Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Don’t let a lapse
lead to collapse

Part 4 of a 5-part series
on beginning a fitness program

By Claudio R. Nigg and Bradley J. Cardinal
Special to the Star-Bulletin

If you have been following the recommendations in our previous articles, you have become physically active. That means you've cleared the first hurdle. The purpose here is to help you clear the second hurdle: specifically, to stick to your physical activity program.

Research shows that of those people who begin a physical activity program, half drop out within the first few months. To help avoid this, consider some special "relapse prevention" techniques.

The process of relapse begins with just one missed physical activity session. Your response is important. For example, let's say that you are planning to walk 20 minutes today at lunch. When lunchtime arrives, you notice that it's raining and you hadn't planned on bad weather, so you skip your walk. If this happens only once, you have lapsed. An occasional lapse is OK. It is not failure. In fact, it might be a healthy change-of-pace (especially if planned).


If you repeatedly miss your walks, however, you are showing signs of relapse behavior. Try to stop it before it becomes collapse -- when you stop being physically active entirely. One way of forestalling collapse is to train yourself to think, "I always exercise at least every third day, unless I am ill."

If you do lapse, relapse or collapse, don't be too hard on yourself. Instead, try to view each instance as an opportunity to learn more about yourself. For example, identify what caused this to happen, so you can counteract the same situation in the future. Advance planning and learning from the past are important aspects of relapse prevention.

Filling out the list in the accompanying box will help you see a problem coming. Once you do that, think about the strengths and weaknesses of each strategy you have listed. Are they workable? Can anyone you know assist you? How?

The list you have just made is very powerful. It will help you avoid a collapse of all you have achieved.

Next: Keeping physically active for life.

Claudio R. Nigg is with the Department of Public Health Sciences & Epidemiology, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii at Manoa. Bradley J. Cardinal is with the Sport and Exercise Psychology Program, Department of Exercise and Sport Science, Oregon State University. This series will continue on Wednesdays through Feb. 5.

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