Support and accountability

During this first quarter of 2010, I’ve tried to give you some strategies on how to kick start your behavioral change to a healthier lifestyle.

As the weather begins to get warmer, it will become easier. The warm weather seems to lifts everyone’s spirits following a long, cold, snow-filled winter. It motivates us to leave our caves, get outside, feel the warm sun on our faces, and to move.

Soon it will be time to tune up the bike, strap on the inline skates, sweep out the garage, rake, fertilize, and finally mow the lawn. These are all great activities to get us moving again. The bike trails and skate parks will be free of snow and ready for traffic. This is a great time of the year.

Building on my last column, wellness coaching, I am going to write about the importance of support and accountability systems. There is all sorts of research, both empirical and anecdotal, showing how important support is to making behavioral change successful.

For most cases, we are social beings and enjoy one another’s company. We tend to surround ourselves with individuals who share our same beliefs and values. Support groups are made up of individuals all with the same goal(s) in mind. Finding a support group these days is only a click away. These support groups can also be called clubs. There are running clubs, adventure clubs, swim clubs, bike clubs, and book clubs. They all share the same purpose: to keep you motivated and inspired in the specific subject.


Joining a group exercise class at your fitness facility will introduce you to new people who share common interests. Most support groups, classes, or clubs are very positive and only want to see their participants succeed. In the Lean Mean Fighting Machine training class (which I teach at the RAC), all the participants have gotten to know each other. They support each other through the physical challenges of the class by encouraging one another and giving positive reinforcement when needed. This results in each participant having a fun experience.

Following class, many of them will walk the indoor track of the RAC, chatting while they cool down. Because the group interaction is so positive, they continue to come to the class on a consistent basis. We also tend to gravitate towards pleasurable experiences and stay away from painful ones. If the experience of a support group is pleasurable, we will tend to be much more successful.

Another friend of mine once participated in an early morning group exercise program. He was very good at making all the classes regardless of how tired he felt getting out of bed. The other participants in the class all held each other accountable for their attendance. It was much more painful to miss the class and then be questioned from a classmate as to his whereabouts that morning. He would rather make the class and feel the energy from participating instead of experiencing the guilt of missing it.

The Rochester Athletic Club has an extremely successful weight management program, Twelve Weeks to a New You. When visiting with Branda Anderson, RAC staff dietitian, she will tell you that the ones that are the most successful are the ones that keep a food and activity journal, as well as consistently attending their sessions with their trainer and their diet consults with their dietitian. Both the dietitian and the trainer serve as support to these individuals, helping to guide them along the path to achieve their desired results.

I know a female individual who had invested in a local weight loss program. She had tried everything on her own to accomplish her weight goals, but nothing seemed to work for her. Once she enrolled in the program, she followed it to a "T". Twice per week she was obligated to report in to her weight management counselor to be weighed. Her entire objective, prior to each weigh-in, was to show a weight loss, or at the very least, to have maintained.

The point I want to make is that this program held her accountable. She was successful because she had the full support of her family, as well as the support and accountability of the program.

Why do support groups work? The individuals can empathize and support one another as they strive towards a common goal. They all want to move forward and feel better about themselves. There is strength in numbers and the individuals in a support group, club, or exercise class draw upon each others’ strength to move forward.

Call a friend and recruit him/her to join you in physical activity. It can be as easy as going on leisurely walks and sharing conversation. If you have someone depending on you to show up, you are much less likely to put it off. Find a friend or a group and you will soon discover that making a behavioral change is not only attainable but fun.

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