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Motivate your friends to exercise

Helping a Friend Exercise More

Nagging doesn't work. Here are ways to help your friends and family members get moving.

If you are a fitness enthusiast, you may find it difficult to understand why other people don't "get it." Exercise has so many benefits, and makes you look and feel good, so why doesn't everyone get out and move? You may especially wonder how to get family members or good friends to "see the light."

Exercise with a friendAdvice on giving advice

People generally dislike being given advice or told what to do, especially by family and friends. Think about the last time someone tried to give you advice when you hadn't asked for any. Generally, people take these directives as criticism, and put up a wall of defense to preserve their self-esteem. They often reject the advice, and sometimes the advice-giver, as well. Instead of launching into a lecture, take a moment to think about the behavior-change process, and how you can best encourage your friend to become more active.

Understanding behavior change

Behavior change begins in the brain. People must first see a good reason to change their comfortable habits. They weigh the pros and cons, and, if the pros are strong enough, they decide to change.

Dragging unwilling friends to the fitness center may not be productive in the long run. First find out if they are really interested in becoming more active, and what types of activities would be the most fun for them.

Friends training togetherInformation helps people consider changing, but emotion is a stronger factor. People can forget or ignore information, but, if the information touches something they care about, it is more likely to lead to change. If people see exercise as a way to have more self-confidence for a job search, or more energy to play with grandkids, they may have more motivation to become active.

What if your friends do not want to exercise? You can bug them a little bit, but don't overdo it. Do you have a short article on exercise benefits they might read? Would exercise help a health problem that concerns them? Would they tolerate small amounts of activity that does not feel too inconvenient (like a walk at lunchtime)? If your suggestions do not take hold, let it go and try again in a month or two. Your friend may consider the nudge you have given, and come around later.

Focus on behavior, not weight loss

If your friends are trying to lose weight, resist asking how much weight they lost this week. Instead, focus on the lifestyle behaviors they are trying to change, such as eating better and exercising regularly. Choose nutritious meals if you eat out together, and don't sabotage their efforts by giving them junk food. Take a walk or bike ride together.

Build self-efficacy

Self-efficacy is psycho jargon for a can-do attitude. People are more likely to stick to an exercise program if they believe they can. To increase self-efficacy, help your friend successfully complete small steps that demonstrate competence.

False praise doesn't work; pointing out the facts does: "You said you couldn't work exercise into your day, but we've walked three times this week!" Express sincere confidence in their abilities, and be supportive. People often focus on themselves, wanting to show friends how fit they are, and many friends are competitive with each other. To build self-efficacy in others, you have to let them shine.

If friends have a bad day, and did not exercise as planned, be sympathetic rather than judgmental. After all, you are a friend, so show your understanding that we all have bad days. Invite them out for a walk to help manage stress. Your relationship is built on enjoying time together, so create ways to be together that involve some activity.

Ask your friend to help you

Is there a way your friend could help you that would get them moving? Some people exert more effort to help another person than to take care of themselves. Do you need more activity to strengthen your bones, manage stress or lower your cholesterol? Get your friend to work out with you.

What if you are worried about your friend?

If you are worried about a friend because of a health problem, physical or psychological, urge him or her to make an appointment with the doctor. Make the appointment and go with him or her, if this is possible. Even the best of friends can't solve every problem — people must confront these themselves, and professional support is helpful.