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Keep up the good work in being more active

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Maintaining your new activity levels

Just like when you start trying to do more physical activity, keeping these changes up takes effort and dedication too.

It's important to maintain a healthy level of physical activity over time. This way you'll keep getting the benefits to your physical and mental health.

Here are some helpful strategies and ideas that can help you maintain the changes you've made. 

Building physical activity into your daily routines

You're more likely to keep up your new routine in the long term if it becomes a habit. It should be an automatic thing you do.

If you link your new activity choices to 'cues' (or triggers), you're more likely to maintain them.  A 'cue' can be:

  • Other people
  • An object such as a note on your fridge door
  • The time of day
  • Other behaviours or events, such as lunch time
  • How you feel, such as stressed or happy

There are cues wherever you go. For example, in your car, at work or at home. It's important to create positive cues which trigger you to get active as often as possible.

How to create healthy habits using cues

New behaviours can become habits when you repeat them in the same place, or situation in response to a cue.

For example, using your lunch break to take a walk each day you are at work. Over time, this cue (lunch break) will trigger the walking (habit) without you being aware of it.

Some of the time you may choose not to be active without even thinking about it. You may park your car in the nearest space to the entrance to the supermarket. When it's raining, you don't go for your daily walk.

Instead, park your car in the furthest space away from the supermarket entrance, or get a waterproof coat for walking. Repeat this every time you get the cue (going to the supermarket or a rainy day) until you park further away or grab your coat without thinking about it.

Negative cues and unhealthy habits

You can also break unhealthy habits by removing what psychologists call 'negative cues'. These are cues which may encourage us to stop being active, such as storing your car keys right by the front door.

To break this habit, you could put your walking shoes and rain coat by the door, or put the keys out of sight.

You may have habits which stop you from being active that you're not aware of. Take some time to think about your physical activity habits, and whether are they linked to a cue or event.

For example, if you went to a market to buy food instead of the supermarket, would you automatically park at the market entrance? Once you recognise these cues, think about how to break them and form new and healthier habits.

Ending unhealthy habits

Here are two main approaches to end an unhealthy habit.  Think about which would work best for you:

You could consider changing the cue or trigger. For example, the cue is visiting the supermarket, meaning you automatically park close to the entrance. Think about going to the market in town instead.

  • You could change the way you respond to a cue. Instead of staying inside when it rains, put on your wet weather gear and walk anyway.
  • Think about the cues in your environment. Think about positive cues as well as negative ones you could change to help you increase the amount of physical activity you're doing.

You might want to note these down or save a copy of these statements (PDF) [99KB] to print off and fill in later:

Replacing or changing the cue (or trigger)

Existing cues which I already have in my environment are: ...

New cues which could trigger me to be more physically active which I could add to my environment are:...

Cues that trigger me not wanting to be physically active, that I could remove from my environment are: ...

Change the way you respond to a cue (or trigger)

A replacement activity I could do after a trigger (which usually makes me not choose to be active) is:...

Something positive I could tell myself after experiencing a trigger (which I did not give in to) is:...

Use your environment and social support to stay on track

The people and things around you can keep you motivated and positive. They help you maintain a healthy level of physical activity and habits.

This can be when you are at home, work, or with friends. A supportive environment could be:

  • A workplace that provides a nice location for a walk at lunchtime. Or offers discounts for leisure centre memberships.
  • A home where a family member joins you in balancing exercises, using equipment you have at home

Good social support could be:

  • A family member who knows about your overall goal to increase your activity levels. They offer to join you on a walk, swim or cycle ride when you are not motivated to walk alone.

Make sure that your environment and social support are as supportive as possible. Think about those places or events that may get in the way of continuing to exercise. For example, when a friend or colleague has to cancel meeting you for a swim.

These may be regular events and be difficult to avoid. If this is the case, think about what makes it difficult (barriers or obstacles) and what will make it easier (solution) for you.

Try making an If-Then plan which can help you plan ahead for difficult situations.  An example If-Then plan may be:

  • If my colleague has too much work on so they can't join me for a walk at lunchtime... Then I'll ensure I still stick to my plan and walk alone, even if I shorten the time I walk for

Find out more about making an If-Then plan.

Keep an eye on changes to your routine

Keeping track of your emotions, thoughts and behaviours is important. You don't want them to get in the way of maintaining the changes you have made.

For example, if you're stressed and feeling negative, you might choose not to do any physical activity. So it's important to find positive ways to deal with stress and negative thoughts. Learn more about managing emotions.

You could see a change in your routine due to an illness, or a life event. These can make it challenging to stick to your goals.

It can be quite normal to experience setbacks when something unexpected happens. The important thing is to notice when these things happen and throw you off course.

If you know what's happening around you and why, use it as an opportunity to review your goals and action plans. You may need to be kind to yourself and not set many goals for a week you know will be challenging.

But you could make a plan to revisit your goals a week later and accept that things will have slipped a bit. Planning how you might respond to challenges ahead of time means you're prepared for them.

One type of plan that can help you stay on track with your goals in these situations is an If-Then plan. To give an example:

  • If I'm planning on going away to visit family for a few days... Then I will not be able to walk my usual route on those days. But I will speak to a family member and see if they would walk with me when we are away

Find out more about making an If-Then plan

Stay motivated

Often the things that motivate you to start making changes are not the same things you need to keep up your activity levels.

Think about what motivates you to continue making changes to the level of physical activity you do. It's easier to maintain changes if you have at least one thing that motivates you. For instance:

  • Being satisfied and happy with what you have achieved. For example, you're now doing different forms of exercise, and enjoying them and feel good about it.
  • Enjoying doing that new behaviour, such as walking new routes along the coast
  • The new behaviour is more in line with who you are or what you believe in

It may be useful to think about these motivators and how they are relevant to you.  To do this, try completing the below statements. You can note this down or save a copy (PDF) [93KB] to print off later and fill in:

The thing I am most satisfied about with my new physical activity choices are:...

The thing I am most enjoy about my new behaviour is:...

My identity, beliefs and values match my new behaviour of... 

Have the right resources to keep you on track

One final strategy is to make sure you have a range of resources at hand whenever you need them. The articles and activities on this website will give you several resources and tools to use.

Types of resources that can help you keep on track can include:

  • Practical tools, such as an app which records and tracks your physical activity
  • Emotional support, from a family member, friend or colleague
  • Self-care skills. This could be getting enough sleep, effective time management, managing emotions, keeping fit.

For more information to help you keep on track, see the following:

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