It’s great when we can identify the obstacles standing in the way of a healthier life — and find our own solutions. But it’s a bonus when others — including corporations — make it even easier to develop better habits. That’s why I’m such a fan of the recent initiative by some grocery stores, which are giving consumers a foolproof way to combine their food shopping with their movement and fitness goals. As CNN.com reported in a piece appropriately titled “Groceries and glutes,” the Midwestern chain Hy-Vee is teaming up with high-intensity training gym OrangeTheory to build studios attached to two of its stores. And on the East Coast, in Morristown, New Jersey, a ShopRite boasts a wellness center that includes free registered dietitian services and a fitness studio offering classes like Zumba, yoga, barre and circuit training. Whole Foods is also getting in on the literal action; their flagship store in Austin, Texas, partners with local fitness studios to offer shoppers classes like barre and yoga.
Although grocery/fitness mash-ups are still in their early stages, bringing on gyms and classes makes sense for health-oriented grocers, Diana Sheehan, an analyst at Kantar Retail, told CNN. It certainly makes sense to me. While some people will work out under any conditions — convenient or not — that’s not the tendency of most humans. “We’re far more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and far less likely to do something if it’s inconvenient, to an astounding degree,” notes Gretchen Rubin in a blog post about her New York Times best-selling book, Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits. When it comes to creating the habit of regular exercise, “when people explain why they find it difficult, they often point to inconvenience,” adds Rubin.
When I’ve fallen off the exercise wagon myself, inconvenience has had a lot to do with it. About a decade ago, I finally stopped being a “hit and run” exerciser (you know, where you hit the gym hard for a few days or weeks, then run away from the gym for months or even years). Part of the reason I stopped fleeing came down to understanding that exercise is about so much more than changing your body size (in fact, research has shown that exercise alone is actually not so great at helping you lose weight). The gym became a sanctuary, a place to meditate and reflect, a conduit for creativity, and the fastest, most effective way to rid my mind of its favorite pastime: anxious rumination. But I couldn’t deny that convenience also played a big role in my changed relationship with exercise: I lived just a few blocks from an Equinox location, and passed it every day on my walk to catch the subway to work.
Years later, I moved out of Manhattan, and my plan was to commute to the gym, even though the closest Equinox was a 40-minute train ride away. You might guess what happened next: Basically, my gym membership turned into a large monthly donation toward a facility I rarely used. After months of telling myself, “I’ll get there!,” I woke up to the truth — it was time to find a closer, more convenient gym.
So that’s what I did. My local studio — Sage Fitness in Astoria, Queens — is smaller, without locker room frills or Kiehl’s swag. But it’s got one thing going for it (besides my awesome trainer) that Equinox doesn’t: It’s close to my home, just off my subway stop, and (although they’re not affiliated) one block from my grocery store. I have a personal mantra that “it’s a lot easier to keep up a habit than to start one,” so my rule is that if three days have gone by where I haven’t gotten to the gym, I need to get there — no matter what. And because it’s not a trek or a hassle to show up, I usually do, often right before a stop at the grocery store to pick up food for dinner.
Simply put, habits are built when they’re convenient, so it’s worth finding ways to set ourselves up for success in the movement department (and other areas of our lives we’d like to improve, too). Maybe that means joining a gym in close proximity to our home or office; or maybe it means getting creative to multitask our workouts. At Thrive, we swear by “habit-stacking” — the proven practice of creating a new habit by “stacking” it onto an existing one. Queuing up a workout video in the living room while doing the laundry? That counts. And if your local grocery store isn’t offering fitness classes just yet, you can always take matters into your own hands (and glutes): jog there.
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