"Just Do It" is a cute marketing slogan. But let's face it. It doesn't give you much direction to get to your fitness goals or help you stay motivated.
Despite best intentions, most people just don't get enough exercise. The recommended weekly physical activity is two and a half hours (150 minutes). But less than half of adults over 18 are meeting the guidelines for aerobic exercise, according to recent Centers for Disease Control Data. Furthermore, when surveyed about aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening activity, only 24.6% meet these weekly recommendations. These low rates of physical activity are alarming, given the immense benefits of exercise in improving mental and physical health and well-being.
Many people know exercise is good for them but struggle to go workout consistently. I know firsthand how hard this can be. In addition to being an integrative obesity specialist, I have personally gone from 0 minutes of physical activity in 2014 to becoming a consistent fitness enthusiast who's run over 6000 miles in the past eight years. Personally and professionally, utilizing SMARTER goals enhances starting & maintaining regular exercise. So here, we'll review each component of setting SMARTER goals. In this article, we'll discuss tips to get moving and stay moving even when your motivation is low or faced with distractions.
SMARTER stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Sensitive, Enjoyable, and Rewarding. Effective goals have each of these components. So that's why "Just Do It or even "exercise 150 minutes a week" isn't enough. Setting SMARTER goals is foundational to motivational interviewing. So let's dig a little deeper:
Traditionally the meaning for the "S" in SMARTER goal. However, I have found it helpful to begin with another definition for S when setting goals for exercise:
"Start with what you want to do." Desire is essential for transforming physical inactivity into action. Unfortunately, many focus on their most challenging or time-consuming workouts. Instead, start by doing what type of exercise or 'movement' you prefer. Beginning with what you want to do is especially helpful when you don't want to exercise.
Then be specific about your fitness goals. For example, "150 minutes a week" may be too big a plan. Instead, create smaller, specific goals like 30 minutes 5 days a week.
If you’re planning to walk/ run a race in 2024, go ahead and pick one! If you’re new to running or out of practice give yourself at least 3-4 months to train. Having a specific race to train towards will transform your desire to run a race to an achievable goal.
Using a fitness tracker or log can be helpful to keep you on track with your goals. I've used the same fitness app for the past eight years. It helps me stay accountable and see my goals. In addition, wearing fitness trackers has been shown to improve physical activity levels.
Contrary to what popular culture may have you believe. Setting rigorous, unrealistic fitness goals isn't motivating. On the contrary, it has the opposite effect. Research shows that while challenging goals are helpful, they must be specific and attainable. For example, working out daily for 60 minutes is unrealistic for most people. But setting smaller goals like working 10mins for 3x a day or 30 mins once a day to reach a larger goal like 150 mins a week can be helpful. On days you really don’t feel like moving I encourage you to aim for 1 minute of movement. One minute of movement is better than zero minutes of exercise.
Make sure to tie your goal to something you genuinely care about, not just what you should care about. I'd love to believe that a desire for better health is an influential motivating factor for everyone. But honestly, that is too vague. Make your goal as relevant as possible. Focus on specific numbers or outcomes beyond the scale. Since exercise isn't the best tool for dramatic weight loss, your scale may not immediately show results with exercise alone. Instead, focus on non-scale goals such as "I want to exercise at least 150 minutes a week to have more energy when I play with my kids." or "I want to increase my stamina when I play basketball with the guys, so they don't trash talk me." Or “I want to be able to dance to my favorite song without getting tired in two minutes.”
Duke Ellington famously said, "I don't need time. I need a deadline." Without setting a time frame for your goals, it remains a wish. However, selecting a realistic time frame for your progress is essential. Specifically, going from one extreme to the other is not recommended when starting an exercise routine. So jumping from no activity to maximal activity is a recipe for injuries and burnout. Instead, set up a realistic time goal, "I currently exercise 30 minutes a week, so I will increase my physical activity by 30 minutes each week for the next four weeks to reach my goal of 150 minutes a week of physical activity. This way you give yourself time to adjust to the goal and reduce the risk of quitting.
We are wired to run from pain and discomfort. So choosing to "make" yourself do a physical activity you don't enjoy won't last long. If you don't like running- don't start running right away. Instead, start with a fun movement. My fitness journey began with 10-minute dance routines and weekend nature walks before I became a runner. Remembering what you enjoy can be challenging if you're disconnected from regular movement. Ask yourself, "What physical activities did you like as a child?" Then, start with an adult version of that activity.
True, decreased rates of heart disease, increased longevity, and much more are rewards of beginning and continuing an exercise routine. However, delayed health rewards can feel elusive. So build more tangible rewards into your routine. Try to make these rewards beneficial and compatible with your fitness goals. For instance, a cupcake after each workout isn't a helpful reward. However, allowing yourself a weekly treat- food and nonfood- may be beneficial. You can also implement daily rewards such as a soothing bubble bath or warm shower with your favorite fragranced soap. Or simply a sticker chart that tracks your progress. Also remember accomplishing a goal is rewarding. If you’ve planned to run a 5K this year, imagine how sweet crossing that finish line will feel. Each time you finish a workout whether it’s 1 minute or 1 mile you’re rewarding yourself by moving close to your goal.
Regular exercise (aka "movement") is essential to living longer and healthier. Unfortunately, when starting an exercise journey it is hard to "just do it" without a practical movement plan. If you want to inspire patients to create a movement plan they'll stick to, encourage them to stop focusing on working harder and start setting SMARTER goals.
Read our previous blog post: "Release Regrets: Embrace Consistent Success In 2024"
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