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Adrian     Stages of change

Human beings are creatures of habit, which make long term change difficult to achieve. This is especially true when you consider your own health habits.

Results of a study on physical activity among Canadian Adults (CFLRI, 2008) reveal that 78% of Canadians very strongly agree that physical activity prevents heart disease, yet only 24% strongly agree that they do enough physical activity to help prevent heart disease. In other words, over three quarters of Canadians understand that physical activity prevents heart disease but knowledge is not enough to promote change in their daily physical activity.

There is certainly a lot of intention to become more physically active with 49% saying they fully intend to be more active in the next six months and another 45% with moderate-strong intentions to do the same. The top reasons they report for wanting to be active are to stay or maintain fit; lose or maintain weight; reduce disease risk and functional decline; and to have fun.

Stages of change model

At this time of year, many people may have given up on their New Year’s resolutions and feel discouraged. There are many different techniques that people find useful in accomplishing their goals. There is no magic solution that works for everyone or for all the behaviours you wish to change. The Stages of change model (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1998) is one of these techniques and suggests that individuals go through a process of change depending on their motivation. The stages are:

Stage 1 (pre-contemplation) – unimpressed by exercise and not even thinking or planning to

Stage 2 (contemplation) – have heard about exercise but are still unsure

Stage 3 (preparation) – committed to exercise and thinking about their intentions

Stage 4 (action) – starting to exercise and act on their intentions

Stage 5 (maintenance) – maintaining exercising for 6 months or more

Stage 6 (relapse) – reverts to a previous stage and physical activity decreases

Understanding the stages of change and learning how to work through each stage can help you achieve your fitness goals or other goals in life.


If you are at this stage, start off by asking yourself, “What is good or bad about exercise? How does inactivity affect my life and how would things be better if I were active?”


By simply reading this article, you are at least in the contemplation stage of making a healthy change. Think about why you want to exercise and identify any barriers. Highlight the difference between the pros and cons and relate it to your personal life goals.


The more prepared you are, the better your success will be in the next stages of change. At this point, you want to write down goals for yourself and plan actions for each goal. Make a list of what motivates you and who you plan to ask for support if needed.


This is the stage with the greatest risk of relapse due to either poor preparation or lack of confidence. It is important to recognize your successes if you are taking positive steps to change. Continue to review your goals and motivators as you progress and look for alternatives to giving up.


The key in this stage is to avoid temptation and deal with setbacks by learning from any mistakes. Continue to celebrate your success and set new goals to challenge yourself in a different way.


Most individuals begin to drop out of exercise within one year of starting that leave them feeling frustrated or disappointed. Instead of stopping completely, think about what you can do differently this time and how you can make it a priority. It is okay if this means you need to go back to the beginning and start setting goals and actions again.

We all have goals we want to achieve in life and may have had success or failure in the past. Learn from the past and understand that exercise and physical activity are life-long behaviours that need life-long planning, action, maintenance, and re-evaluation.

Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute
American College of Sports Medicine (2005) ACSM guidelines for exercise testing and prescription

Adrian Salonga is a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor’s degree in Medical Rehabilitation in Physical Therapy. Please send your questions regarding mobility, health promotion, or injury prevention to

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