Habit-stacking suggestions from health and fitness experts

If, this year, you’re determined to maintain momentum with any positive intentions you might have set, it may help to incorporate some behavioural science into your strategy. The concept of ‘habit stacking’ – coined by Wall Street Journal bestselling author S.J. Scott via his 2014 book Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less, and further popularised by James Clear’s 2018 New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits proposes you train your brain with routine to make lasting change.

The basic premise behind habit stacking is that you build routines around simple habits that require little effort. It also recommends combining tasks that can be done simultaneously, or pairing jobs that feel like ‘chores’ (like cleaning the bathroom) with something that you’re looking forward to (like listening to a new episode of your favourite podcast). These small wins then build momentum because they’re easy to remember and complete. Before you know it, those small behaviours combined have long-term impact.

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While habit stacking can be applicable to all aspects of your life, from offsetting anxiety to enabling better organisation, it’s considered an especially effective tool for achieving sustainable wellness practises.

90 per cent of adults quit a new exercise routine within the first three months

“Habit stacking is a great way to build consistency within your nutrition,” Rhian Stephenson tells us. As a registered nutritionist and naturopath, and founder of functional supplements brand Artah, she knows a thing or two about living healthily.

Other inspiring businesswomen agree, including Bryony Deery (a renowned London-based Pilates teacher and founder of Pilates by Bryony, which features on-demand and live classes, alongside health and wellness conten) and Anna Samuels (the brains behind Boxx+, a boxing-inspired app and wearable fitness tracker by Boxx–her East London studio, which is designed to help you build sustainable fitness – given that 90 per cent of adults quit a new exercise routine within the first three months). “Habit stacking is a brilliant technique for those wishing to make new habits or a positive behaviour change,” Samuels tells us. “It has personally been an absolute game-changer for me in terms of building a consistent workout routine.”

Samuels says that the key to habit stacking is to start small and then build on it, should you wish. Here, she, Deery and Stephenson share the habit-stacking routines that work for them, which might in turn inspire your own versions.

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Rhian Stephenson’s 5 nutrition habit stacks

“You can use habit stacking in so many ways – but here are some of my favourites, which I do myself,” says Stephenson. “They’re all pretty simple, but they make a big difference when it comes to keeping consistent and healthy when things get busy.”

1/ “While I’m making my morning coffee, I drink 500 ml of water. I add the Artah Cellular Hydration to replenish electrolytes, which is great because it replaces essential minerals that we lose while sleeping and helps rehydrate us before coffee, but you could also add a bit of fresh lemon or lime.”

2/ “When I cook my dinner on Mondays, I roast a tray of vegetables. This is great because it means I have quick, healthy options on hand for lunch or dinner when I’m busy in the week.”

3/ “When I go to the farmer’s market on the weekend, I stock up on protein to throw in the freezer for a later date. This is great because it’s better quality meat, it’s usually less expensive, and it means I always have something on hand to make after a busy day at work.”

4/ “I keep my supplements beside my skincare products, which means I never forget to take them.”

5/ “I snack on crudités while I’m making my dinner. This is ideal because it increases fibre intake and plant diversity, while eating vegetables before a meal also helps reduce spikes in blood sugar.”

Anna Samuels’ 5 fitness habit stacks

“Whether you’re completely new to exercise or wanting to increase and/or vary your training, habit stacking can be really effective. These are some of the habit stacks that have worked really well for me.”

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1/ “After I drink my morning cup of hot water with lemon I will log onto the Boxx+ app and select my workout. I choose to stack my workout with this because this is something I do daily during time to myself before my kids wake up. My schedule at the moment doesn’t allow time for me to go to a studio class, so using the app ensures I can still do my favourite boxing workouts around my hectic schedule.”

2/ “After I brush my teeth at night, I will lay out my workout clothes for the morning. This is a visual cue to work out. On the days I don’t do this I am so much more likely to miss a workout.”

3/ “After I do my boxing workout, I will add on a 10-minute stretch class. Stretching is an important part of any exercise routine as it allows our muscles to recover more quickly and also work more efficiently. However, if I don’t stack a stretch on to my workout, I often find it hard to stick to doing a dedicated stretch session each week.”

4/ “After I have done my weekly online food shop, I will schedule my workouts for the week ahead. Research shows that you’re three times more likely to show up and exercise consistently if you set your intentions of where, when and what time you will work out.”

5/ “After I have eaten my lunch when working from home, I will go for a walk. I do this even on the days I work out, as otherwise I can spend the whole day sat at my laptop which isn’t good for my body or mind.”

Bryony Deery’s 5 wellbeing habit stacks

“I’m trying to always make my time as efficient as possible,” says Deery. Here’s how:

1/ “I love Epsom salt baths; I think they’re incredibly healing and anti-inflammatory. I sit in the bath for a minimum of 20 minutes, and I’ll put on a guided a breathwork or sound bath class from my app and just lie there making the use of that time. Honestly, doing a sound bath whilst in the bath is incredible!”

2/ “I find ways of being sociable that feel a little more active and more conducive to wellness rather than always thinking ‘let’s go for a drink’. It’s trying to reframe socialising, like ‘why don’t we do a class?’ or ‘why don’t we meet for a walk?’.”

3/ “I make a work meeting active by going for a walk with a colleague, instead of having a seated meeting. Sometimes, if I need to do some creative thinking for work, I’ll call my assistant and have a brainstorm while I’m walking.”

4/ “I do infrared saunas most days. It’s a big investment but I have rheumatoid arthritis and this, alongside ice baths, has taken my symptoms away. When I’m in the sauna, I have my legs up the wall which really drains the fluid from them. That position also puts me in such a relaxed state. Maybe at the same time, I’ve got a podcast on in the sauna – I’m trying to do as many things at one time, because we are all time poor, and so I try to be as efficient as possible.”

5/ “I’m obsessed with the Oura ring; it’s really helped me stay on track with my sleep by making me more accountable. Just by wearing it and checking your scores you become more aware of your bedtimes and your sleep quality – and the things that jeopardise that.”

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