Forty percent of all chronic diseases can be prevented through a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating a healthy diet and working out regularly. Yet Americans have become increasingly obese and sedentary. “People just aren’t making the connection between unhealthy lifestyle choices and disease risk,” says Alice Burron, MS, spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise and author of Four Weeks to Fabulous. Doctors often try to change people’s attitudes by emphasizing the health benefits of exercise. But a recent study at the University of Missouri, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that telling people why exercising is good for them doesn’t motivate them. People don’t “think” themselves into being more active and working out, the researchers concluded after studying data on close to 100,000 participants.
The researchers, led by Vicki Conn, PhD, RN, FAAN, associate dean for research and Potter-Brinton professor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing, also concluded that rather than focus on why patients should exercise, health experts should be emphasizing how to exercise. They believe that many people would exercise more and lose weight if they knew how to fit working out into their busy schedules.
Personalizing Your Exercise Goals
Burron says the chance of starting and sticking to an exercise regime increases if people personalize their decisions. “For example,” she says, “if they have a close friend or family member who has suffered from heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer, and they resolve to make healthy lifestyle changes to prevent the same fate, success almost always follows.”
Wanting to be a role model for your children or others in your life is another good motivation. “I want to teach my four children how to eat well and stay active for life,” she says. “Also, being in the fitness industry, everyone watches me closely — my weight and what I eat. I have to be a good example so that I am believable and people will follow my lead.”
Here are other ways that you can motivate yourself to lose weight and exercise regularly:
•Make specific goals. Don’t just say, “I want to lose weight.” Better: “I want to lose 20 pounds in a year.” Your goal needs to have specific timeframes and be something where you can measure your progress, Burron says.
•Be realistic. Never expect to lose 20 pounds in two weeks or even three. Set goals that are realistic with the effort and commitment that you can give to them, Burron says. Also, make sure you have the resources available to achieve your goals. Don’t choose swimming as your form of exercise if you don’t have access to a pool, or running outdoors when it’s going to be freezing outside for the next few months.
•Set reminders. Post sticky notes where you will see them, reminding yourself of the benefits of exercise and sticking to your goals.
•Schedule your workout. Put time for exercising on your calendar, just as you would a doctor’s appointment or work. You can use your phone to set an alarm when it’s time to get moving.
•Put it in writing. Keep a journal with your goals for the week along with your results. After working out, write down what you did and for how long. When you look at the numbers and see progress, it will encourage you to keep going.
•Consider the obstacles. Think about what might get in the way of your going for a brisk walk or biking at least three times a week. “Then come up with a plan to overcome these obstacles,” Burron says. For example, if you have small children that you can’t leave and have no one to watch them, buy a good stroller or bike so they can come along. Weather getting you down? Find a fitness center with child care or create a home exercise routine that you can do when the kids are napping or at school.
•Get a partner. “If you have the tendency to bail from exercise at the last minute, finding a partner who can keep you accountable might be a good strategy,” Burron says.
•Talk to a trainer. It’s important that your exercise routine be made of activities you like. The more you like them, the more motivated you’ll be to do them. However, you may need a personal trainer to teach you how to properly do the exercises you’ve chosen and set up a routine that you can live with easily.
Making lifestyle changes is similar to remodeling your house, Burron says. “It will go much better if you have a plan.” Even making small increases in your physical activities will be beneficial to your overall health.