One of the most commonly cited barriers to regular exercise is a lack of time. Work, school, spiritual, and household obligations are often offered as the culprits that hinder exercise adherence. Here is the irony of this mindset: time is ongoing; it is our thoughts that are ending
. Negative thoughts self-defeat. Positive thoughts can foster perseverance.
How is it that some individuals are able to consistently adhere to an exercise program while others cannot despite equally busy schedules? The answer may lie in a behavioral trait known as self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief and/or confidence in one's own ability to accomplish a task.
Studies investigating the behavioral characteristics of habitual exercisers have shown that these individuals possess high levels of self-efficacy. An individual with a high level of self-efficacy views a challenge as something to master, not a threat to avoid. Whereas the individual with a low level of self-efficacy tends to shy away from perceived difficult situations because of self-doubt. For instance, if you are confident that you can run a mile without having to take a rest, you are more likely to attempt it than the individual who fears that they will have to stop several times.
How can you improve your level of self-efficacy? According to a recent article, "Evaluating and Enhancing Self-efficacy for Physical Activity" by Pekmezi et al., published in the March/April 2009 issue of ACSM's Health and Fitness Journal, your past experiences have a great impact on self-efficacy. Setting small, achievable goals can help create more positive experiences upon which to draw. For example, if you do not believe you can run a mile without a break, set a goal of running only a quarter-mile at first. Once you have accomplished that, add another quarter-mile until you reach your long term goal of one mile. Each time you accomplish a small goal, give yourself "a pat on the back".
Self-monitoring of progress is another way to boost self-efficacy levels. Pedometers (see my posting "Take the Step Challenge") and activity logs are good for tracking progress. An example of self-monitoring comes from Eric Eder of Royal Oak, Michigan who has been an avid exerciser for 14 years and whose exercise routine involves 2 hours of physical activity per day for 5 days of the week. He states, "I use goals that are easy to track. I track monthly so I am mindful...I track my progress against a series of goals."
Identifying barriers to exercise, coming up with solutions to overcome those barriers, and then implementing the solutions will also aid in boosting self-efficacy levels. If one solution doesn't work, come up with another. Don't quit your attempt to increase daily physical activity. One way to overcome time limitations is to follow the example of an individual with whom I have had correspondence and who has been routinely exercising for over 50 years, "I work out very early in the morning, all barriers are still in bed."
Positive "self-talk" is another way to attain a high level of self-efficacy. Instead of saying "I don't have time to exercise for 30 minutes today", say "I can squeeze in a 10 minute brisk walk in between meetings." There are creative ways that you can fit physical activity into your schedule, such as walking around your office while you are on the phone. Remember, positive thoughts help you to persevere. As Jaye Quadrozzi of Beverly Hills, Michigan stated so eloquently "I never finish a run thinking 'I wish I hadn't done that'."
ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal. 2009 March/April 13(2): 16-21 Evaluating and enhancing self-efficacy for physical activity. Pekmezi, D., Jennings, E., Marcus, B.
ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal. 2005 July/August 9(4): 19-25 Making physical activity stick: what can we learn from regular exercisers? Klein, DA, Burr, L., Stone, W.J.
Note: Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.
Labels: barriers to exercise, habitual exercisers, positive "self talk", self-efficacy, self-monitoring