Icon: Physical Activity BEHAVIOR CHANGE

Sweat the Small Stuff

Man Jumping Rope on the BeachIf your New Year’s resolutions include being more active, focusing on small changes will increase your chances of success and lower your cancer risk according to experts at AICR’s Research Conferenceexternal site.

You’ve made the decision: 2010 is the year you join the gym, sign up for Tai Chi classes or dust off that treadmill in the basement. The benefits of physical activity run the gamut from stress reduction to cancer prevention to just feeling better about your body. So your decision to move more could mean a healthier, happier year.

Evidence does show that along with a healthy diet, physical activity is crucial to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, despite what you may have heard from recent media stories that question the benefit of exercise for losing weight. And AICR’s expert report found convincing evidence that physical activity lowers risk for colorectal cancer and it probably decreases risk for endometrial and postmenopausal breast cancers.

With all the known benefits of exercise, why do we keep making the same physical activity resolution every year?

If you are motivated by being part of a larger program and using online tools to track progress, America on the Moveexternal site may be a good fit. Dr. Hill is a co-founder of this national weight grain prevention initiative that provides web-based programs, tools and resources to individuals, families, groups and communities.

During the 2009 AICR Research Conference session Physical Activity in Cancer Prevention and Controlexternal site, James O. Hill, Ph.D., talked about the importance of making modest changes in our behavior to increase our physical activity. Often we set goals that require too much of a lifestyle change all at once and those goals typically cannot be achieved or maintained.

Hill reports that an energy gap of 100 calories (we burn 100 more calories than we take in) is enough to prevent weight gain, so he is a proponent of using small changes to get people moving. Why? Four reasons:

  1. Small changes are what people can do:
    Start an exercise program by taking a daily walk of any length even 10 minutes
  2. Modest changes can have a significant impact.
    At work walk down the hall to talk to a colleague instead of using email several times per day
  3. Small changes promote more small changes.
    If I can walk down the hall, I can use the stairs to talk to someone one floor up
  4. If we could make and sustain big changes, we wouldn’t be discussing small changes!
    Nothing succeeds like success. Experiencing success in small changes can be a strong motivating factor to continue the new behavior. An invigorating daily 10 minute walk could lead to a 30 minute walk several times per week.

So if you resolve to run a marathon before you’ve even started daily walks, you might want to begin with smaller goals. Running a marathon could be a long-term goal, but success will likely occur with more modest goals while you work your way up.

For more physical activity tips from AICR check out our brochure: Moving More for Cancer Prevention

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