf, 3rd Overall M, 7:30; Ellie Dixon, 1st Overall W, 8:11; Chloe Schaefer, 2nd Overall W, 8:52; Kate Dupont, 3rd Overall W, 9:27; Liam Baldauf, 1st 5-9 M, 7:58; Blake Dixon, 2nd 5-9 M, 8:11; Brogan Best, 3rd 5-9 M, 8:26; Dustin Best, 1st 30-39 M, 8:30; Cooper Kurtz, 1st 4 & Under M, 9:26; Brinlee Muller, 2nd 5-9 W, 9:47; Hugh Dreher, 2nd 4 & Under M, 10:14; Christina Dreher, 2nd 19-29 W, 10:14; Lezlie Dupont, 1st 30-39 W, 10:25; Emma Dupont, 1st 10-13 W, 10:43; Nicole Baldauf, 1st 40-49 W, 11:19; Khloe Keefer, 2nd 10-13 W, 11:44; Iris Braden, 3rd 5-9 W, 12:04; Alayna Kennedy, 3rd 10-13 W, 12:20; Nevada Hacker, 3rd 19-29 W, 12:24; Harvey Braden, 3rd 4 & Under M, 14:45; Quinn Smith, 1st 4 & Under W, 14:48; Julianna Twitty, 2nd 4 & Under W, 16:30; John Twitty Jr., 1st 40-49 M, 16:30; Tiffany Twitty, 3rd 40-49 W, 16:34; Meghann Dunn, 3rd 30-39 W, 16:38; Steve McKinnisi, 1st 60-69 M, 16:53; Amy Pitzer, 1st 50-59 W, 17:13; Brad Pitzer, 1st 50-59 M, 17:13; Dan DeFoggi, 1st 70+ M, 19:15; Mikinley Fowler, 3rd 4 & Under W, 20:57; Collin Fowler, 1st 19-29 M, 20:57; Isaac Dixon, 2nd 30-39 M, 20:59; Carter Kraynik, 8:29; Luca Panei, 10:05; Aidan Radle, 11:27; Adelaide Huerbin, 13:03; Sophia Dixon, 13:38; John (TJ) Twitty III, 16:30; Morgann Meiser, 16:36; Mikenzie Barclay, 20:57; Mikayla Fowler, 20:57; Jason Dixon, 21:05

Send comments and suggestions: Patricia Neubert. Phone 724-352-4395. Email

Pat Neubert is a running columnist for the Butler Eagle

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