By Tom Fontana, MSPT
Now that summer is behind us and the kids are back to school, it’s time to get back to the routine we put on hold while we were concentrating on summer fun, including exercise.
Most of you are former patients so you know the value of regular home exercise, or at least you should know the value of home exercise (if your condition improved greatly and/or quickly, chances are you were diligent about performing those exercises).
Regular exercise was not only a key contributor to your improvement but must be a part of your life for your body to function properly, whether PT exercises or other forms of exercise. Decreases in aerobic performance have been shown to occur in highly-conditioned athletes within 2-4 weeks of stopping training. Decreases in strength output take a little bit longer to notice but if it takes that long to notice the change (and this occurs to the most highly-conditioned people out there—think what happens to the rest of us!), then minor changes happen quickly.
It’s usually not that people don’t see the value of exercising, but life’s other activities interfere with their ability to do it. Here are some strategies to keep your compliance high. There is no one-size-fits-all; use what approach works for you!
- Set up a plan – Rather than assuming you will “get to” your exercises at some point during the day, make an appointment with yourself for a specific time to do them. If your schedule allows, make it a priority by scheduling it earlier than other activities or meetings. Morning time is also nice because you tend to have higher energy and, once it is over with, you have the rest of your day to look forward to!
- Find someone to exercise with – Exercise, like most things in life, is more enjoyable when performed with a partner. Even if you don’t perform the same exercises, if you exercise in the same space you make it social. This also helps you plan a time for exercise, and you may encourage each other on days when the other just wants to sit on the couch.
- Split up the program – If you don’t want to exercise for a large block of time, then break it up into smaller chunks. You will benefit as much by doing some exercises in the morning and some in the afternoon (or doing some throughout the day). You also might decide to do half the exercises one day and the other half the next.
- Track your workout – If you are the sort of person that is motivated by data or benefits from concrete reminders of progress, keep a log of which exercises you performed, how many repetitions, with what resistance, etc. so you can see how you progress over time.
- Set goals – Unless you know what you’re trying to achieve, you won’t know when you’ve achieved it. Even if you have a long-term goal (for example, “lift up my 25-pound grandson”), you might set a more achievable but related shorter-term goal (“lift a 20-pound weight from the floor to the waist by November 1st”).
- Reward yourself – make a deal (write an actual contract) with yourself that if you perform the exercises for a specified amount of time (e.g., a week?, a month?) without any missed episodes that you will treat yourself to something outside of your usual (a night out, an ice cream cone, a splurge purchase).
- “Punish” yourself – make a deal (write an actual contract) with yourself that for each day you fail to perform the exercises you will go without something you typically enjoy (e.g., no morning coffee takeout the next day, no dessert that night) or you might have to do something you ordinarily wouldn’t (e.g., you have to perform someone else’s chores, you have to make a contribution to your favorite charity).
It takes time to develop a habit – a 2009 study in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it took between 18 and 254(!) days (average 66) for participants to turn a novel task into an automatic habit. So, stick with it—it may take a while. Also, don’t beat yourself up over a missed day—the researchers also found that “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.”