Making any lifestyle change can be challenging. Many people find that having a goal in mind gives them something to work towards, motivates them to stay on track and provides a measure of how well they are doing.
If you’re trying to become more physically active, realistic, well-planned goals keep you focused and motivated.
Ensure you read through the pre-exercise self-screening tool before you embark on a physical activity or exercise program, particularly if you are over 40 years, overweight, haven’t exercised in a long time or suffer from a chronic medical condition.
Setting physical activity goals
Several key principles can be applied to help you set your physical activity goals. These include:
• Pinpoint your ultimate goal.
• Find out how to achieve your ultimate goal.
• Set small, specific mini-goals.
• Monitor your progress regularly.
• Adapt to changing circumstances.
• Don’t be too hard on yourself
Pinpoint your ultimate fitness goal
• Be realistic – Your ultimate fitness goal could be to be fit enough to participate in a competition on a set date or to do 10 laps of the pool. Whatever the case, make this goal realistic. Remember that most of us will never be world-famous athletes or supermodels. Think about what is achievable for you. Write down your goals.
• Be specific – Don’t make your ultimate goal a general statement like: ‘I want to lose weight’. Make it measurable. Exactly how many kilograms do you want to lose?
• Choose a goal that is meaningful and important to you, not to anybody else. For example, if your partner wants you to lose weight, but you’re happy as you are, you may find it difficult to commit to your exercise routine in the long term.
Find out how to achieve your ultimate fitness goal
Once you have decided on your health and fitness goal, you need to consider how you will reach that goal. Different fitness goals require different approaches. For example, weight loss requires you to regularly burn more kilojoules than you consume. An effective strategy may include:
• Choose aerobic activities such as walking.
• Exercise for at least 30 minutes on all or most days of the week.
• Cut back on junk food.
• Eat smaller food portions.
• Increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy products and wholegrain foods in your daily diet.
Set small, specific fitness goals
You are more likely to reach your ultimate goal if you break it down into small, short-term mini-goals. Short-term goals are specific, daily actions or behaviors that lead you to your ultimate goal. Suggestions include:
• Know your starting point, so you can pick activities that are comfortable and realistic for you, and build slowly at a pace that feels right for you.
• Set a reasonable timeframe. For example, if you want to lose 20 kg, then a realistic weight loss of 1 kg of body fat every one to two weeks means that you need to allow yourself around 20 to 40 weeks.
• Consider your exercise routines as mini-goals. For example, one mini goal might be to exercise on all or most days of the week. The more mini goals you achieve, the more motivated you will become.
If you are unsure how to best achieve your particular fitness goals, ask an expert. For example, see your doctor, browse through the Better Health Channel fact sheets or consult an exercise physiologist, physiotherapist or appropriately qualified and certified personal trainer.
Monitor your physical activity regularly
Make your mini-goals measurable. Decide how you are going to monitor your progress and record every detail in a training diary. Suggestions include:
• Measure your progress in concrete ways. For example, if you are weight training, write down the weight and repetitions for each exercise. If you are exercising to lose weight, keep track of your weight loss.
• Choose appropriate ways to measure your progress. For example, bathroom scales don’t distinguish between muscle and fat. It may be better to take your measurements with a tape measure, or just notice how your clothes fit.
• Find as many different ways to monitor your progress as you can and write down your progress regularly, such as once a week. For example, if you are exercising to lose weight, you might like to record your exercise sessions, daily diet and weekly measurements. Include incidental achievements like feeling more energetic or fitting into a smaller pair of jeans. Give yourself plenty of ways that you can succeed.
• Celebrate your progress.
Adapt your physical activity to changing circumstances
Life can interrupt your training schedule. Suggestions for adapting to such changes include:
• Think about ways to cope with interruptions. For example, you may not be able to exercise in your usual way when on holidays, but you can always walk or use the hotel fitness facilities.
• If you get injured or become ill, don’t abandon your fitness goals. Instead, adjust your ultimate goal’s time frame. Come up with micro-goals to keep you on track while you recover. For example, you may be too ill to exercise, but you can improve your diet. Write down these micro-goals in your training diary to keep up your motivation.
• If your fitness goal seems beyond you, readjust your mini-goals and stay motivated.
Physical activity – don’t be too hard on yourself
Sometimes, you may find that your fitness goal is too ambitious. For example, maybe you are losing 0.5 kg a week instead of 1 kg, and sometimes you may not lose any weight (remember muscle weighs more than fat), so make sure you focus on how you feel. You know yourself much better than a set of scales does.
• The first few months of a new exercise program are always the most challenging. Adjust your short-term goals, persist and have faith that things will get easier with time.
• Celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. Making a commitment to a healthier lifestyle is a tremendous achievement, even if your fitness goal is a little harder to reach than you first thought. Flip back to the start of your training diary and appreciate how far you’ve come.
• Have a secondary fitness goal in mind. For example, if your ultimate goal is to lose 20kg, an ability to jog for 20 minutes may be your secondary goal. Achieving this secondary goal is still a great success.
• Don’t give up. You’re worth the effort.
Where to get help
• Your doctor.
Things to remember
• Break down your ultimate health and fitness goal into small, specific and achievable mini-goals.
• Keep a training diary to monitor your progress.
• Always see your doctor for a medical check-up before starting any new fitness program, particularly if you are over 40 years, overweight, haven’t exercised in a long time or suffer from a chronic medical condition.
Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines, 2014, Department of Health, Australian Government. Behaviour change resources – Setting goals for physical activity, 2014, Alberta Centre for Active Living.