We’re now several months into 2022, and the reality is that the majority of people who optimistically resolved to get in shape this year find themselves falling short yet again. This tendency is nothing new. According to The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, only 30% to 40% of those with good intentions follow through with making changes to their health behavior. This intention-behavior gap is not only detrimental to a person’s physical well-being, but it also perpetuates a fixed mind-set around committing to physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle. It’s just too hard.
One of the main reasons people quickly lose motivation when it comes to establishing an exercise routine is that they often rely on extrinsic motivators such as weight loss, increased muscle mass or lower blood pressure. While these byproducts of habitual exercise often are the impetus for change, it is easy to lose momentum when expectations are delayed or go completely unmet. Moreover, most people’s perception of fitness and health is skewed. According to Dr. Rachel DiGiacomo, a physical therapist at Made 2 Move in Summerville, helping patients change their health behaviors is more than prescribing exercise and diet.
“Health care practitioners must acknowledge the biopsychosocial aspects of health to truly promote healthy living,” she said.
Dr. DiGiacomo encourages clients not to focus solely on attaining a specific aesthetic or body composition and to develop habits that re-shape their physical, mental and social well-being.
“Being in shape is a mind-set, not simply an appearance,” she pointed out.
Shifting the focus away from extrinsic motivators, like losing weight, to intrinsic motivators is essential to forming good habits but easier said than done. Since one of the most powerful intrinsic motivators is experiencing something as fun and pleasurable, certified personal trainer Larsyn Cross of Camp Gladiator Charleston prioritizes fun and fellowship. Cross transforms exercise from a chore to an activity of choice by creating a safe space for people of all levels of fitness to essentially play in community with each other.
“Fun is a core value and integrated into every workout we do. Sometimes, we throw in crazy games so you forget you are actually working out, and we always have a way to bring laughter into every workout,” she said.
Similarly, before prescribing an exercise routine, Dr. DiGiacomo asks clients to figure out their personal why: “Once we know why being healthy and active is important to them, we tailor their exercises to their interests and hobbies.”
Rather than viewing exercise as a pleasurable hobby or opportunity for socialization, many people view it as a necessity, something they must do to get in shape. They hit the gym, go for a run or invest in home exercise equipment. For some, these forms of exercise are intimidating and isolating, and the time they spend working out becomes arduous rather than renewing.
“The mind-set is a powerful thing and often sends us false narratives about the very thing we need,” said Cross.
Camp Gladiator promotes exercising in community as a way of providing encouragement and camaraderie as much as accountability: “When you find a program that feels more like family than just a good sweat, then you’ve really found something special.”
Most importantly, both Cross and Dr. DiGiacomo stressed the importance of individualizing the pathway to fitness. Intrinsic motivators are unique to each person. Dr. DiGiacomo diversifies her approach for all patients, encouraging them to “get 1% better every day.” The journey to health, she said, should reflect our different bodies, hobbies, abilities and goals.
“Comparison is often called the thief of joy,” Cross pointed out, “and I’d like to add it’s also the thief of progress. If you want to make progress, put the blinders on and go to work!”
Dr. Rachel DiGiacomo earned her doctorate in physical therapy from the Medical University of South Carolina in 2020 and practices at Made 2 Move in Summerville. Larsyn Cross has been training since 2014 and holds a master’s degree in health exercise and sports science from the Citadel. Check out Camp Gladiator Charleston on Instagram and Facebook.
By Jill Harper