New Year, New You? The Nature of Exercise Psychology

by Trish Mathis

Welcome to 2016! Made your New Year’s resolutions yet? I have, and this year I’ll keep them.  No, really. I’m committed to the New Me in the New Year.

Treadmills-in-the-gym-1200Like many people, I once committed to going to a gym for regular exercise. I’d never been to a gym before and felt like an intruder the minute I stepped inside the door. But I gamely persisted, and amidst all the sweating, wheezing, cursing, and grumbling, I somehow improved my cardiovascular fitness, muscle tone, and stamina.

Many people quickly give up on their New Year’s exercise goals. Why? Psychologist James Prochaska offers an explanation. His transtheoretical model of change is a five-stage theory that suggests that people need time to alter their health-related behaviors, that different interventions are effective at different periods in their lives, and that outcomes may vary across these different life periods. One month you might be confident and able to make several significant adjustments to your daily routine, and 6 months later you might be pessimistic and out of sorts, unable to maintain the changes you easily implemented previously. In other words, different times bring different opportunities and reactions, so the key to long-term success is persistence and flexibility.

At the gym, never is this phenomenon more apparent than in January, when eager new exercisers edge out the regulars in their excitement to reach the machines. They keep it up for a week or two, but by the end of the month only a handful of the newbies remain.

Fortunately, the field of exercise psychology exists to help prevent this disappearing act. Practitioners focus on helping everyday people achieve their physical activity goals—not elite athletes training for the Olympics. But people like me who train just for ourselves—for our health and our satisfaction, and maybe a little enjoyment and fulfillment along the way.  When we experience setbacks and need help overcoming obstacles, including our own inertia, pessimistic thoughts, and fear of failure, exercise psychologists have tools and techniques to help.

 

exploring sport & excercise psych        performance psych

References

Hays, K. F. (2009). Performance psychology in action. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Van Raalte, J. L., & Brewer, B. W. (2014). Exploring sport and exercise psychology (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Katie Ten Hagen

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