Five Stages of Change for Physical Fitness

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An athletic woman is tying her sneakers. (Image: michaelpuche/iStock/Getty Images)

Five stages are identified for any type of behavioral change. The model was primarily developed in the 1970s to chart the changes in smokers trying to quit. It has since been adapted for physical activity, so that people incorporating healthy exercise can track their progress toward becoming regular exercisers. By knowing the stages, it's easier to foresee obstacles, stay focused and develop motivational techniques.

Precontemplation Stage

Precontemplation is the stage of doing nothing. You may feel comfortable with your level of physical activity or lack thereof. If someone else mentions a need for increased activity, you may deny it outright or ignore her advice. According to Gaby Ronda, a Dutch researcher at Maastricht University, people exercise relative to their belief they will be good at it or enjoy it. Changing from precontemplation may require motivation that fosters confidence.

Contemplation Stage

Contemplation is the stage of awareness. Some people begin to notice they lose their breath more easily or their clothes no longer fit. This may be the stage of "I should . . ." statements, like "I should begin exercising," or "I should lose weight." Fitness expert Marc Perry advises setting specific goals at this stage. Identify ways that change benefits you in order to motivate you to fulfill your goals.

Preparation Stage

Preparation is the planning stage when you decide how you will fulfill your goals. You may begin to use "I could . . . " statements, like "I could join a gym," or "I could run outside." At this stage, rely on experts for guidance or motivation to keep your plans realistic and attainable. As you progress from this stage, expect to feel a sense of mental readiness to enact your physical fitness goals.

Action Stage

Action may be the hardest part of the five stages for many people. It's time to start working out. Lifespan.org advises that regular physical activity is equivalent to 30 minutes of activity per day for five days each week. You may perform all of this activity in one half-hour, or you may break it up into two 15-minute stretches. Marc Perry claims this is when relapse into a prior stage is most likely, so stay motivated with friends, trainers, regular weigh-ins, scheduled measurements or other quantitative reinforcements.

Maintenance Stage

The maintenance stage is a stage of accomplishment. Your clothes may fit differently. You may have a lower resting heart rate or perform more quickly for longer periods of time without needing rest. The danger now is that you'll rest on your laurels and stop working out. Maintenance is a long-term commitment. You can change your workout to stay motivated, but you have to keep working out. Your life has changed successfully from when you were in the first stages of change.

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