How Dry July Can Help You Build Better Fitness Habits for the Rest of Your Life

Giving up alcohol in Dry July has massive health benefits

So you've decided to take part in Dry July this year?

Giving up alcohol for a month comes with a whole host of health benefits. As soon as you finish your last drink, your body starts to repair itself — your liver starts to recover, your brain will be able to perform better, and your heart health will improve.

You’ll lose weight, gain motivation and enjoy mental clarity you may not have experienced for years.

But the benefits of your month away from alcohol can extend way beyond the end of your challenge. Ride the high of Dry July with these tips to help you build better fitness habits for life.

Focus on ‘Why’

Focus on your 'Why' for giving up alcohol

Better habits always start with a reason why. The clearer you get on your purpose, the more likely you will be to maintain your new habits long term. This all comes down to motivation — what's driving you to make the change?

Research suggests that external motivations, like weight loss or doing something because someone has told you to, are the least effective. The most effective are motivations you have internalised as being important to you — in line with your values and goals in life.

So, when you're thinking about why you want to change your habits, hone in on the difference they will make in your life. Do you want more energy so you can play with your kids? Do you want to think more clearly so you can get ahead in your career? Do you want to improve your heart health so you can live longer and enjoy time with your grandkids? Focus on your reason why, and the rest will follow.

Start Small for Big Gains

Starting with small changes leads to huge gains in the long term

When it comes to building new habits, the smaller the better. When you think about your next step, you should make sure that is the smallest possible action you can take. James Clear talks about this in his book, Atomic Habits:

“All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.”

Most people try to jump in at the deep end. If they want to work out three times per week, they start trying to achieve that goal right away. Does this sound familiar? The problem with this approach is that it is quite difficult to achieve if you're not used to fitting three workouts into your busy schedule. Life gets in the way.

The first habit needs to be so easy you can't possibly fail — it could be as simple as doing one pushup every day. This gives you something to build on each day, taking small steps towards your end goal.

Capitalise on Hangover-Free Weekends

Hangover-free weekends are a great benefit to giving up the booze

Make the most of your hangover-free weekends by making fun plans with friends. Get up early on a Sunday morning and go for a long hike in your favourite place, before the crowds arrive for the day.

Reinvent your free time. When you step away from alcohol, it's easy to see how much regular drinking impacts your life — and how much time you've lost to drinking, and its consequences, in the past. If you're used to sleeping in late on the weekend, waking up earlier extends your free time — giving you more time away from work to do the things you love and spending more time focusing on your health and enjoyment.

What's something that you would love to do but never seem to have time for? By focusing on enjoyment, you're leveraging that internal motivation we discussed earlier. Doing something because you enjoy it is the most effective way to build a new habit — it represents the strongest form of internal motivation, which is called intrinsic motivation.

In other words, finding time to do the things that you enjoy will maximise the likelihood of keeping your new habits up in the long term. So, spend July figuring out what you really want out of life. Try a new sport, visit a new place, pick up an old hobby, get an in-home exercise program developed by a PT, meet new people who share your interests — and put the wheels in motion to build lasting habits effortlessly.

Think Ahead with Implementation Intentions

Implementation intentions are an excellent strategy for changing your behaviour

What's your plan for when Dry July's over? If you intend to start drinking alcohol again, why not consider some small changes to the way you drink?

By the time August arrives, you'll understand the impact going alcohol-free can have on your life, but this doesn't mean you need to give up alcohol completely to experience some of these benefits. Even small changes to your habits can have a profound effect.

A great way to do this is to set what psychology calls 'implementation intentions'. These are intentions that use existing behaviours to build new habits. This is an effective way to change our behaviour, since habits are a response to cues in our environment. To do this, take an existing behaviour and attach it to the new habit you would like to build, using an 'if, then' statement.

Some example if, then statements could include:

  • If I have an alcoholic drink, then I will follow it up with a glass of water.
  • If I drink alcohol one night, then I will take a break from alcohol the next night.
  • If I have a night out planned, I will make additional plans for the morning after, and stick to them.

Setting intentions like this doesn't stop you from drinking alcohol but encourages you to think about the wider implications. Drinking a glass of water after an alcoholic drink is an easy habit to build. It doesn't take much effort, but it can cut your alcohol intake in half — without impacting on fun. And since dehydration is a key influencing factor when it comes to hangovers, it can help your body recover quickly and make you feel better the next day.

So, why not keep up the momentum of Dry July, and start building healthy habits for the rest of your life.

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