Be SMART About Physical Activity

Everyone can gain health benefits from starting or increasing physical activity. Setting SMART goals can help you get the most out of moving your body.

Regular physical activity is good for your health. Being active reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes. It also helps control weight and may help ease stress. Starting an exercise routine or taking your current workout to the next level is a great way to gain these health benefits. Set SMART goals to stay motivated and on track. SMART goals also can help you make weight loss and healthier eating part of an overall healthy lifestyle.


“I’ll move more” or “I’ll watch less TV” are too general to be helpful goals. Be specific about what activities you’ll do and for how long. Your goals should be clear and easy to understand, for example, “I will walk five mornings a week for 30 minutes each day.” Have a backup goal for times when your schedule, weather, or other issues prevent you from staying with your plan: “If I can’t walk in the morning, I’ll walk after dinner.” Also, be specific about how you’ll reward yourself when you reach your goals, such as “I’ll buy myself new sneakers if I stay with my plan for a month.”


Including a number in your goal helps you track your progress. For example, you might start with brisk walking for 10 minutes and over time build up to 30 minutes. Keep a record of your progress in an exercise journal. You might try wearing a fitness tracker or getting a health and fitness app for your smartphone to see how your workouts are going. This can be important for staying motivated if you set some of your goals for months ahead.


Some people set their physical activity goals too high. Goals that are too hard could make you give up. Try creating a series of small challenges for yourself, especially if you haven’t been active in a while. Make your goals realistic and try not to change too much at once. For example, you might set a small goal, such as “Call a friend this week to arrange a hike together,” to reach a broader goal, “Go on a hike this month.” On the other hand, goals that are too easy may not keep you interested or give the results you’re working toward. Finding a healthy balance can help you create exercise goals that you stick with and feel good about when you reach them.


Setting goals should be enjoyable. Your goals should mean something to you and where you are in your life. Avoid setting goals that someone else wants you to do. Physical activity should be something you like doing or it will not be something you keep up. Try including different activities. If one kind of activity becomes boring, switch to another type.


Pick a time frame for completing small goals to help you reach a larger goal. For example, “Work in my garden for an hour every Saturday for the next two months.” Setting a start date and deadline for small goals may help you hold yourself accountable. Plus, it easily lets you see if you’ve achieved your goal. Once you complete a goal, you might want to do it again, making it a healthy habit.

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