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One Simple Way to Make a New Healthy Habit Stick

One Simple Way to Make a New Healthy Habit Stick
From TIME - October 26, 2017

Want a make a new healthy habit stick? Do it when you first wake up, a new study recommends.

The small study, published in the journal Health Psychology, found that people who committed to stretching every morning picked up the routine more quickly than those who stretched every evening. Researchers say the stress hormone cortisolwhich tends to be highest first thing in the morningmay be the reason why.

Scientists know that stress hormones play a role in learning and memory, particularly around the formation of habits; previous research has shown that when cortisol levels are manipulatedvia cortisol injections or exposure to stressful situationspeople seem to learn new behaviors more quickly than they would otherwise.

This study, however, suggests that the natural ups and downs of cortisol may also affect how successfully people adopt a new behavior. Researchers followed 48 university students for 90 days, during which the students tried to adopt a new stretching routine recommended for flexibility and to prevent back pain.

Half of the people were told to do a 15-second hip-flexor stretch every morning after they woke up, and half were told to do it every night before bed. Every day, when prompted by a smartphone app, the students answered questions about whether theyd done the stretch and how much they had to think about it before doing so. They also provided saliva samples every month, which were tested for cortisol levels.

Both groups got better at remembering to do their stretches over time. But the researchers found that people in the morning group were on track to automatically remember to do the stretches every day sooner than those in the evening group. Based on the researchers projections, the morning group would automatically remember to stretch on the 105th day, while the evening group would take until the 154th day.

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