How to Stick to Your Exercise Regimen

You know you should exercise regularly. You've read the books, studied the articles and sat in the seminars that teach you all about exercise recommendations, proper nutrition and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Maybe you even started a new exercise routine, but you're starting to feel your motivation lagging. How do you keep your new habit going?

New research from the University of Missouri indicates that knowledge doesn't really help when it comes to exercise adherence. The programs that people stick with are those programs that hone in on behavior-changing strategies that affect daily lifestyle choices.

The Research and Results

Dr. Vicki Conn from the University of Missouri took the results of 358 different study reports detailing a total of 99,011 individuals who participated in various exercise interventions. The studies could be split into two different types of interventions:

  1. Cognitive interventions designed to change people's attitudes about exercise, providing knowledge and information about why exercise is important and should be adhered to.
  2. Behavioral interventions designed to help people with exercise prescription, strategy, goal-setting, self-monitoring and feedback.
Dr. Conn noted that the common approach to changing exercise behavior is based on cognitive intervention—with the assumption that the more people know, the more they'll understand the importance of actual exercise performance. Her research found that cognitive approaches actually don't work because they don't motivate or teach people to change.

On the other hand, behavioral studies, particularly those that taught participants to self-monitor their exercise habits, significantly improved participants self-awareness and exercise motivation. These types of studies helped people track their exercise goals, schedule times to exercise, write down the exercise performed and review their progress regularly.

Other significant study results found:

  • Face-to-face interventions were much more effective in exacting change than those done by phone or email.
  • Studies targeting individuals were much more effective than those targeting communities.

The Takeaway

Knowledge is great, but it doesn't exact change. You just can't think yourself thin—you have to do yourself thin. If you want to stick to an exercise plan, sit down with an exercise professional and start identifying personal habits that distract you from your goals. Strategize ways to overcome those distractions, then monitor your progress. Make sure you write down your short-and long-term exercise goals and make time in your schedule for exercise. Build rewards into your strategy so that you have something tangible to aim for.

Behavioral interventions work because they address unhealthy habits and help individuals discover solutions to overcome those habits. You don't have to be involved in a major exercise study to take a behavioral approach to your own exercise routine, you just have to concentrate on doing, rather than knowing.

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Laura Williams writes about exercise and fitness for through her regular column "Exercise Science". She is currently completing her master's in Exercise Science.

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