Now that the holidays are over and the New Year's Resolution to get active and improve our health has been made (and let's hope not discarded!), it's time to get serious about it. Everything we read nowadays stresses the importance of including activity in our daily lives if we want to be healthy and live longer. We just need to move more. But HOW do we do it and stick with it? And what if we don't like to exercise? Can we really change our behavior for the better?
According to Dr. Josh Klapow of the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, in addition to having information and motivation, individuals must have a core set of behavior change skills in order to sustain lasting change. This skill set is something all of us can develop and use to our benefit and fits under the acronym of SMART.
S -- Set specific and observable goals for ourselves -- the more specific, the better. For example, make an appointment to walk for 30 minutes at the park on Saturday morning from 8-8:30 am. It helps to make a "reachable" goal -- start small and increase in increments.
M -- Monitor actions: Write it down. Record our activities someplace where we will see it regularly. Visible behavioral cues increase the chance of doing and maintaining an activity. Recent research has shown that people who wear pedometers actually take more steps in a day.
A -- Arrange the environment for success. For example, if we want to eat less junk food in addition to increasing activity, we need to remove most of the junk food from our houses. We can keep a small amount of favorite junk food and put it in an out-of-the-way cupboard. It's there if we want a little but it's not tempting us every time we open the cupboard.
R -- Recruit support from family and friends. Tell them that we need their help so we can become "partners in change" and request their encouragement of our endeavors. If we "put ourselves out there", we increase our accountability and chance of success.
T -- In the early stage of behavioral change, we need to treat ourselves consistently and frequently with whatever we like that won't sabotage our goal. This is a critical component that helps keep us going. We need not wait until we reach a larger, longer term goal.
Of course, everyone slips off track every once in a while but keep in mind that the least amount of time off, the better. Establish a "three days off" rule and set a specific day and time to start back up. And it may help to remember that it takes time to build new habits and break old habits. But the more we do something, the sooner it will become a habit.
A simple tool that may be useful in forecasting who will stick with positive behavioral change is to ask the following questions and answer them honestly:
How healthy will I be in five years? What will I look like? What will I feel like? How will my choices and behavior affect others?
So, if, like us, you are one of the milllions of people who have decided that now is the time to make a lifestyle change, we hope some of the above suggestions will help you reach your goal and we wish you much success. Contact us if you need extra support or have questions. Also, check out these websites for more information on the benefits of daily exercise: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/physical/everyone.htm http://www.fitness.gov http://www.dhfs.wisconsin.gov/health/physicalactivity/