3 steps to build healthier exercise habits

Small steps → healthier habits


If getting more active is on your ‘to-do list’, our new research can help. Many people want to commit to living a healthier life – and even take the first steps to get started but find it hard to sustain over the long run.


Enter the Vitality Habit Index ...


This new research, published in partnership with the London School of Economics, looks at the role that habits play in our life. From a dataset of half a million Vitality members – over 7 years – the Index suggests that habits hold the key to achieving positive health outcomes.


At Vitality we know that increased physical activity helps people live longer and in better health. The big question is: how can we encourage this?


Taking a step back to why exercise is so critical to better health, Mari Leach, Biokineticist at Discovery Vitality South Africa, explains why getting more active, more often, makes a significant difference. “The health benefits of physical activity are well-documented and it helps to improve all aspects of your health,” she says. “Exercise protects your bones, strengthens muscles, helps with weight management, helps you sleep better – all of this on top of the important disease-prevention benefits like reduced risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke and cancer,” adds Leach.


In addition to the many physical perks, exercise also helps with mental health. Research has shown that regular exercise is one of the best ways to improve mental wellbeing. Benefits include better self-esteem, stronger levels of resilience, being better able to manage depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.


Put simply, staying fit = a longer, healthier life.


What’s important, however, is that you make it a regular habit rather than a once-off or once-in-a-while action. That’s why here at Vitality we’re big fans of “exercise snacking” or “snackercise” – small moments of movement throughout your day that add up to the recommended 30 minutes daily.

TOP TIP: If you haven’t exercised in a while, don’t try to do too much at once as you might injure yourself. Instead, start slowly with our ‘habit laddering’ approach. Here, you first form an easy base before you start to build intensity.

Advice from the Vitality Habit Index research team? 


Be patient. Habits take time.


Plus, habits are not just focused on one outcome. This is the difference between a behaviour and a habit, as explained in the Index.


As an example, exercising just to lose weight means you’re more likely to make this a behaviour – an action motivated by a desired outcome. This is a temporary action as it will only be repeated while you’re trying to lose weight.


A habit, on the other hand, goes further than this and is an activity that you do frequently, over time, for a range of benefits. In this way, you repeat the action until it becomes almost-automatic.


Remind yourself that creating lifelong fitness habits happens over time, not overnight. With the right cues and support, you’ll get more consistent ... and then the action gets easier.


Build healthier habits with these 3 steps:

  • Set a goal or target: check where you are currently and understand the health benefits to achieving this goal.
  • Start small: choose an activity that is easy and practical to do, often. 
  • Repeat this, and then intensify: keep up the activity and only increase the intensity once the action has been repeated for between 4 and 6 weeks.

Explore more


To find out more about building and sustaining healthier habits for a longer, healthier life, read the full Vitality Habit Index


Happy habit building!

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