Everyone knows there are benefits to physical activity. For organizations, the challenge is making exercise attainable for all team members.
Less than a quarter of Americans are meeting national physical activity guidelines, according to the CDC. Experts recommend:
- At least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week; and
- Muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week.
How can we help people build healthy habits?
Remember: For the non-exerciser, thinking about starting to exercise likely produces feelings of guilt and angst. Knowing how to get started can be challenging. In the last 50 years, we’ve witnessed many new fitness trends surface to encourage more people to increase their physical activity. We’ve tried jazzercise, “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” with Richard Simmons, step aerobics, Pilates, yoga, P90X®, CrossFit®, and many more. While some have been more successful than others, overall there hasn’t been a magic solution to help people get active and stay active.
To help keep people from throwing in the towel, organizations can create a culture of health that helps their employees take small, personalized steps to start and maintain a more active lifestyle. You can help beginners set small, achievable goals that will allow them to work up to the recommended amount of physical activity. Not everyone has a passion for exercise, so modification and a good amount of trial and error is necessary. As the saying goes, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Here are five tips to help your organization build a bridge to the non-exerciser:
1. Focus on good health. Instead of encouraging scale watching, encourage individuals to focus on a goal of overall good health. Exercise should be positioned as a means to attain better health — not as a means to a tanned and toned body. A common misperception is that “thin” equates to being “fit”. This is a dangerous notion to perpetuate because if the pounds don’t start or stop dropping, an individual may give up working out entirely. Exercise is not just a means toward a lean physique. Exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle which allows people to do the things that mean the most, such as golfing or coaching your child’s soccer team.
2. Reward activity. Reward people who regularly exercise, not just those who see significant transformation or drop the most weight. While visible physical results are noteworthy, it’s important to shut down the perception that exercise isn’t “worth it” without seeing physical change. Be a cheerleader, and reward activity that helps an individual reach their goals!
3. Incorporate exercise into existing activities. Finding time to exercise throughout the week can be challenging for anyone. With careers, children, extracurriculars and more, there’s little room to squeeze in something else. Instead of asking someone to make the time, think about where there are moments to incorporate exercise into an existing routine. Try recommending parking at the back of the lot to get extra steps in and out of work, taking the stairs or scheduling walking meetings. Consider opportunities, like swapping after dinner TV time for a bike ride. By thinking creatively, you can help people maximize their time without trying to squeeze more into the day.
4. Start small. In an ideal world, we would all be able to meet the minimum physical activity guidelines. The good news? For individuals who find the standards to be a far reach, the message doesn’t have to be grim. Help people overcome the fear of not being able to reach the guidelines by following the mantra that ‘a little yields a lot’. Start slow, and create small successes along the way. For example, fit 30 minutes of walking into your day by breaking it up into 10-minute increments. Research shows that walking at least 30 minutes a day can help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, improve your blood pressure and lower the risk of obesity.
5. Find a coach. Whether you seek out a fitness professional or simply identify a supportive friend or family member, it’s important to talk through your goals and commit to your action plan with the help and support of another person. Talk to your coach about why you want to achieve your goals and visualize how you will feel when you achieve them. Discuss answers to the questions below and then ask your coach to help you remain focused and committed by providing some accountability for your action plan.
What opportunities do you have throughout your day to fit in more movement?
Who is supporting you with your efforts to become more active?
In what ways would you feel different if you were able to exercise more?
Creating and sticking to an exercise routine is no easy feat. To help people reach their fitness and overall health and wellbeing goals, organizations should be supportive and create opportunities for employees to create healthy habits in their own way. The best exercise plan and approach is not necessarily the one that will get the fastest results, it the one that the individual will do!