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How To Reach Your Health And Wellness Goals, According To Research

Discussion in 'Psychiatry' started by Mahmoud Abudeif, Jun 30, 2021.

  1. Mahmoud Abudeif

    Mahmoud Abudeif Golden Member

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    Most can relate to the experience of setting a health or wellness goal, only to falter months, weeks, days, or even hours later. Maybe your goal is something like losing 20 pounds, training for a 5K, or going for a daily walk. You want to achieve your goal, but despite your best intentions, you reach for a tasty treat, indulge in some extra couch time, or opt for the elevator over the stairs.

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    In his powerful, compact book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield (whom you might know as the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance) gives this thwarting force a name: Resistance. Resistance is what stands between you and painting your masterpiece, or reaching your health and wellness goals. What’s worse, Resistance has a life of its own. It will work to undermine and cut you down at every opportunity–unless you fight it.

    While Pressfield has his own empowering take on conquering Resistance (which we suggest you read), psychological research has also given us powerful insights on human motivation. Physicians are positioned to leverage these findings in order to meet their health and wellness goals, giving them an edge in the fight against Resistance. Here’s what the research has to say about motivation.

    Setting up for success

    According to exercise motivation research, recently published in the book, Motivation and Self Regulation in Sport and Exercise, one useful theory for understanding the motivations behind physical activity is Affective Reflective Theory (ART). Within the ART framework, exercise/inactivity decisions are the product of reflective processes that lead to action plans, and automatic processes that lead to action impulses. The former are based on how we evaluate data and experiences, and the latter are reflex responses based on past pleasant or unpleasant experiences linked to exercise and inactivity. The researchers add that when we’re in low-stress situations, it’s easier to use the reflective approach. However, add some stress into the mix, and we fall back on our impulses.

    The takeaway

    What can we learn from this? It would seem that we’re more likely to follow through on our health and wellness goals if we can mitigate external stressors. For example, let’s say your mornings are typically harried. Something as simple as laying out the clothes for your morning workout will save you time, a small amount of stress, and a small amount of mental bandwidth, making you more likely to actually do your workout instead of falling back on your entrenched stress-mitigation impulses. The same logic applies to scheduling when, where, and how long your workouts will be. By forming a plan, you’re eliminating some of the external stressors that may trigger more impulsive patterns.

    Clarifying your goals

    Research published this year in the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology suggests that factoring age into your health and wellness goals may help you remain motivated. Researchers worked with a group of 735 adults, ranging from college-aged to older adults. All did CrossFit, a form of group strength and endurance training in which participants all do the same workout of the day, scaling time, repetitions, and weights to their fitness levels. All study participants had performed CrossFit for at least three months.

    The researchers discovered age-specific trends in the motivations for these dedicated CrossFitters. Health concerns tended to motivate the oldest cohort whereas social motivates drove the younger counterparts.

    “Encouragement of exercise programs that support relevant motives for different age groups could be more effective for exercise adherence and promotion of long-term health benefits,” the researchers wrote.

    The takeaway

    Consider your age when forming your health and fitness goals. If you’re middle-aged or older, you might not be able to bench your high school PR, or maintain the mile pace that your 20-year-old self could stride, but you can out-age the competition. If you’re younger, think of all the interesting people you might meet along your fitness journey.

    Use social media strategically

    Ever heard of #fitspiration? Let us explain. For those who don’t use Instagram, hashtags are a way of easily viewing posts on a certain topic. Those tagged #fitspiration are intended to inspire people to be healthier or more fit. But does this tactic actually work?

    That’s the question a team of researchers set out to answer in a Translational Behavioral Medicine study, published in March. Researchers worked with a group of 655 college students, 59% of which were women, and 64% of which were white. The researchers showed the participants posts that fell into several categories:
    • An image with traditional messaging (think, no pain no gain)
    • An image with self-compassion messaging (think, body positivity)
    • And an image with no text
    Participants then self-reported their body satisfaction, exercise motivation, and gym attendance over the next week. “Neither the expected benefits of self-compassion (vs. traditional) messages for body satisfaction and exercise motivation nor the expected benefit of traditional (vs. self-compassion) messages for exercise engagement were observed,” the researchers wrote. They added, however, that the self-compassion messaging may be effective for “promoting positive outcomes among women.” And, images without text may be better for men.

    The takeaway

    For now, it may be best to avoid Instagram as a source of fitness motivation. While targeted viewing may enhance your motivation, per the study, you will be exposed to posts that may not align with your motivational needs. Furthermore, Instagram is loaded with so-called fitness “experts” who promote unproven or outright dangerous methods. Know before you scroll, and if you choose to seek motivation, seek it in a research-supported manner.

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