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It will take you an average of 66 days to develop a fitness habit. We are all familiar with habits. Think about some of your most essential habits; like brushing your teeth or remembering to take your purse or wallet with you wherever you go. How did you develop those habits?

Develop A Fitness HabitMost likely your teeth brushing was reinforced by a parent who routinely marched you to the bathroom and stood over your shoulder to make sure it got done. The purse habit, on the other hand, was probably reinforced by a terrifying oops moments when you rushed back to a food court table to discover your purse sitting, unmolested, where you left it…yep, I’ve been there.

Develop A Fitness Habit, takes 66 days
Pinterest: Develop A Fitness Habit

I’ve often heard it said that it takes 3 weeks to develop a habit. When it comes to ingraining a habit, I wondered if 21 days was really enough for a habit to become second nature. I came across a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, which concluded that it actually takes an average of 66 days for a person to pick up a new habit.

In a study released in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Phillippa Lally and her team of researchers surveyed 96 people over a 12-week period to find exactly how long it takes to start a new habit.

Over the 12 weeks, the participants chose a new habit and reported each day how automatic the behavior felt. At the end of the period, Lally analyzed the results and found the average time it took for the participants to pick up a new habit was 66 days.

While her results were focused on the time it takes to create a habit, we can look at it inversely, and the time it takes to kick an old one and pick up a better one.

Source: Elite Daily

This number makes a lot of sense in light of my weight journey last year. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the biggest defining factor for my successful weight loss, after years of failed yo-yo attempts, was the concerted effort to journal my thoughts and reactions to food for a full 50 days.

So, it’s not surprising that this research study would conclude that it takes an average of 66 days for a new habit to become automatic. At the same time I also see some significance in the 3-week model in regard to fitness because I usually notice perceptible changes in my stamina and muscle tone after three weeks of a particular fitness activity. Typically, people are more encouraged to continue an activity once they receive the reward of noticeable feedback.

image - toothbrushDevelop A Fitness Habit

If indeed it is going to take you just shy of ten weeks to successfully develop a fitness habit, it makes sense to consider some factors that can help ensure your success. To develop the two life habits I mentioned earlier (teeth brushing and keeping up with a purse/wallet), habit formation required accountability and reinforcement; whether positive or negative.

Now, let’s see how these two factors could relate to developing a fitness habit.

1. Accountability

It always helps to have accountability, which basically involves telling someone about your fitness goals. There is a reason why weight loss programs like Weight Watchers are so successful. Participants are required to weigh-in at the beginning of each meeting. When a person walks in the door for a meeting, she knows that someone is going to be waiting there with a scale and a clipboard.

There are numerous ways to build accountability into your fitness goals.

  • Join an online support group.
  • Join a group exercise class.
  • Sign up for a fitness competition of some kind.
  • Commit to walking with a friend or co-worker at a specified time.
  • Start a blog that chronicles your progress.
  • Take pictures of yourself along the way.

2. Reinforcement

Reinforcement is the second essential element for developing a fitness habit. There needs to be self-imposed rewards and punishments for sticking to your routine or falling off of it. You are less likely to stick with something if you have nothing to gain or something to lose.

Some possible rewards/punishments:

  • Predetermine the number of times you plan to exercise each week. Place an amount of money in a jar each time you make a fitness commitment. At the end of ten weeks open the jar and count the money…if you reached your goal, spend it on something you would like, but if you did not make your goal keep it in the jar for another 3 weeks and count it again. Basically, you will have to live without that money until you whip yourself into shape.
  • Make a commitment to get up early on a Saturday to make up for a missed workout during the week.

So, are you ready to mark off 66 days to develop a fitness habit? Once fitness becomes part of your routine, it will no longer seem like a drudgery. Instead, it just becomes a normal part of who you are and what you do.

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Check out the other fabulous lifestyle linkups I’m joining this week – My Linkups!

Learning It, Shellie


  1. Miranda says:

    This is very interesting. It does make sense that it would take longer than 3 weeks to make something a habit, although by then you are well on your way.
    Great tips on accountability and reinforcement as well. Thanks for linking up to Fitness Friday on Drops of Learning. Hope to see you back this week!

  2. Dina says:

    I think what’s tricky about this is that sometimes the reverse happens. Something causes you to *drop* your fitness habit for 3 weeks (or 66 days) and then it’s soooo hard to start back up again.

    • Shellie Bowdoin says:

      Dina, that’s a good point…even more motivation to just keep on goin’ 😉

  3. I agree with all of this. I think you do see results after about 3 weeks, but I think it definitely takes more time for it to become a habit. For me, life still has a way of “getting in the way.” That’s why I made a calendar on a physical piece of paper that can always be in front of my face with my goals for the month! Stopping by from Fitness Friday Link-up. Have a great weekend!

    • Shellie Bowdoin says:

      You are smart to do that! It really takes purposeful planning, but it’s worth it.

  4. Great post! I’m sharing with my Facebook followers at Giftie Etcetera. They are working on better habits in the New Year.

  5. Jebbica says:

    Shelley, thank you so much for posting this on #FoodandFitnessFriday! I’m so glad to make your online acquaintance. I LOVE your blog! It’s so clean and you have so many helpful tips! I hope to see you again! Have a wonderful weekend.

  6. Michele says:

    I wrote about a fitness habit this week also. I think it took me more like 6 months to get into the habit- I am definitely a fitness procrastinator. I am enjoying it now however.

    • shelliebowdoin21@gmail.com says:

      Yes, that’s the thing about averages…some come out on the higher end. It is great to hear your learning curve is behind you! Thanks for stopping by, I hope you will visit again.

  7. Sorry – forgot to say I landed here from the MidLife Luv Linky party!

  8. Great advice here. Fitness is so important for fending off illness as we get older. The best money I ever spent was installing a treadmill and a punchbag in my office. I also have other pieces of gym equipment stashed all around the house. I work out every other day without fail and have done for years. Cardio first followed by floor exercises, weights and stretching. The treadmill is great for generating ideas so I sometimes just do a half hour run outside of my usual days if I am ‘stuck’ mentally. It works wonders!

    • shelliebowdoin21@gmail.com says:

      Well Gilly, it sounds like you have definitely developed a fitness routine! Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Kathleen says:

    Very good tips Shellie. So it may take 66 days to get me addicted to exercise. I think a few times I almost made it and then an interruption took it away. Even so it seems easy the second time around.
    We love your posts on Fridays Blog Booster Party #23

  10. Great post, Shellie! Once I paid the first month for my gym dues, that was enough to motivate me to go to get my $$’s worth.