“I can’t believe thatElena stopped coming to class,” an instructor at your fitness center says. “She was the most enthusiastic of the whole bunch two months ago. She said this was the year she was going to stick to her plans to exercise regularly. Her doctor had recommended our program, she had bought new clothes, arranged her schedule, and spent half an hour after class with me one day the first week making sure she was doing all of the stretches correctly. Now I haven’t seen her in two weeks, and my intuition tells me I will never see her again. What could I have done differently to prevent her from dropping out?”
Public health experts are encouraging people to become more active to improve theirhealth and to fight the alarming rise in obesity rates. Why, then,are more than half ofadults in the U.S.sedentary? Especially when fitness professionals are all here, trained and willing to help people develop effective exercise programs.
Fitness professionals know that humans are complex creatures, whose behavior is not easily predicted by psychological formulas or equations. This complexity is wonderful, and is what makes us human. But this complexity can also be frustrating to fitness professionals who aretrying everything in their bag of tricks to motivate clients to exercise. The good news is that we do have some information on ways to help clients stick to their exercise programs.
Behavior modification: Effective techniques for behavior change
Behavior-modification techniques increase the likelihood of success in behavior-change programs. Effective techniques include the following:
Help clients turn vague intentions into specific action plans. The more specific the plan, the better. Help clients nail down the whats, wheres and whens of physical activity. Encourage them to write their plans into their calendars, just as they would schedule important meetings.
Set up self-monitoring systems. Give clients a chart to record exercise sessions. Record-keeping should focus on behaviors (e.g., strength training, 30 minutes) rather than weight loss or fitness test results. Completing a behavior (exercise session) means daily success, whereas changes in weight or fitness may not be apparent for some time.
Help clients anticipate and solve problems. Encourage clients to learn from past experiences of relapse. Brainstorm solutions to common problems, such as program disruption from illness, travel, weather, or extra duties at home or work.
Help clients explore effective ways to deal with stress and other negative feelings (such as regular exercise).Thesefeelings (depression, anxiety, etc.) often cause relapse, and a “why does it even matter” attitude.
Encourage clients to reach out for social support. People are more likely to exercise if they have friends, coworkers or family members who will join them, or at least cheer them on.
Great expectations: A double-edged sword
Fitness professionals know that we can expect great things from exercise. We spend a lot of time and energy educating clients and potential clients about the wonderful benefits of regular physical activity. And indeed, clients are motivated by these promised benefits to come to an exercise class, or join a fitness center.