Matt Lambert, nutritionist and fitness expert at World Cancer Research Fund, talks about how to help keep people motivated to be more active.
When it comes to keeping active, one of the most important factors is motivation. Some people seem to be naturally able to commit, whereas others need a bit more support.
We have all probably started an exercise plan with high levels of motivation, only to then find it waning after a few weeks.
Where does motivation come from?
There are a couple of different types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is what we usually rely on when it comes to exercise. For example, wanting to look good in a swimsuit for a holiday, or losing weight for a wedding. Reminding yourself of these goals can be useful motivation for those moments when you think about missing your exercise session. However, this type of motivation can be fleeting, especially if you aren’t seeing the results of your efforts straight away.
Intrinsic motivation comes from within: it’s something that’s important to you right now, rather than a future goal. For example, exercising because it makes you feel good, enjoying that runner's ‘high’, or exercising because it relieves stress. It’s this type of motivation that tends to have more staying power.
Research has shown that we may be less motivated to be active if the main reason to keep active is to lose weight or change our body shape – rather than just exercising because we enjoy it, and it makes us feel good.
People might face different barriers to being more active, such as lack of time, limited access to workout facilities, or an environment that lacks a safe place to get active. But there are ways to get moving that overcome some of these factors.
Here are my top tips to help people become – and stay – motivated:
- Do what you enjoy. If your patients and clients find themselves wanting to dance instead of lifting weights or jogging, it’s better they do that rather than trying to force themselves to do something just because they think they should. People can also workout in the comfort of their home. Remember, they’re more likely to stick with a fitness programme if they’re having fun.
- Set goals. It can be useful for people to have a goal in mind. They may even find that writing their goals down and having somewhere they can see them helps to keep them motivated. Remember to make goals realistic, achievable and fit in with their daily life.
- Track progress. If someone likes tracking progress, measuring their daily step count can be a good option. Watching how many steps they take each day and challenging themselves to reach a daily goal is a great way to keep motivated – and it helps them keep track of their daily activity. They may also find that it helps to keep an exercise diary and record how long they exercised for and how they felt afterwards – this is a great way to see how much progress they’re making.
- Plan exercise for when it’s easiest to do. This may mean exercising early in the day before temptations and obstacles begin to appear.
- Make it easy. Get sportswear out of the drawer and ready the evening before. Having everything ready can also save time.
- Be active with others. A great way of finding the motivation to be active is to schedule time with a friend, family member or colleague for physical activity. Not wanting to let your exercise partner down can be a great motivator to show up. Or maybe people could join a running or walking group, some of these can be free.
- Make physical activity part of the daily routine. Building activity into the daily routine can include things such as taking the stairs instead of the lift or walking to the shops instead of taking the car. Or if someone works from home, stretch, walk, or climb the stairs on breaks.
- Rewards. When someone reaches a goal, they could treat themselves to a new pair of walking/running shoes or maybe they could put a pound in a jar every time they stick to a planned exercise session; they could put this towards a holiday.
- Focus on the positives. Rather than seeing physical activity as a chore, encourage people to think about how it will help to make them feel fitter, more energised, relaxed, self-confident, happier and healthier.