Most of us want to stick to an exercise routine. However, that can be difficult. It’s easy to have it fall by the wayside almost as soon as we start. New research has found a way to help people get into a healthy exercise routine that lasts.
A small study looked at 500 people over four months. They all had a heart disease or were at high risk for one. They were given an exercise tracker and broken into two groups. There was a control group and one that would be challenged.
In the test group, the researchers studied two things. First, they had people set their own step goal or set one for them. Then they either worked up to their target or were told to hit their goal immediately. The researchers found that people did better and stuck to their routine when they decided on their own target and immediately aimed to hit it instead of working up to it.
That’s an interesting result. While it makes sense that setting your own goal would yield good results, we’re usually told to work up to a goal when exercising. The researchers think it might be because it felt less like a plan and more like a challenging game. “It is exciting to see that the group that increased their activity levels by the most steps maintained those levels during follow-up,” said lead study author Dr. Mitesh Patel. “This indicates that gamification with self-chosen and immediate goals helped these patients form a new habit.”
Only the people who both set their own goals and started immediately achieved significant and lasting changes in their activity. Changing your routine is hard! On average, they had 4.1 more minutes of sustained high activity than they had before the study. That adds up. People who set their own goals but worked their way up to their total goal slowly only saw very minor improvements and didn’t achieve their target.
This proves the old adage, “begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you began,” really is true! You can achieve your exercise goals by setting them yourself and going for it. When you pick your plan for yourself, you are more likely to choose something achievable and enjoyable. If you hate running and your doctor tells you to run, you will not do it. If you decide to walk a certain number of steps, you will. If you love yoga, being told to take a spin class just won’t work. You know yourself better than anyone else. Set your goal now, knowing your body, activity level and what you find enjoyable and start today!