Over the past few weeks we have written about the benefits of physical activity and how to increase activity in your busy lifestyle as part of Premier’s Active April.

Making any lifestyle change can be challenging. Many people find that having a goal in mind gives them something to work towards, motivates them to stay on track and provides a measure of how well they are doing.

If you’re trying to become more physically active, setting realistic, well-planned goals helps to keep you focused and motivated.

If goals are too general or unrealistic, it can be difficult to monitor progress and we can lose motivation. That’s why we need to be specific with our goal setting and make sure what we are working towards is actually achievable. As physiotherapists, we like to use the acronym “S.M.A.R.T” to set goals with our patients. We want our goals to be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-limited

Be specific – don’t make your ultimate goal a general statement like “I want to get fitter”. What does fitter mean to you? Do you want to be able to climb a staircase or run a certain distance?

Goals should me measurable – for example, I want to lose 5kg or I want to run for 30 minutes without stopping.

Be realistic – your ultimate goal could be to be fit enough to participate in a competition on a set date or to do 10 laps of the pool. Whatever the case may be, make this goal realistic and achievable. Is it something you can realistically accomplish?

Choose a goal that is meaningful and important to you, not to anybody else. Is it relevant? For example, if your partner wants you to lose weight, but you’re happy as you are, you may find it difficult to commit to your exercise routine in the long term.

Time-limited – give yourself a set time frame in which to achieve your goal. That way, you will be held accountable to put in the work, rather than aiming for “one day”.

SMART Goal Setting

Image credit: http://www.shibaram.com/blog/how-to-set-smart-goals-zero-to-success-1-day-at-a-time/

Seeing as we’re still in Active April, we’re going to focus on health and fitness goals. The following principles can be applied to help you set your physical activity goals:

  • pinpoint your ultimate goal
  • find out how to achieve your goal
  • set small, specific mini-goals to help you achieve your ultimate goal
  • monitor your progress regularly
  • adapt to changing circumstances
  • don’t be too hard on yourself

Once you have decided on your health and fitness goal, you will need to consider how you will reach that goal.

Set small, specific goals – you are more likely to reach your ultimate goal if you break it down into small, short-term mini-goals. Short-term goals are specific daily actions or behaviours that lead you to, and help you achieve, your ultimate goal. Here are some suggestions for setting some mini-goals:

  • know your starting point and pick activities that are comfortable and realistic for you
  • set a reasonable timeframe – for example, if you want to lose 10kg, a weight loss of ½ – 1 kg per week is realistic and sustainable, therefore you will need to allow around 10 to 20 weeks to achieve this goal
  • consider your exercise routines as mini-goals – for example, one mini-goal might be to exercise 4 days per week

The more mini-goals you achieve, the more motivated you will become.

Make your mini-goals measurable and monitor your physical activity regularly. Some suggestions for monitoring your physical activity include:

  • measure your progress in concrete ways – for example, if you are weight training, write down the weight and repetitions of each exercise
  • choose appropriate ways to measure progress – for example you may be trying to lose weight but have also started weight training as part of your exercise routine. Muscle weighs more than fat, however bathroom scales are unable to distinguish between the two, so taking measurements with a tape measure may be more appropriate
  • find as many ways as possible to monitor your progress – for example, if you are exercising to lose weight, you may record your exercise sessions, daily diet and weekly measurements. Give yourself plenty of ways that you can succeed!
  • celebrate your progress – don’t just wait until you have achieved the end goal, celebrate the small victories along the way

With all that being said, life can sometimes get in the way! Adapt your physical activity to your ever-changing circumstances.

Think about ways to cope with interruptions – you may not be able to exercise in your usual way while on holidays, but you could always walk or use the hotel facilities.

If injury or illness strikes, don’t use this as an excuse to completely abandon your fitness goals. Instead, adjust the time frame of your ultimate goal and set other mini-goals to help keep you on track while you recover. Your local physiotherapist or health care professional can also help you find ways to modify your training and keep you working towards your goal without aggravating your injury.

And remember… don’t be too hard on yourself!

Sometimes, you may find that your goal is too ambitious. That is ok! Readjust your goals and stay motivated. Think about different ways you can achieve your ultimate goal and always focus on the positives.

Remember that the first few months of a new exercise program are always the hardest – adjust your short-term goals, persist and know that things will get easier with time.

Celebrate your achievements, no matter how small, and don’t give up – you’re worth the effort!

Stay tuned next week for Laura’s training diary for Run for the Kids – there was a lot of re-evaluating the ultimate goal and adjusting the training schedule to deal with injury and illness along the way. With persistence, we can all get there!