Positive reinforcement and feedback may help people keep on track with their fitness training programmes, a new study suggests.
The study, which focused on the use of personal digital assistants (PDAs) to give daily feedback to adults about their fitness progress showed that it helped them stick with an exercise programme.
The University of Pittsburgh researchers followed 189 overweight adults for six months and the participants were assigned to one of three self-monitoring programmes - paper records only, PDA without daily feedback messages, or PDA with daily feedback messages.
An example of a message for participants who met their exercise goals for the day: "Super job on the physical activity. Try to repeat this tomorrow."
For those who didn't achieve their daily goal, the message might have said: "Don't get disheartened; you still have time to meet your physical activity goals. Hint: Take a walk; it will pay off!"
What the study found
Adults who received the PDA messages were most likely to stick with their exercise programme, and adherence was associated with high physical activity levels and weight-loss. The study was published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
"Offering real-time feedback not only allows a person to make adjustments to the exercise program as needed but also holds people accountable to staying on track," lead author Dr Molly Conroy said. "The feedback message tells the participant that 'someone' is paying attention, and this could provide powerful, positive reinforcement for exercising and achieving his or her goals."
What the experts say
Professional personal trainer Dave Giloi said that the findings make sense because in his experience "when you're working with people towards their goals, they crave and need recognition for what they achieve".
"It’s tough to keep going when you feel like you’re getting nowhere and part of many people’s motivation is the way they look or how well they achieve. So by affirming their successes and achievements you reinforce those," he said.
However, he pointed out that sincerity was also an important factor as "sincere appraisal makes a person feel as though they are still achieving, without it they lose motivation and will generally discontinue an exercise programme".
So if you know someone who is training hard towards a specific goal, some words of encouragement might go a long way to helping them reach it.
"People tend to want to work harder, push harder and for longer when they are verbally encouraged and praised for their work and their successes. Honest, appraisal goes a long way in keeping someone motivated," said Dave.
SOURCES: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, news release, Aug. 8, 2011, Dave Giloi, professional personal trainer at Body Excel Gym.