Have you ever wondered why you just can’t seem to put those running shoes on and get out the door? Or why you started your exercise routine like a gangbuster and then your motivation just seemed to fade away? Wonder no more!
There are five basic stages of readiness for change as it relates to physical activity and health. Understanding the changes will help you understand your behaviour and what strategies might work for you to keep you focussed on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Stage One: Pre-Contemplation
The good news is that if you are reading this article you are at least one stage further than here! This stage describes an individual who is not engaging in physical activity in a meaningful way, and who is not even thinking about it. Unfortunately our contemporary lifestyles encourage sedentary behaviour. Most of us don’t have to move very much any more. Many of us drive to work, sit in front of computer screens, drive home, and then we sit in front of televisions, play computer games and… well, you get the picture. Unfortunately, individuals who are inactive are at risk for many chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, or diabetes. If this is not unfortunate enough, a sedentary lifestyle becomes even more challenging when we consider that each of us has the power to influence those around us. A person in the pre-contemplative stage may unwittingly be influencing his or her children, friends or partners to be inactive as well.
Stage Two: Contemplation
This stage describes an individual who is thinking about getting more active—but not there yet. The basic awareness and intention to become active within the next six months is there. If this is you, hooray! Give yourself a BIG pat on the back. True awareness comes without judgement, and from there comes understanding and the power to change.
Stage Three – Preparation
This stage describes a person who is participating in some activity, but not enough to make a meaningful difference. Perhaps this person is looking at his or her schedule to see where there might be some time for activity, or has visited a nearby “health club:http://members.provincialfitnessunit.ca/directory/health-clubs/ to check out the facilities. If this is you, perhaps reading an article such as this one, is your way of becoming psychologically ready to engage in physical activity. This stage is important for everyone. It helps you to establish a framework for exercise and activity that you can sustain. Perhaps this is the stage at which you contact a personal trainer or schedule a fitness assessment to help get you started. During this stage you may want to envision activities that you love to do, picture yourself engaging in them and how good you might feel.
Stage Four – ACTION
In this stage you are participating in physical activity enough for you to reap positive health benefits, and you will do so for at least six months. Perhaps you experience a reduction in your blood pressure or anxiety levels. Or, perhaps you have met a new friend or two at the gym. If you are at this stage take the time to list the positive changes you feel and experience. Be aware of them. This will help you to move forward to the next stage.
Stage Five – Maintenance
At this stage you have developed the habit of exercise and physical activity, and you have continued for longer than six months. The benefits can be many and wide ranging. You might sleep better, or be able to play with your kids without getting tired. Your blood pressure and overall mood can improve. Perhaps your weight is easier to manage, or you have signed up for a local fun run and reached a personal goal. Whatever the benefits, the longer you engage in activity, the more profoundly their effect on your overall “quality of life.”:
Stage Six – Relapse
Yes, we lied. There is a chance that you may discontinue physical activity. Many life events can knock us back in our engagement with physical activity such as illness or loss of a loved one, changing jobs, or a shift in a key relationship. Even seasonal changes can have an effect on our engagement with exercise and physical activity.
BUT, now that you know about the stages of change and you have experienced the positive benefits of exercise to your overall quality of life, you can get moving again.
When you experience a relapse, don’t beat yourself up! Remember that awareness comes without judgement. Just do what you need to do (stage three), to prepare yourself to get moving again (stage four), and pretty soon you will have reset your routine and established the pattern for exercise and healthy living for a lifetime.