Motivated to take up a sport after watching the Olympics: a Deakin expert explains how to turn inspiration into action

Media release

11 August 2021

If watching the Olympic Games has motivated you to exercise or take up a new sport, a Deakin University behaviour change expert has some advice on how to get started.

Dr Helen Brown, from Deakin's School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, said being inspired by watching elite athletes in action is one thing, acting on that inspiration is quite another matter.

"Physical activity levels in Australia are declining from the age of 14 with young people already developing risk factors for heart disease, so anything that encourages people to move is a good thing," Dr Brown said.

"However, for many people there are a number of stumbling blocks to overcome before they lace up their runners and run a marathon.

"This is because of the huge number of influences on our behaviour individually (e.g., 'I’m not good enough, I don’t have the skills/fitness' or 'I don’t have time'), socially ('I will look stupid if I can’t play' or 'none of my friends play') or even broader than that ('there is nowhere to play near me', 'there are no teams that I know of to join').

"We need support to change our behaviour, to help overcome the barriers that may be real or in our minds to being active and put in place an achievable and sustainable plan of action. Just seeing someone else doing it is not enough…we must also want to change."

Here are Dr Brown’s tips to help make sure your first attempts to exercise after watching the Olympics are not your last:

  • Start small. Start small - even a 10-minute walk with the dog is a good start or go for a swim, play fun games, do beginner’s yoga or ride a bike to begin with. Get used to being active again and you will soon find out what you were missing.
  • Plan for when life gets in the way. Elite athletes plan carefully and have strategies in place for when ‘life’ happens such as study or work commitments. We can all do this by writing in a weekly diary when we will go for a walk, go to the gym, play sport etc and include a plan for when life gets in the way. For example, if you can’t get a walk in before work, why not have a walking meeting at work.
  • Build up slowly. Set an achievable goal, such as walking 10 minutes, then build up your amount and intensity. Once you begin to feel more comfortable about moving, you can build on the activity you have begun (as long as you enjoy it!) and/or look out for a new opportunity, whether it be a specific sport or a recreational activity, bushwalking, swim in the ocean etc.  Always chat with your GP and check that you are physically ready if you wish to progress to more vigorous activities.
  • Don’t forget incidental activity. Another part of being active is to increase the incidental activity – park a block away from the shops and walk, get off the tram at an earlier stop and walk home, have walking meetings at work, do simple things that can make a big difference to your overall physical activity.
  • Enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy running, don’t decide to start running three times a week. You must do things you really enjoy as you are much more likely to continue. Love dancing? Dance! Love swimming? Go to the local pool for a dip!
  • Mix it up. Don’t just decide to go to the gym five times a week – do a variety of things you enjoy.
  • Make it social. Being active with others is often more motivating and fun.
  • Add a sport to the mix. Don’t stress too much about your body size or shape, your age, your fitness level. These days, nearly every sport provides a broad range of programs for a variety of people including social teams or ‘pay and play’ where you don’t need to sign up for a whole season, you can just come and try, some provide older age versions such as walking netball.

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