By: Yashvi Patel, Kennedy College of Sciences Well-being Leader
Summer is a great time to develop healthy habits or change poor habits. Recently, I learned about the five stages of the transtheoretical model of behavior change that I can accredit for getting me to engage in exercising consistently.
The five stages in the transtheoretical model of behavior change are: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. This model should work for any type of health behavior- inactivity being one of them.
Before I started exercising consistently, I was at the first stage of this model, characterized by a lack of intention to change and unaware that not engaging in exercise was a problem behavior. I moved into the contemplation stage where I acknowledged that my inactivity was a problem and I wanted to stop.
To get the second stage, contemplation, I developed self-efficacy where I would contemplate the changes I wanted to see (desirable appearance, better mental and physical health) and knew that if I took control of this whole process and believe, I would carry through. For me to get past the contemplation stage, I incorporated processes that would increase my low self-efficacy. I learned that people’s cognitions about their health habits are important in producing behavior change. I wanted to feel like I was in control of the process and any associated consequences, and I reconstructed my cognition. I modified my internal monologues to promote physical activity. To be able to accomplish this, I charted down my negative self-thoughts such as the constant belief that “I cannot do it.” and crossed out the “not.” These positive self-talks slowly turned into affirmations that I would recite during and before my workouts. It was important for me to contemplate the desirable changes before I put my intervention plan into effect. I learned that there are positive mental, physical, and physiological outcomes for this behavioral change. Exercise is known to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression, enhance cognitive function, and improve academic performance. It also increases metabolism, improves sleep, and reduces the risk factors for chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
The next stage was preparation where I intended to make small modifications to my behavior. I bought running shoes, weights, and gym equipment, and saved workout YouTube videos that allowed me to develop an exercise regime. Furthermore, I learned that 2.5-5 hours of moderate-intensity activity is recommended per week. Moderate-intensity activities are suggested to increase heart rate that includes brisk walking, mowing the lawn, and housework/domestic chores such as mopping and vacuuming. I prepared myself for more vigorous physical activity by engaging in household chores, taking up more chores than usual, and going out for a walk once a day. These were slight modifications in my daily life that allowed me to get to the more intensive activities.
Next was the action stage where I intently modified my behavior and adopted this new habit. In this stage, I developed a workout routine, and established contingency contracting (I had friends and family hold me accountable through rewards or punishments. For example, if I went to a fancy dinner but skipped a workout, I would stay in for the weekend). I also took advantage of the fact that some of my family and friends are into fitness. Having a gym buddy made it more likely for me to adhere to my intervention plan. Whenever I could, I would go for a jog with my dad and grandpa. Cardio is known to strengthen the heart and lungs and reduce fatigue. My friend goes to the UML Campus Rec Center at 7 am every morning. I started by joining her every other day before my morning classes that started at 9 am. She typically works on different areas of her body every day, which worked in my favor as I got an all-encompassing workout regime. I would write down four or five exercises that I liked the most so that I could create my own workout based on my likes and target areas. I also knew pre/post-workout stretches that I learned from doing track in high school and I knew the importance of stretching in preventing injury and maintaining a wide range of motions, so I incorporated those as well.
The last stage is centered around maintenance. It stresses the importance of continuity in healthy habits and the prevention of relapse. I developed a set of coping mechanisms for other risk factors that could potentially bring me back into inactivity. Personally, when I have too many exams and homework, I don’t have the motivation to engage in physical activity and use that time to study instead. I helped myself gain time management skills so I could have time for my workout routine. I needed to block off one-two hours every morning for physical activity and would not budge around that. I reminded myself of the importance of being consistent in working out every day or every other day because it’s hard to get back into it once you take a little break. I would also constantly remind myself of the long-term goals of working out (abs, muscles, endurance, and strength) because results are not instant but rather take months or even years to achieve. It brings me back to the idea of self-efficacy and being in control of the entire process from start to finish. For me to declare it as a healthy habit, I needed to be consistent for at least 6 months. Once I make it past six months, I still need to maintain this habit, so I don’t go back to square one. Currently, I have been working out for 5 months and I am already seeing changes and notice I have so much more energy throughout the day!
I hope this model can help you develop your own healthy habits this summer!
Benefits of physical activity. Benefits of Physical Activity | Health Promotion | Michigan State University. (n.d.). Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://healthpromotion.msu.edu/fitness/benefitsofphysicalactivity.html
Examples of moderate and vigorous physical activity. Obesity Prevention Source. (2017, May 8). Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/moderate-and-vigorous-physical-activity/