Friday, January 16, 2009

Self-Regulation Plan Helps Women Meet Exercise Goals

“Women who learn a simple self-regulation technique are much more likely to follow through with their intentions to get more exercise, research shows. In fact, women who used the planning strategy upped their activity by about an hour a week, and sustained the increase for 16 weeks. ‘The self-regulation technique should be tested further as a tool for short- and long-term change in physical activity and other behaviors,’ Dr. Gertraud Stadler of Columbia University in New York City and her colleagues conclude. They note that the approach is ‘low cost’ and can be learned in a single session, after which a person can practice it on their own. Sticking with good intentions is a challenge for everyone, especially when this requires behavior change. Stadler and her team decided to evaluate whether a technique that combined two cognitive-behavioral therapy strategies -- mental contrasting and implementation intentions -- would help women who wanted to become more physically active achieve their goals. In mental contrasting, a person names the way they want to change their behavior, such as becoming more physically active; spells out the best possible outcome of this behavior change; and then names and envisions the obstacle most likely to trip them up in achieving their goal. In implementation intentions, a person puts their plans into "if-then" formats to help them make specific plans for achieving their goals and overcoming obstacles. For example, they might say, ‘If the weather's nice tomorrow, I will go for a run,’ or ‘If I sleep in, I won't watch the morning news so I'll still have time to exercise.’ In a study involving 256 middle-aged women, Stadler and her team found that the women who received self-regulation training were much more apt to follow through with their intentions to be more active than "control" women who received information only. At the study's outset, the women in the self-regulation group got an average of about 46 minutes of exercise a week, compared to 38 minutes for the information-only group. A week after the intervention, women given self-regulation training were exercising 102 minutes a week, compared to 56 minutes for the information-only group. Exercise times for both groups peaked four weeks after the intervention, when the self-regulation group reported nearly 111 minutes of physical activity a week, compared to 58 minutes for the other group. At 16 weeks, the self-regulation group was exercising for 96 minutes per week, compared to 49 minutes for the information-only group. For people to be able to use self-regulation effectively, Stadler and her team point out, they must be able to believe they're capable of making a change and then name and imagine the positive consequences. ‘Certainly, individual success is greatly facilitated if the environment and policy are conducive to physical activity and thus produce favorable preconditions,’ they add.”

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