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A healthier lifestyle grows in stages

Physical activity has always been a part of my life. As a child I walked a half-mile to school every day during the school year and worked in our garden three or four hours every day during the summer. My father coached me and my siblings in basketball and softball from a very young age. As a result of his guidance and interest in sports, several of us went on to play softball and basketball in high school and college.

After participating in sports through high school and college, I discovered a new form of physical activity in the early ‘80s called aerobic dance. Do any of you out there remember leg warmers? I loved it so much I started teaching fitness classes in 1984 and continue to teach today. The classes have evolved over the years but they all have one thing in common — movement. Activity continues to be a part of my life through my work with the YMCA in four different YMCA associations over the past 22 years.

Some of you may relate to the sports background and others may not. Some may relate to working in a garden or doing outdoor chores over the summer to make money. Some of you may have been introduced to Aerobic Dance back in the ‘80s and others may not have been born yet. The point is we all come with different activity experiences depending on where we grew up, the time period in which we grew up, available options for activity, and the influence our parents and community had on us.

Research clearly shows we all need to be physically active and everyone can receive some benefit from moving the body God gave us. However, the type of activity, the amount of time needed to achieve personal health goals and the support system needed to be successful varies greatly from one person to another. So the question is ... how does one get started and maintain an active lifestyle throughout their life? That’s a great question, but one that can’t be answered in a single newspaper column. So I’ll start today by sharing information with you about making a behavior change, like adding more physical activity into your life.

Based on the transtheoretical model (TTM) of change, adopting a healthy behavior like adding activity to your life occurs over a series of stages. The first stage is Precontemplation, where one has no desire to change a behavior. The second stage is Contemplation, where you are thinking about the possibility of making a change. The third stage is Preparation, where you are exploring the options to allow you to make a change. The forth stage is Action, where you are engaging in a specific healthy lifestyle behavior with consistency. The final stage is Maintenance, where the new behavior is part of your life and you do it with a low risk of relapsing. People move through these stages of change at different rates with some moving forward then back, then forward again. The speed at which we move through these stages also varies form one individual to another.

There are many healthy lifestyle changes any one of us can chose to make. We may choose to quit smoking, eat healthier, spend more quality time with our family, or spend more time in spiritual growth. Every one of these life decisions requires a commitment. Making the choice to become more physically active requires commitment as well. While it might not be easy to incorporate physical activity into your life, the task will be less difficult if you keep the following factors in mind.

Think about your experiences with activity and learn from them as to what works best for you. If you hated P.E. in high school because your teacher made you run, then it’s less likely that you will stick to a jogging routine. If you always enjoyed dancing or working in the yard, try a dance aerobics class or establish an afternoon weed-pulling routine. Be realistic about your interests, capabilities and schedule limitations.

Surround yourself with people who support your efforts to change. It’s extremely difficult for anyone to make a permanent change without the support of family and friends.

Understand that you may not always meet your activity goals. Life happens, and this means that your exercise routine may change from time to time. The main thing is to keep moving forward through the stages of change, find people with the knowledge and skills to help you start and maintain a safe activity program, and keep moving forward even if you have a temporary setback.

Mary Ganzel works at the Albany Area YMCA as senior program director. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She’s been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.