What keeps us exercising once we start?

exercise-busy-schedule_FullMost of we older athletes know the health and social benefits of regular exercise. What worries me as an exercise scientist is that so many of my work colleagues and a few of my friends just don’t seem to understand that being physically active will promote both the quality and quantity of their lives. Many start a program but drop out quickly. In fact, the fitness industry data suggest 50% of people starting an exercise program drop out within the first 6 months.

The process of starting an exercise program is based on how people see themselves based on past and present realities. The keys to maximising the chances of someone starting an exercise program are the ones that improve self-perception and include:

  • Positive feedback and reinforcement from an exercise professional, doctor or close friend
  • Social support from significant others such as partners, exercise professionals, children, friends and close workmates.
  • Setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time bound) goals

Once started, what motivates people to stick with it? Here is a list of what the research says:

  1. Demographic and biological factors: Women, smokers and overweight people are less likely to adhere to an exercise program.
  2. Psychological and emotional factors: A person’s confidence in themselves being able to do the activity is crucial, especially in women. The influence of the exercise professional in helping believe people can do it is crucial. This highlights the importance of ensuring initial success is important.
  3. Behavioural factors: Setting aside and planning time to exercise and monitoring improvements to see change help adherence.
  4. Social and cultural support: Working with a buddy, a personal trainer, a coach or within a group of supportive others aids adherence.
  5. Environment: Easy access to facilities or exercise venues appears important. Thus, find a gym or training group that is near your home or work to maximise your chances of sticking with it.

Once started and sticking with it, what does the research say about overcoming the many barriers that can get in the way:

  • Lack of time: Plan, organise and prioritise exercise
  • Lack of motivation: Try new and different exercise options, play music or look for different venues and places to work out.
  • Poor body image: Focus on accomplishments rather than comparison with others. Focus on the many benefits of regular exercise.
  • Need for support: Exercise with a mate or spouse or a small group.
  • Guilt: Gain the support of family and friends.

If you’ve got a friend or partner who wants or needs to get moving, use these strategies to get ‘em going and sticking with it. If you’re having trouble getting yourself going, I hope this helps.

Kravitz, L. (2011). What motivates people to exercise:  Reasons and strategies for exercise adherence. IDEA Fitness Journal. January: 24-27.

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