New Year, New YOU: Get Fit and Make it Stick

Vowed to get fit and lose weight in 2013? A new study could be just the answer to help you achieve your goals

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It’s a wonderful thing to feel the excitement and motivation that a New Year brings.

Many people dive into the New Year with great intentions to get fit, exercise more and lose weight. Unfortunately though, the average New Year's resolution doesn't last very long – research shows it actually only lasts from one week to three months in most cases.

Thankfully, a new study into the psychology of physical exercise could be just the answer to help people stick to their resolutions.

Griffith Health Institute's Associate Professor David Neumann is exploring the mindset of all those ambitious people who are trying to lose weight and get into shape for the New Year. Remember the infamous “no pain, no gain” motto? Dr Neumann is focusing his energies on the pain portion which serves as a barrier and seems to deter thousands of well-intentioned resolution makers before January is even up.

Research shows that one in three New Year's resolutions slips away within the first two weeks of being set. It also shows that when exercise appears not enjoyable or too intense, people are more likely to give up. Because of this, New Year memberships at fitness centres barely reach through to the end of February.

Dr Neumann is working hard to develop innovative psychological strategies that make physical exercise more enjoyable and satisfying. He wants to reduce the impression that exercise is a painful task involving heaps of aches and too much effort.

"Many people make New Year's resolutions to get fitter and healthier but fail because of one reason. They don't enjoy it," he said.
"They don't enjoy it because they find it hard. It's hard to enjoy exercise when you're overweight or not fit."

But Dr Neumann thinks that these negative thought patterns are not set in stone and can be changed so that exercise is actually enjoyable.
"It's important to use psychological strategies. We have to change how the mind interprets what the body is doing, and change it from thinking exercise is hard."

This research will be carried out over a three-year period before being extended into the community. It involves lab-based analysis using treadmills and weights and is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant.

Teaming up with exercise consultants and sports psychologists, Dr Neumann will use the knowledge gained during the lab phase to create exercise programs. He will also be watching how persistence factors in and whether people are enjoying what they are doing and if in the long run, they stick with it.

"The strategies will account for exercise intensity and individual differences like age and experience," he said. "The research project will also help those that currently exercise to continue to enjoy a higher intensity workout and encourage sedentary people to start exercising.

"It will show people of all ages and levels of experience how to get more out of moderate intensity and vigorous exercise by making it more enjoyable and less painful," said Dr Neumann.

Physical inactivity not only increases the risk of major health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast cancer, it’s also a major downer when it comes to quality of life. Mental health is hugely influenced by inactivity, leading to depression, anxiety and ultimately reducing life expectancy.

Current national guidelines recommend that people engage in 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days but because so many people are failing to do this, it’s costing Australia a lot of money - about $1.5 billion per year to be precise.

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