The Exercise Habit

Why join the OWLympics?

For centuries, we have known how to live long healthy lives. One of the main ingredients of that formula is regular exercise. Our bodies, developed over millions of years of evolution and fine-tuning, are meant to be moved. We believe that an active lifestyle, which includes daily exercise, can be developed as an habit. OWLympics is a program to help all of us form the essential good habit of daily exercise. 

To help you develop your own, unique approach to a fitter lifestyle, we've developed a system of points and levels to give you feedback.


Exercise: a healthy habit 

Most people don't believe that exercising can be a habit. Or feel that they cannot form that habit. The reasons vary: "I have never exercised regularly," "I am too busy," "I am healthy, I don't need to exercise"...

However, many people who exercise regularly feel restless, unhappy, lethargic if they do not exercise for a few days. Why? In short, exercising is a habit for them, and missing exercise creates a "craving" for it. This craving works like all other cravings, but this craving is good for you. It not only gives you a temporary high but also has been shown to be fantastically good for you over the long-term.  How good? 

Daily exercise can fundamentally alter which part of your genes "express" themselves. So, for example, while your genetic makeup may predispose you to Alzheimer, regular exercise can reduce your risk to normal level. In fact, the science of epigenetics studies how our behavior fundamentally alters which part of our DNA expresses itself and which does not. 


Creating a new "healthy habit" in a busy world

We form new habits all the time, and can do so at any age. All we need to give ourselves is some time. How much time? Research shows that it takes on the average somewhere between 40 to 120 days to form a habit, depending on how difficult a task we are talking about and how willing we are to form the habit. That time frame is great - it is a single semester at Rice!  (Even the nature wanted us to live our lives in semester chunks!!)

In short, if you exercise regularly for a semester, then your body will begin to "crave" regular exercise - making you happier and fitter along the way.

The ultimate goal - mindfulness

In the end, OWLympics' goal is to promote mindfulness - listening to our bodies. Forming "the exercise habit" means that our bodies will develop an automatic reminder system, allowing us to remove our dependence on an app, the latest gizmo, or a complicated calendar. Once the exercise habit forms, many people begin to notice other changes, including a desire to eat and sleep better. They begin to notice that their brains are sharper, they can focus for long hours, and their overall productivity, happiness and self-image improves. 

Unlike Olympics where you compete with others, OWLympics is about competing with ourselves of yesterday.

Program components

There are four main components of OWLympics
  1. Your goal 
  2. Your trusted group
  3. The experts
  4. Tracking progress

1. Your goal

No matter how fit or unfit you are, choose a goal. We recommend that the everyone choose a two-part goal.
  1. Either learn something new and/or get better at what you know
    Set yourself a 12-week goal. In general, very very few of us ever set such long-term goal in terms of health achievements. To help you out, we have given a few examples at the bottom of this page. 
  2. Achieve your goal(s) by exercising regularly
    To achieve your personal goal, it will be important to have a plan and establish a regular routine to get better. That regularity is the key to achieving your goal and, in the process, forming a new habit. The objective will be to reach the goal of exercising 5 days a week, while earning 100+ points per session. The points goal will help you reach the activity levels shown in research to give optimal benefits.
Examples of 12-week Goals:
  1. Exercise 45-minutes a day, 5 days a week for 4 weeks in a row. So not just one good week,  but it's the streak that counts.
  2. Walk or run 180 miles in 12 weeks. 180 miles = 3 miles/exercise X 5 exercises/week X 12 weeks.
  3. Swim 15Km in 12 weeks. 15Km = 250m/visit X 5 visits/week X 12 weeks.
  4. Bike 100Km in 12 weeks. 

2. Your trusted team

We are the most social animals. Evolutionary biologists tell us that our brains are so big because we are the most social species. In fact, we are so social that a large part of our self-identity consists of what others think about us! So it is no wonder we do so well when we can work in teams where we trust the team partners. In fact, almost all of us seem to remember how we achieved more due to positive influence of someone.

So while OWLympics is about personal progress, a big part of our definition of personal is social. So as the most crucial ingredient of OWLympics, each of us is encouraged to pick a team. The team should have people who you trust the most, feel comfortable sharing your goals, your perceived challenges and let them participate in your progress towards your goals. You should feel comfortable with the team-mates when they give you suggestions or send you friendly reminders to keep you on track towards your goals. A little friendly pressure can go a long way ;)

Some suggestions about forming teams:
  1. The team members can be your fellow lab mates, significant others, your friends or even your advisors. 
  2. The only condition is that the team members have to also participate in OWLympics, so they will also have personal goals and should trust you with their goals. So mutual trust is important.
  3. Automatically, the team will have a goal, that the team should work together to meet everyone's personal goals. So each member in the team is supporting other team members in their team.
  4. We will suggest small teams, no more than 10 people.
  5. Best to have a team "captain," a position which could be rotated among team members. Captain's main task is to  periodically look at everyone's progress and find innovative methods to keep the team on track.

3. The experts

One of the biggest hesitation for many people is that they feel embarrassed to start.  But we all know the world at Rice is more supportive and helpful than we know. None of us feel embarrassed about asking questions in classes. So we don't need to worry about how we look like trying some new exercise or sport. Like academic knowledge, most exercises are also skills which can be learnt and who better to learn from, someone who is better at it.

Also, we do not want you to get hurt trying something new or pushing yourselves to new limits. So, we will like to connect you with experts who want to help you out at every step. Just like your professors who are always ready to help, the fitness experts are there to help. 

The expert could be a colleague who is very good at a particular activity, or a sports club at Rice, or a specific class in Rec Center. Let us know your wishes and we will try our best to connect you with an expert.

Here again, forming groups may be more fun and productive way. If you want to learn more, learning in a group can be very productive. In fact, there is loads of research to substantiate it. And it is no accident, most of the education system is organized into classes.

4. Tracking progress

Finally, we will like you to track your progress towards your goals. It is very simple.
  1. Every time you exercise, log the following into the OWLympics website:
    • number of minutes you exercised
    • intensity level: (light, moderate, intense): To measure your intensity level, pay attention to your heart-rate and sweat level, and judge it based on that. You might ask, why not use some more refined metric and complicated calculation. Our answer is simple - we want you to measure how you are pushing yourself. Be mindful of your own self.
    • how many people you did the activity with: The aim is to see if going social allows you to push yourself more than going solo. For many people, social trumps solo.
  2. The OWLympics will give you points, and also provide visualization of your progress. As you earn more points, you will move through different levels. 
  3. Your progress will be shared with your friends in your trusted group. The objective is to help you discuss ideas and progress as a group with other team members. For example, you may find that a team member is not able to put in enough time every week. Then it will be worthwhile sharing ideas on strategies to improve one's performance.
Your reporting is honor system based. We trust you will do the right thing. And the only person who benefits from these points is you. And since you are sharing only with your trusted group, you can feel at ease. 

Have feedback or questions? Please contact the OWLympics crew at!
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