If your New Year’s resolution is to do more exercise – read this!

Monday, 14 January 2019

It’s that time of year again where we start afresh and set intentions for the year ahead. Have you decided that 2019 is the year to make a change to your physical activity levels but you aren’t quite sure how to get started? Are you someone who has set exercise goals in the past, but keeps failing to reach them? If this sounds like you, or if you have already made an intention to do more exercise in 2019, then it’s time for a new way of thinking.

No matter how big or small your goal – whether it’s walking for five minutes or running your first marathon, losing 2kg or losing 20kg, change requires thought, planning and SMARTER goal setting.

Sitting down and making a plan can take time but by following the SMARTER acronym you will be surprised at what you can achieve:

Specific: Saying “I will do more exercise” is too vague. SMARTER physical activity goals are specific about the frequency, duration and type of activity that you plan to do.

Examples of specific physical activity goals include:

  • I will walk for 30 minutes at least three days per week.
  • I will ride my bike to work at least three days per week.
  • I will use the stairs instead of the elevator / escalator at the shopping centre.
  • I will do at least 10,000 steps per day.

Monitor / Measure: Adding numbers to your goal allows you to track your progress. For example, physical activity can be measured in time, frequency or distance. Recording can be as simple as a mark on the calendar, to using a wearable fitness tracker that calculates different types of workouts, kilojoules burned, heart rates and step counts.

Actions: Your plan needs to contain at least one thing you are going to do along with other things that will enable you to do it. For example, if you have decided that you will start walking for 30 minutes at least three days per week, consider what you may need to do in order to achieve this goal. Will you need to set your alarm clock to get out of bed earlier, buy appropriate footwear or map out a suitable route in your area to walk.

Realistic: The goal you set yourself needs to be challenging enough that you get a sense of achievement for doing it, but not so hard that you set yourself up to fail or injure yourself. It is important to consider your exercise history, your current or previous medical issues and injuries along with your current situation regarding your schedule and responsibilities. If you are unsure about what is appropriate for you, an accredited exercise physiologist or your GP can help you get started.

Time limited: It is a good idea to include an end-point in the not too distant future. For example, if you plan to walk for 30 minutes at least three days a week, give yourself a chance to achieve your plan every week. When you do, it will build your self-esteem and confidence. You may also wish to set a date to review your plan e.g. in 8-12 weeks. This is the ideal time to take stock of what you have achieved, reward yourself for your efforts (perhaps by buying some new workout gear), test your fitness, and reset a new goal.

Expect problems: Expecting problems allows you to plan for them. Consider the things that may stop you from achieving your goal. Common roadblocks or barriers to physical activity are:

  1. A loss of or lack of motivation… “I don’t feel like it today”
  2. The weather… “It’s too hot / cold”
  3. Lack of time; too many commitments
  4. Onset of illness
  5. Injury

Consider what has stopped you from sticking to your physical activity plans in the past, and spend some time thinking about how you could do things differently if it were to happen again.

Review: Self-management tasks such as physical activity are a continual learning opportunity. The more you try out a task or goal you have set for yourself, the more you can learn from it. What went well? What could be improved? What got in the way? Each time you can revise your goal so that it fits your current situation. Life changes, and what works during a certain time in life may not work if your circumstances change. Eight to 12 weeks is a common review timeframe for fitness and physical activity goals.

Instead of simply saying you are going to do more exercise, be SMARTER! Say I am going to walk at least five days per week for 30 minutes. I will do it before breakfast. I will set my alarm to get me out of bed and tell myself that I’ll feel amazing once it’s done. When it rains I’ll take an umbrella.

I’m off to buy a new pair of cotton socks to help protect my feet. That is a SMARTER 2019 goal.

Kate Battocchio, Accredited Practising Dietitian & Exercise Physiologist

Keywords: Exercisefitness

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