How to Motivate Your Patients to Move More

Have you experienced resistance when asking patients to increase their level of physical activity? Patients may become more motivated to make changes if you can help make what seems insurmountable to them into a simple and enjoyable experience.

Share with your patients that they don't need to join a gym or be on a sports team to make small, incremental steps toward increasing physical activity levels.

Here are some tips you can share during a fitness dialog with your patients.

Sit less!

Suggest to patients that they reduce periods of inactivity by looking for ways to move throughout the day. For example, in addition to setting limits on screen time (e.g., 1-2 hours/day of TV viewing and non-job related computer usage) they can get up and walk in place during TV commercials. And instead of sitting down through their entire lunch break, suggest to patients that they walk for at least five minutes.

Do at least one thing every day!

Have your patients select a simple physical activity that they can do -- and are willing to do -- every day, or at least on most days. They could walk around one block in the neighborhood, or up and down one flight of stairs. Write the activity they agree to as part of their treatment plan.

Keep it fun!

Talk with your patients about choosing an activity that appeals to them, because if they dread it, they won't do it. Propose that patients ask a co-worker to be a "fitness buddy" to increase physical activity at work, such as a daily walk up and down the stairs during a break. Or they may prefer to ask a neighbor or friend to take a walk every day or join a mall-walking group. Another option is you can suggest is for patients to play a fun physical activity with their children, setting an example for a healthy lifestyle!

If at first you don't succeed, move, move again!

Changing behavior can be challenging, and patients may lack confidence, due to past failed attempts to incorporate physical activity into their lives. Ask patients how confident they are that they can complete their new activity goal. If they don¹t feel confident, modify the length of time or frequency so that the goal seems attainable. Reinforce to patients that starting slow, with 5-10 minutes of physical activity a day, breeds success. And if they miss a day or two, it's okay to begin again at a slower pace, if necessary.

Once you've helped a patient develop a plan, schedule a follow-up visit in three to four weeks to evaluate progress and modify the fitness prescription to increase the level of activity, or change the type of activity.