Behavioural Change towards Exercise

We have all heard of the benefits of exercise (fat loss, improved mental health, reduced co-morbidities, improved wellbeing) but while some may find it easy, why is it usually challenging to make meaningful and lasting change towards exercises goals?

Tackling behavioural change through an understanding of the process for changing behaviours, and where this fits with you and your goals is imperative.

The model we are going to look at is the transtheoretical model of behaviour change, which outlines the progression of behaviour change through 6 stages. First, let’s find out at what of the 6 stages you are at, with respect to changing your behaviours around exercise, and give you some pointers to move through these stages. 

Stage 1: Pre-contemplation #

This is the stage where you have no intention of starting any physical activity. Commonly this is due to a lack of knowledge around the benefits of exercise, or exercise is viewed as disconnected from current goals. This is important to find a professional to guide you towards the benefits, and help you see where exercise should fit into your life. Often you will hear people in this stage describe​‘they do not want to exercise’ and​‘I just don’t know if there are any benefits.’ 

Advice: Read up on exercise related health benefits and book in with a Strength & Conditioning Coach to help start your journey. 

Stage 2: Contemplation #

As the name suggests, you are now starting to think about exercising but haven’t made any moves to integrate exercise into your life. Most people here understand that their current régime does not support where they want to be or achieve physically (health, fat loss, performance, rehabilitative). This is the stage where creating a link between exercise and your goals is important. Why would doing exercise benefit you and your goals? Often you will hear people in this stage describe,​‘I know I should be exercising….’. 

Advice: Create a link between your goals and exercise. What would exercise do to help you achieve your goals. 

Stage 3: Planning #

Now we’re ready to move. Perhaps you have already started to make some plans and beginning to integrate exercise into your schedule, but perhaps infrequently with a few stumbles along the way. This is a time where you should clearly define what your goals are and start plotting out a pathway to towards your goals. This is where you may want to employ the SMART goal principles to help you out. Once you have set your goals, we can begin to plan how we are going to achieve these. What is the first step? What are the barriers and what can we do about these? Often you will hear people in this stage describe,​‘I might look to do that class in a few weeks’ or​‘I’m looking into some gyms around my area, just assessing my options’. 

Advice: Clearly define your goals and implement small changes that assist you towards your overall goal. For example, a goal of losing 5kg of fat might manifest as​“I want to attend a Spin class at my gym each week for the next 6 weeks”. 

Stage 4: Action #

We’re up and running now. You have started to make changes to you schedule that means exercise is now part of the week. You have been working for roughly 6 months at keeping these changes, but still need some help to keeping you moving forward towards your goals. It is important to stay connect to your goals during this time and ask the questions are the changes and choices you are making aligned to your goals? 

Advice: Find some techniques to help you stay on track. Substitute activities related to the unhealthy behaviour with positive ones, surrounding yourself with a favourable environment. 

Stage 5: Maintenance #

Congratulations on making some significant changes in your life. This is the time to build on the momentum and continue pushing towards your goals. However, you should be mindful of situations that will cause you to slide back into old habits. This is natural, and typically stress related like a change or sudden increase in work, family issues, perhaps a health issue that means you are not sleeping as well. Finding avenues and strategies to manage these stressful times instead of reverting to behaviours that are taking you further away from your goal. The longer you stay in this stage for, the greater likelihood you will achieve your goals and make permanent changes to your life. 

Advice: Seek support to guide you through these times and continue to reinforce these positive changes. Friends, family, coach etc. 

Stage 6: Relapse #

Invariably everyone has a relapse in some shape or form. Depending on what stage of behaviour change you land on, start the process again and work your way back up. 

So, where did you land? 

For many of the clients I see, they typically fall in the third or fourth stage. These conversations revolve around goal setting and setting a clear plan with action points for both of us to work on. If you don’t know where to begin with goals then ask a friend, a Strength & Conditioning Coach or other health professional. Together you discuss and plan out your goals to work on.

Finally, to summarise and help get you started, remember these short points:

  • Identify what stage you think you are in
  • Clearly define your goals
  • Identify what changes need to be made for you to achieve those goals
  • Identify potential barriers to these changes
  • Put strategies in place to address those barriers