So you’re thinking about becoming more active? That’s terrific! Being active on a regular basis will help improve your health and happiness.
Before you start, it’s important to understand whether you are trying to become more active generally, or to start exercising. Physical activity refers to all types of activity, even short bursts like walking up a flight of stairs. Exercise is activity that you do with a specific goal or purpose. For an activity to be considered exercise it would need to be 20 minutes or more of continuous, moderate effort, for example, walking at a medium pace.
Examples of physical activity include:
Examples of exercise include 20 minutes or more of:
Increasing your physical activity will not take much extra time during your day; neither will getting 20 minutes of exercise a day. The trick is to ensure the activity or exercise is scheduled for most days and doesn’t get pushed aside by competing demands. Both physical activity and exercise will provide you with health benefits. Including both physical activity and exercise in your lifestyle is likely to offer you the greatest benefit in terms of weight loss, more energy or managing a specific health issue.
Making the distinction between physical activity and exercise is important because the inclusion of physical activity will reinforce your commitment to a comprehensive lifestyle change. The National Physical Activity Guidelines, published by the Australian Government, recommend that all Australians view physical activity ‘as an opportunity, not an inconvenience’. If more Australians adopted this attitude Australia would undoubtedly be a healthier country.
Even though most Australians have some idea of what makes up a healthy lifestyle, the population is more overweight than ever. There’s a clear gap between what we know about health and how we act.
This does not mean that Australians are lazy. By studying regular exercisers, researchers have discovered the secrets to consistently incorporating physical activity or exercise into your lifestyle. These are:
Regardless of whether you choose physical activity or exercise, preparation is the key to success.
Before you start choosing an exercise or activity for yourself, it’s important to address how this will impact your lifestyle and the choices you make on a daily basis. Whether you are trying to quit smoking, eat better or increase your activity levels, without proper preparation you won’t be giving yourself the best chance of success.
Firstly, understand that your success will depend only partly on motivation.
Motivation levels fluctuate in everyone; even exercise fanatics find it hard to get motivated from time to time. So before you start, expect that there will be brief periods when you are not achieving your goals. If this occurs, remind yourself that this is not failure; it’s simply life getting in the way. So long as you plan how to resume your new activity level then you need not worry.
If interruptions mean you’re not achieving your activity goals, keep a log of when you’re active for more than 10 minutes each day.
Why are you seeking to change your lifestyle by increasing your activity level? Are you introducing this change for yourself or is it about what someone else wants or has said to you? Internal motivation means that it is a change that you want. If you are making a change for someone else (external motivation), chances are it won’t last more than a few days or weeks.
By listing the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ for change, you can review the source of your motivation. Some examples have been listed below; you can tick those that apply. You are likely to have your own reasons though, so add these to the list. Be specific when listing your reasons as this will help you unearth your motivation source.
|My motivation for change|
|Reasons for change||Reasons change may not happen|
|Improving my general health||Less time for other things|
|Having more energy||I might feel like a failure if I don’t meet my goals|
|Managing my stress||I don’t like getting sweaty|
|Being able to play with my kids or grandchildren|
|Helping lower my cholesterol|
|Helping to control my blood sugar levels|
If you have listed safety concerns about activity in the ‘Reasons change may not happen’ column in the table above, you might benefit by talking with your doctor, health professional or experienced fitness professional. It is important that you are confident that your exercise or physical activity will not injure you.
If the pros don’t outweigh the cons in your mind, you may need to spend some more time considering your motivation, or you could need a little support — read on.
Making a lifestyle change by yourself can be tough, and if you think that you lack the confidence to succeed with this change, then consider asking for help from a partner, family member or work colleague.
Not everyone will benefit from external support and some people are perfectly happy to exercise on their own, using it as valuable time to be with their thoughts. Others like to chat and debrief and find exercise the ideal environment for this. If you think you might benefit from some support, complete the table below to assist you in thinking about how this might work.
|My support network|
|Neighbour||Walking together — we support and encourage each other||Tuesday mornings and Thursday evenings|
|Work colleague||They ask me how it’s going. They have recently lost weight through activity and are keen to support me||A few times a week|
When researchers ask sedentary people whether they know that exercise is good for them, almost all sedentary people say that they do. The most common answer to the next question, ‘Why aren’t you active if you know it’s good for you?’ is ‘I don’t have enough time’.
Take a few moments to think about what a typical working day or day off includes for you. Now ask yourself how important these activities or pastimes are to you. Are they an essential part of your lifestyle? Chances are many of them are important for maintaining or improving your quality of life or happiness.
So, if your days always seem to be busy, finding time to be more active might require you to review which activities you can:
Therefore, to say that you don’t have time to exercise might be a little simplistic. Instead, it is about priorities. The key then, is to review how important increasing your physical activity is to you when you already have these competing priorities. If it is important you will ensure that you modify your day-to-day activities to fit in physical activity. Examples of re-prioritising might include:
Spend time thinking about how your current priorities are likely to interrupt your plans. Anticipating disruptions to your plans will help you to:
So this might be where your first bit of support comes in. Why not get the help of your partner, friend or work colleague to brainstorm what the most likely interruptions will be to your activity plan. Examples are listed below.
|Roadblocks that could stop me from being active|
|I don’t want to exercise in the dark by myself||I’ll walk with my neighbour Sue|
|I don’t like exercising in the cold||I’ll walk at lunchtime at work during the cooler months|
|I find exercise boring||
I’ll start with a friend and finish with a coffee to make it a social event
I’ll plan a holiday that includes an activity that needs training for, e.g. a bush-walking holiday
|Bad weather||I’ll walk around the mall at lunch time|
|I don’t think I can get out of bed in the mornings during winter||
I’ll set the timer on the heater so that the house is warm for me when I get up
I’ll have my warm clothes laid out ready for me to get changed into
I’ll wear a beanie, scarf and gloves to keep me warm
|I’m too tired after work but this is the best time for me to exercise because I hate getting up early||
I commit to going out every day even if it’s just to walk to the corner of my block, because I know that once I get out of the house I will feel like walking
I’ll also get my exercise clothes out each morning and lay them on my bed ready to get into when I get home
I’ll have a big drink of water before I leave work for home to try to wake me up
By anticipating your roadblocks and planning how to overcome each one you are planning your success! People who exercise or are physically active on a regular basis are prepared for interruptions and quickly re-establish their routine.
Regularly incorporating physical activity or exercise into your life should not require you to have high motivation all the time. It simply requires you to remove or reduce the barriers that make it hard for you to restart your physical activity or exercise.
Note: It is not possible to prescribe exercise that is suitable for all people. Exercise should be tailored for health, age and desired results. This article is intended to offer the reader general concepts only. For further advice you are advised to consult your health professional (GP, exercise physiologist or physiotherapist) or a fitness professional (fitness centre staff or personal trainer).
Last Reviewed: 19 November 2009