Keeping physically active on a regular basis has a positive impact on our physical and mental health and wellbeing. Keeping consistent can be tricky – but setting personal goals is a great strategy for staying motivated.

Having and setting physical activity goals

While we know that any physical activity is better than none at all, it is also true that keeping consistent with physical activity can have wide-reaching benefits.

Dr Alyson Crozier, who has a PhD in Exercise and Sports Psychology, spent 6 years teaching and researching in the area of exercise psychology at the University of South Australia. She now works with a government agency to promote physical activity within communities. She says physical activity has many well-known physical health benefits, like reducing the risk of chronic disease, and many well-known impacts on mental health, like an improvement in mood.

‘The more consistent you are, we see higher quality of life for longer as well – which is important – and then, also, it's just really good for your sleep. So, obviously those are a lot of the health benefits, but by being consistent, you'll see those health benefits, or feel them even more regularly,’ she tells Wellbeing by Teacher.

Using goals to stay motivated and consistent

An effective way to stay motivated to be physically active on a regular basis is to set goals for yourself. A goal will give you something to focus on and work towards, Dr Crozier says, and if you share your goal with someone you will also feel a sense of accountability which can motivate you to achieve.

‘Having a goal to exercise 3 times a week is great, but if no one knows about that you can easily just not show up.’

You could even involve another person in your goal, Dr Crozier says, for example, by agreeing with a friend to commit to attending one class at the local gym together each week.

Setting your own goals

There are a few things to keep in mind when looking to set your own physical activity goals to ensure you’re setting yourself up for success.

‘One thing that we stay away from is outcome goals such as losing weight,’ Dr Crozier says, explaining that a goal like this is very complicated, external, and also depends on other factors, like diet. As well as this, it will take a very long time to see results.

‘Whereas if you have a goal to exercise 3 times a week, you’ll see that within one week and you’ll feel really good about yourself.

‘So we try to stay away from those external extrinsic goals, we call them, and focus more on those process goals around when and how often you want to be physically active.’

The positive impact of regular physical activity

A psychological advantage of keeping consistent with your physical activity routine is the benefit of forming a habit, Dr Crozier shares.

‘It's not quite like the habit of waking up and just automatically brushing your teeth. But, similarly, when you create it, when it becomes consistent, you just kind of don't think about it, you just do it,’ she explains. ‘Once it becomes consistent, it does become more automatic. You just automatically add it into your day and see all the benefits.’

Amongst the busyness of day-to-day life, it can be challenging to find an extra 30 minutes or one hour to spend being physically active on a regular basis. Even more so if this is something you typically don’t enjoy.

Dr Crozier shares that we don't necessarily need to consider undertaking vigorous exercise every day as the only way to incorporate physical activity into our routine. ‘You don’t have to go out and huff and puff and be all sweaty and change your clothes. You can wear what you’re wearing and just go for a 5-minute walk,’ she says.

‘The other strategies and advice I give is to start off by doing something you enjoy, because you're more likely to find time to fit it into your day if you enjoy it,’ she adds. ‘Is there something you can do with other people? … if there’s a social element to it, that can make it more fun and more likely for [you] to continue engaging’.

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