Change doesn’t happen all at once. It’s not a light switch that you can flip on and off. Rather, it is an ongoing process of learning and relearning. Not all of us begin at the same starting point. Researchers have identified five stages of change that most people go through along the way to adopting new habits and behaviors:
1. Precontemplation (not even thinking about a new habit)
2. Contemplation (giving it a thought now and then, but not doing it)
3. Preparation (doing it irregularly)
4. Action (doing the new habit consistently but for less than six months)
5. Maintenance (maintaining the new habit for six months or more)
The point is that change takes place in stages. What’s more, progress isn’t always in one direction. For every two giant steps forward, there may be one step back. That’s normal. You may stay in the stage of contemplation for a long time before you move forward. You may go through the stage of preparation quickly. Then you may stay in action for a short time, stumble, and end up back in preparation. This isn’t a sign of failure. It’s how change happens.
Skills such as keeping track of your progress and thinking positively can help. In this book we’ll help you learn and practice these and other strategies to become physically active for a lifetime.
What’s Your Readiness to Change?
Knowing your stage of change can help you discover what you need to do to move forward. The questions in Assessing My Stage of Change will help you gauge where you are on the spectrum between precontemplation and maintenance. In the coming weeks, we’ll return to this form to track your progress. You can download a copy of this form from the ALED Online Web site.
Why is it helpful to know your readiness to change? Here are just a few examples.
Let’s say you find yourself in the precontemplation stage, which means you’re not even thinking about exercise. In that case, becoming aware of the many benefits of activity—and the very real dangers of a sedentary lifestyle—can provide a helpful nudge. Check out appendix B, where you’ll find handy references with advice targeted to each stage. For example, the Do I Need This? section on pages 155-156 contains advice for people in the precontemplation stage, including many reasons to become active.
Let’s imagine you’re in the contemplation stage. You’re thinking about being more active, even if you haven’t acted on that thought yet. Advice on how to get started can help. Check out the Try It, You’ll Like It section on pages 156-157.
Alternatively, let’s say you’re in the preparation stage. Then you can use tips on overcoming obstacles. Check out the On My Way section on pages 157-158.
You get the idea. The stages of change model can help you know yourself better. It can also point you toward the advice that will be most helpful in moving forward.
Did You Know?
Moderate-intensity activity is equivalent to a brisk walk. How brisk is brisk? The answer depends on many factors, including your health, age, and overall fitness level. The average middle-aged and older adult walking at a moderate-intensity pace would complete a mile (1.6 km) in 15 to 20 minutes. Research studies by us and others have shown that at least 150 minutes per week of any moderately intense physical activity will improve the health and physical and mental functioning of sedentary adults. Studies also show that 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week offer the same benefits.