If you smoke, eat too much junk food, or drink alcohol to excess, you likely already know these habits are bad for you. But they’re habits that are tough to kick overnight. It takes time and a lot of effort to quit. But, there’s hope: One of the best ways to leave damaging lifestyle habits behind is physical activity.
So, how to get rid of bad habits?
Well … following a regular workout routine could help you get rid of those bad habits for good. Let’s take a closer look on how this works:
Why it’s Hard to Break a Bad Habit
Smoking, drinking to excess, and overeating are bad habits that don’t develop overnight. They develop over several years. Likewise, it can take years to break them. A lot of research has gone into exactly why it’s so difficult for people to stop doing the things they know are bad for their health.
Not all habits are bad for you, of course. For example, showering and brushing your teeth every day are good for your health. But sometimes a habit, according to researchers, can trigger a reward mechanism in the brain. This, in turn, can lead to routines that are dangerous, such as abusing alcohol, smoking, or using drugs.
The general mechanism that creates both good and bad habits is basically the same, but the ones associated with pleasure are tougher to kick.
One of the reasons why, some researchers believe, is that bad habits that bring you pleasure cause a release of a brain chemical known as dopamine. Smoking and drinking release dopamine — the more you get, the more you want.
It might not even necessarily be the substance itself that you want, but the dopamine. Many people remain addicted to drugs, even when they no longer derive pleasure from the specific drug. Dopamine could be the reason.1
Replacing Bad Habits With Good Ones
There are ways to break unhealthy habits. One of the most effective is by replacing bad ones with good ones. Some people with drug addictions, for example, have found success in running. This, in itself, can be a ritualistic — even compulsive — behavior. An addict may always have the urge to use drugs. But there are ways they can strengthen the healthy habit while suppressing the bad one.
How a Workout Can Help Eliminate Unhealthy Habits
There are a lot of reasons that physical activity can be very effective in helping you kick bad habits once and for all. For example, a vigorous workout can also release the “pleasure chemical” dopamine. Physical activity also stimulates the release of endorphins, chemicals that also make you feel great.2
Moderate physical activity may also help you manage any withdrawal symptoms you might be experiencing if you try to quit a bad habit such as smoking.3 The next time you feel like lighting up, do some pushups, or jog around the block instead. You’ll more than likely find that the exercise — whatever it is — can take your mind off of the craving for a cigarette.
In one study, Canadian researchers conducted a study involving 168 smokers. The purpose was to determine whether running could help them stop smoking. The participants joined a running group for 10 weeks. This program included instruction on proper running technique, as well as tips to quit smoking. It also included training designed to build up the participants’ stamina to the point to where they could finish a 5K run.
Of the 72 who made it through the entire program, 37 had quit smoking for good. Follow-up interviews showed that 91 percent of the people who finished the program had at least reduced their frequency of smoking.4
If overeating is your problem, exercise could help decrease your appetite. It does so, according to research, by suppressing ghrelin, known as the “hunger hormone.”5
As an added benefit, regular exercise may also help you sleep better.6 Many studies show the better the quality of your sleep, the healthier you will be.7
Putting Together a Plan
No matter what your ultimate goal is, whether it’s to stop drinking, stop smoking, or to lose weight, you need an action plan. Set up a starting date, and stick to it. Make sure your goals are realistic. You’re not going to be able to run a marathon the first time. Rather, start slowly with a 10-minute run. Keep going. Eventually, run 30 minutes at a time.
Always talk to your doctor first before starting any sort of exercise regimen. They will likely want to put you through some tests to determine the level of physical activity you can safely handle. You’ll also want to speak with a qualified trainer who will help you follow a safe workout routine. The last thing you want is to suffer an injury that derails your progress.
One Last Note
It’s important to remember that you’re about to embark on a long journey. You’re going to be tempted to return back to your bad habits. While exercise is great for helping you break those habits, the temptation is going to remain. If you’re trying to lose weight, throw out all the junk foods in your refrigerator and cabinets. If you’re trying to stop drinking, don’t allow any booze in your home. Toss all of your cigarettes. Remove ashtrays or other paraphernalia that have anything to do with smoking.
By taking these steps, and engaging in vigorous physical activity, there’s a great chance you can make those bad habits a thing of the past.
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