Walking. Everybody does it. Or do they?

Seems like such a simple thing. We have all done a ton of it in our lives.  Often if we go to our doctor and we aren’t active enough for him/her, the suggestion is, “Walk more… it will be good for your health.”

But what if someone you care about needs to be exercising more, has been told to walk, but will not? You are frustrated with them, knowing that they could be doing something so easy for their health. Maybe they have started having systemic diseases (heart, circulation issues, diabetes) and you are worried. But still they stay put, never making the effort, or so it seems.

What is happening here?

Is there anything you can do about it other than nag them or keep hoping?

For starters, it is important to try to understand what may be going on for that person. Does it hurt when they walk? Do they hate getting out of breath? Have they been on a medication that makes them feel sluggish? Are they aware that just sitting all the time can be what’s making them feel sluggish? (see my blog, “Is Sitting the New Smoking?”) Do they not like going out when it’s cold? Do they not have good shoes for it, and that makes it more difficult? Are they afraid of falling? Often in the doctor’s office, physicians don’t take the time to ask their patients these questions and figure out some viable solutions. That leaves you, the one who cares about them, to try to figure out what to say that will get them moving more.

Here’s a few things to think about before you do that, and some possible approaches.

  1. Consider getting them to see a personal trainer, or schedule a special visit to the doctor to go over the best options. Often the person you are concerned about will respond better to a professional than you, another family member, or a friend. Professionals can be more objective, will be more informed, and can ask questions that you may not think of.
  2. If that is not an option, there is something huge to remember when approaching someone about making a change. It is this: people mostly make decisions, particularly about their own behaviors, based on emotions, not facts. Studies have shown again and again that people usually do not start to get more active because they want to do something for their health. They do it because they want to feel better, connect more with others, and perhaps be there in more ways for their family. This is the “why” that drives people.
  3. There is something else about that. Sometimes people don’t get motivated to get more active because they have negative expectations about the process. Maybe they feel embarrassed that they are such a slow walker. Or, they don’t like to sweat or breath hard. Maybe they are frustrated with their appearance. They may even be afraid they will get too tired or be hurting afterwards.

Given all that, what can you do, if anything?

First of all, you can set a good example. When other see how great you are feeling, and that exercise makes you more engaged and enthusiastic about life, there’s a chance they will want a piece of the action.

Ask them if there is a particular environment that they can see themselves walking in for pleasure. See if you can make that happen, and go with them.

See if you can get them to do just a little bit. Grand sweeping gestures rarely make for lasting change. Start with something very small, and repeat. Let them get used to the action, the feeling, and the concept.

Find out about pain. There may be any number of areas that are hurting. Be empathetic, but proactive. See if there is a solution. Remember, walking can happen in small increments, and it can be over before any pain starts. This can be a big revelation and very reassuring. On the other hand, sticking with walking can make some pains retreat. This can be reassuring AND motivational.

Bottom Line

Ask just a few questions like those above, listen carefully, and then formulate a plan to address some of their concerns. And/or gently offer to walk with them. If the response isn’t good, at least you have laid some groundwork. Sometimes, ideas have to percolate before a person will take the first steps.


© 2018-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.

Design for Fitness - Personal Assessment

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