New Year’s Evolution

New Year’s Evolution

We're well into a new year and a new you, or so the media tells us. Seems like December and January were filled with so many plans of how we will change our behaviour for the better, and much discussion on the importance of adopting health behaviours. However, few articles give the “how to” for achieving behaviour change based on theory. We get that. We understand both personally and professionally and have been working to test solutions that are based on theory, available evidence and what will work in everyday life that is not competing for our time with work and family commitments.

Our focus is on increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary time (sitting time), but this is a balancing act of activity patterns to maintain our health and mobility in the long run. But remember, physical activity is more than just exercise. Physical activity includes movement that you engage in while at work (occupational activity) walking for transportation (and taking the bus) and your activities of daily living (including household tasks). When we look at the recommended guidelines we know that it is important to accumulate 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week in bouts of 10 minutes or more, and well as twice weekly strengthening exercises. Therefore some as simple as going for that short walk after an evening meal can contribute to positive health benefits.

It is important to develop a program that includes best evidence, uses theory-based behaviour change techniques and is acceptable for people. So when we developed a model of active living, we needed to go to the experts, and this includes the people within the community who could help create a program that fits into daily life. We recently published the results of a pilot study looking at adopting everyday activities as part of a physical activity routine: Everyday Activity Supports You (EASY). Our published paper is available here.

Below we summarize some of our lessons learned during this and other related research.

  1. Start small. By this we mean recognizing that sitting less is as important a health behaviour as being active. So, start by just breaking up your sitting time. Setting smaller goals are often perceived as more achievable and motivating than trying to begin by walking for 30 minutes on your first day of your program (especially if you have not been recently active). It’s the motivation that gets you started.
  2. Set goals, make plans, and monitor your progress. Try to set small goals to begin with. Make them fit into your lifestyle and link your new activities to existing routines. It is often easier to plan something as simple as “I will get up during a commercial break while I’m watching TV”. Mastery over a task will keep you going. Over time this will become easier to set goals such as “I’m going to do a 10-minute walk after dinner”.
  3. Look for opportunities, “daily triggers” to be physically active: you may be surprised that there are lots of occasions throughout your day that may encourage you to sit less and move more. Walking to the shops is a good way to encourage more activity. What are your cues to daily action?
  4. Take the bus! It’s surprising how much physical activity you can get by taking public transportation. It’s often considered “a walk interrupted”, as transit rides begin and end with a walk.
  5. Exercise is still very important, however it’s how you approach meeting physical activity guidelines that can sometimes make the difference. Start with your own recommendations or self-set smaller goals depending on your own ability. For example, incrementally increasing your physical activity by starting to just sit less is a way of boosting confidence, with positive health benefits. Then slowly add in more activity, such as going for a 10-15 minute walk after lunch or evening meal.
  6. Encourage and ask for social support. It is often underestimated how important it is to be among people who are supporting you and your goals. They may have similar goals and/or you may find is that as you start to change your behaviour (i.e., parking the car further away and walking to the destination) that the people who are travelling with you will also increase their physical activity.

Our feasibility study showed us that we were able to deliver this physical activity program and achieve success at a small scale. However, it’s not just about walking, balance and strength exercises are very important, too. Therefore, our next move is to test our EASY “step-by-step” approach for every day balance and strength exercises and work with communities to see if we can deliver a combined program to more people … and for this we need your guidance and support!