The Active People, Healthy Nation initiative from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a mission of helping 27 million Americans become physically active and “creating an active America, together.”
There are three distinct elements involved in reaching that 27 million milestone: (1) inspiring inactive individuals to perform at least one 10-minute session of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, (2) motivating people who are already somewhat active to perform enough physical activity to meet the minimum aerobic physical activity guidelines and (3) empowering youth to be physically active for at least 60 minutes every day.
The second of those three elements addresses the types of individuals who health coaches and exercise professionals likely interact with on a daily basis. They understand the value of physical activity but may struggle with knowing how to make the necessary behavior changes to become active on a regular basis.
Your role when working with these folks is to collaborate with them on an action plan and then offer frequent positive feedback and reinforcements on their progress.
So, what exactly are the “minimum aerobic physical activity guidelines” cited by Active People, Healthy Nation? The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggest that adults perform 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiorespiratory physical activity, or 75 to 150 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity cardiorespiratory physical activity, or a combination of both.
There are concrete steps that health coaches and exercise professionals can take to help someone who is sporadically active, or perhaps regularly active but performing less-than-optimal amounts of physical active, to meet the aerobic physical activity guidelines:
- Help them build self-efficacy by providing opportunities for success and enjoyment
- Help them identify potential obstacles to sticking with a routine and empower them to anticipate and overcome those obstacles
- Help them identify social support (e.g., significant other, friend or coworker)
- Help them establish goals that align with their personal values (i.e., why they want to become more physically active) and are achievable and measurable
- Join them in celebrating their successes along the way
It is important to note that after mapping out the minutes of moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity, the Physical Activity Guidelines go on to say that additional health benefits are obtained from performing greater amounts of activity than these quantities. However, they also state that any amount of physical activity is more desirable when compared to none. In other words, some activity is better than none and—barring extremes—the more, the better.
It is important to note that health coaches and exercise professionals should be mindful of the fact they should be empowering and uplifting their clients, not simply telling them to be more physically active. Behavior change is about collaboration and letting the client take the lead on decision making and planning. By using the strategies outlined above, you can positively impact your clients’ physical-activity levels and, ultimately, their overall health and well-being.