OK In Health - Exercise

Starting and Maintaining an Exercise Program - February 2022

By Miscellaneous

Despite the numerous benefits of exercise, Canadians are not reaching the recommended amounts outlined in the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. While over 50% of Canadians are self-reporting that they are achieving the recommended amount, this percentage decreases to less than 20% when people are objectively monitored. The beginning of the new year is a time to set resolutions, but as reported by Dr. Ryan Rhodes of the University of Victoria's Behavioural Medicine Lab, less than a third of beginners follow through with their intentions after six months. The first two weeks is the time period where much of the drop-off occurs. According to Dr.Cecilie Thogersen-Ntoumani, a professor with the Health Psychology and Behavioural Medicine Research Group, Curtin University, Australia, the biggest challenge is not starting an exercise program but rather maintaining it. The following are strategies that may help you start and maintain your exercise program.

Make exercise a habit
WebMD states that the ultimate goal is to make your workout part of your regular routine, so that you will do it without even thinking about it. The more you make an activity part of your life, the easier it is to stay consistent. Dr. Rhodes is currently researching how to make physical activity a habit instead of relying on motivation so that exercise becomes a "meaningful part of everyday life." 
The concept of high-quality motivation
Dr.Thogersen-Ntoumani says the problem is that many people have low quality motivation as opposed to high quality motivation. A person can have high motivation but it may be of low quality. Low quality motivation examples include exercising because you feel guilty about your health, you feel pressured by others to exercise or you are exercising to lose weight – these will not sustain exercise behaviour. The three factors of high quality motivation include feeling competent, autonomous (you feel you are able to make your own decisions) and related to others (an opportunity to socialize is an important motivator). Questions you can ask: 
Do you enjoy the activity? e.g., if you don’t like jogging, don’t jog! 
Does the activity fit in your life? 
Do you feel relatively competent doing this activity? 
Does this activity give you some satisfaction? 
Action before motivation
Another perspective comes from Rubin Khoddam, a PhD student, University of Southern California. He presents the concept that committed and valued action precedes motivation. Actions need to be consistent with the type of person you want to be and what you value. He suggests examining what happens to your motivation when you act in ways consistent with your values. Be aware of self-talk that will impede you from taking action e.g., "I will do it later," "I will have more time tomorrow," "I am not good enough," or "I can’t do it." The bottom line: take action. He states, “If you focus on action and not on motivation, you may notice that the idea of motivation was all a myth.”

Goal setting/planning
You can increase your chance of success by making a plan that is specific, achievable and realistic. Writing down your goals and recording your accomplishments may be a way to motivate you. A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology measured how often people exercised in a two-week time frame. Those who were in the group that wrote down a plan of where and when they would exercise were much more likely to follow through (91 percent). Writing down where and when you will exercise makes the environment become a trigger for action, rather than your level of motivation. Reward yourself with a meaningful and enjoyable reward for the achievement of even short-term goals. Start slowly and gradually increase your time and/or intensity. Helen O'Connor, a sports and exercise psychologist, suggests that if you want to do something three times a week, start with three times as opposed to once a week, because research shows that frequent, early repetition of certain behaviours like exercise increases the likelihood that the behaviour will become a habit. These beginning activity sessions, however, should be "slow and comfortable." Beginners who set maximal goals can become overwhelmed and frustrated. Do not set yourself up for failure. Another idea is to target a specific event e.g., a road race or charitable walk. This will provide a goal to prepare for. You can learn about setting goals and making weekly action plans by attending a free self-management program from Self-Management BC of the University of Victoria. Programs are available in person or online. For more information, visit www.selfmanagementbc.ca, call toll-free 1-866-902-3767 or 604-940-1273 

Finding support
Susan McQuillen, RD, suggests connecting with someone who can keep you motivated e.g., workout buddy, counselor, nutritionist, or personal trainer. This person is someone you can check in with and who will provide you with support.
A free program available from the University of Victoria is the Self-Management Health Coach Program or email smhcoach@uvic.ca.  This program provides you with a health coach who contacts you once a week for three months to support you to meet your health goals. 
Add in extra activity when possible
Always look for opportunities to add activity e.g., take the stairs instead of an elevator, walk an extra lap around the mall when shopping, or park further from a destination so you must walk a longer distance. Harvard’s School of Public Health suggests walking at a brisk pace e.g., walk as though you are going to meet someone and you are running a little late. As you increase your fitness, you will be able to fit more into the time you have set aside. Remember too that you can piece your workout together e.g.,ten minute increments three times a day can be done if you have trouble getting in 30 minutes in one session. Do not have an “all or nothing” attitude since a little physical activity is better than no physical activity. According to the Healthguide.org website, even modest amounts of exercise can have significant effects on mental and emotional health.

Expect to get off track from time to time
Be mentally prepared for setbacks as life happens e.g., unexpected guests, a trip out of town, or sickness. Harvard Medical School indicates that if you get off track you want to assess your current fitness level before resuming. If you have been away from it for two weeks or more, do not expect to be at the level you had reached. Instead, cut your workout down by half for the first few days. Mindset is important – do not focus on the negative feelings of guilt but focus on getting started again. Ways to do this include coming up with a reward for yourself, focusing on how good you will feel when you have completed your workout, and lining up someone to go with you e.g., walking with a buddy or attending a group fitness program with friends.

Source: University of Victoria website, WebMD website, Helpguide.org website, Psychology Today website, Psychology Today website, The Guardian website, The Conversation website Mayo Clinic website, American College of Sports Medicine website, ABC News Australia website

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Starting and Maintaining an Exercise Program
You can increase your chance of success by making a plan that is specific, achievable and realistic. Writing down your goals and recording your accomplishments may be a way to motivate you. A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology measured how often people exercised in a two-week time frame. Those who were in the group that....
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