What helps you stick to your fitness plan?
The statistic is sobering: roughly half the people who will start an exercise program this month will drop out within 3-6 months. Only 10-20 percent will still be exercising two years from now!
Exercise is the number one weapon in the battle of obesity, which is a war that we are currently losing as a country. The field of exercise psychology is identifying what helps a person to be one of the 10-20 percent who will still be exercising when others have long since stopped. Read on to learn the secrets to sticking to your exercise program for life!
Research conducted at the University of Florida identified that different personality traits correlate with different exercise environments and activities. In other words, some people will not be motivated by going to the gym to workout, but are motivated when their exercise program involves activities performed outside in nature.
The researchers in this study identified five personality traits: extroverted, neurotic, conscientious, agreeable/compliant and open-minded. A person who identifies themselves as being more of one trait will be more motivated to exercise under conditions that are linked with that trait.
An extroverted person is someone who is very sociable and likes to be around other people. This type of person does better with exercise programs involving group activities and exercises classes, both of which have a high degree of social contact built within the activity.
A neurotic person is someone who generally tends towards feeling fearful, embarrassed, sad or guilty. This type person is least likely to exercise and will do much better working out indoors at home rather than going to a gym.
A conscientious person is someone who is very self-disciplined and likes structured exercise programs. They don’t like having an instructor telling them what to do and do better following a training program possibly downloaded from an online site so that they can follow it on their own.
An agreeable person is very compliant and does better with morning workouts because they feel better knowing they have successfully complied with the workout before the day fully begins and it makes them feel good about themselves.
Finally, an open-minded person prefers variety over repetitiveness and does well with a cross-training program or possibly a multi-event sport like a triathlon.
If you are a person who is more extroverted, but are following a workout that is home-based and is mostly done solo, then you will most likely be one of the exercise drop outs. But, if you joined a gym and were meeting people at the same time you were getting in your workouts, you may end up being in the 10-20 percent who is still exercising beyond two years. The secret is to identify your personality type and choose an exercise environment/activity/structure that most closely matches your type, according to this research study.
Many research studies have found that, in general, more people stick to programs if it has a social component. This may explain why triathlons are one of the fastest-growing sports in America right now. There are organized triathlon clubs in most cities and when you race in the event there is crowd support, volunteers and many other athletes with you.
If you want to continue exercising beyond the three-month mark it is a good idea to make at least one of your workouts one that you have committed to with a trainer, a partner or an exercise group of some sort. A recent study tracked new exercisers, and included 16 married couples and 30 married individuals who joined the exercise club solo. After one year, 43 percent of the solo exercisers had stopped and 84 percent of the married couples who exercised together were still going strong!
So, at least one exercise session per week should be with other people in order to serve as an anchor that may save you from abandoning your program in the long run.
Make it have a purpose
Working out with the intention to lose weight or get healthier are noble goals, but research out of the University of Wisconsin by Bill Morgan, PhD, identified that workouts that have a purpose are better at meeting health and weight loss goals and can keep you motivated beyond the achievement of them. For instance, riding a bike for exercise for an hour is less motivating in the long run than riding your bike to work because riding to work has a purpose and can find a permanent place in your daily lifestyle.
Another way to give a workout a purpose is to sign up for an event to benefit a charity and then train for that event. I met a woman at a convention who said she had lost over 100 pounds and she did it by signing up for a Team in Training 100-mile bike ride. At the time she signed up she was 100 pounds overweight, didn’t own a bike and had not ridden one since she was 15. She knew she had to train in order to complete the event she had made a commitment to and in order to not completely embarrass herself! While training and raising money for cancer research she lost 100 pounds, but she did it without focusing on losing weight. Instead, she was focused on becoming a fit bike rider who could complete 100 miles to help raise money to find a cure for cancer.
A workout that has specific progressions that you follow week by week will be more motivating in the long run then a workout that is the same day in and day out. For instance, if you are running 3 miles at 5.5 miles per hour every time you run, it won’t be long until you get bored and stale. If you follow a running plan that has you running 3 miles at 5.5 miles per hour as a base, then has you do half-mile repeats at 5.7mph at week 2, then half-mile repeats at 5.8mph at week 3, then has you run 3 miles at 5.6mph in week 4, you are more apt to continue with your workouts.
According to exercise physiologist Robert Sonstroem, PhD at the University of Rhode Island, the reason for this is that these type workouts have built in “success experiences”. Each time you hit the new goal in a workout you feel great about yourself and are motivated to take the next step in the progression.
If you have struggled in the past to maintain an exercise program, pick one of the techniques above and institute it into a weekly workout plan. You may find it is the key to finally sticking to your exercise program for the long run.
Judy Torel is a USAT coach, personal trainer, nutrition consultant and psychotherapist. Her office is located in Planet Fitness, Loudonville. She can be reached at 469.0815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.