Setting a SMART Goal to Meet AICR’s Physical Activity Recommendations

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The AICR recommendations for physical activity are very clear about what to do for cancer prevention: make being physically active part of your everyday life, aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week and work towards a goal of 45-60 minutes of moderate activity every day.

OK, so you know what to do, but how should you get started?

By setting a SMART goal.

Take the time to clearly define what you want to achieve, how you think you can achieve it, and what you need to be successful. That will set you up with a blueprint for action that can grow with you over time.

The acronym SMART defines the key things you need to consider as you set your goal:

S = specific
Generic goals such as “I’ll be more active” do not provide any guidance or motivation. Be specific. Define as many of the what, when, and how details as possible. For example, “I’ll swim at the gym for 30 minutes Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays before breakfast”. Making your goal specific will force you to think through important details that will set you up for success.

M = measurable
Being able to measure what you’ve done helps you know if you’ve been successful. You can clearly keep track of whether you’ve gone swimming for 30 minutes on specific days. It’s not as easy to tell if you successfully have been “more” active. To help you keep track, you can make a note on your phone or on your wall calendar. Choose something that is easy and that you’ll see often so it can serve as both a reminder and a motivational tool.

A = attainable
It is important to choose a goal that is within your current skill and fitness level. If you don’t know how to swim or if you can’t swim for more than 10 minutes, it doesn’t make sense to choose a 30 minute swim as a goal. Not today. That can be a goal you work toward, but in order to get started toward the AICR recommendation today, you need to choose goals that are within your current abilities.

This is an important point for the AICR guidelines. You may not yet be able to achieve 150 minutes a week or 45 minutes of activity a day yet. That’s OK. Don’t set that as a goal today. Choose an attainable goal that will get you on the path toward that bigger goal in the future. Some activity is always better than none.

R = realistic
Life is always evolving, presenting us with different circumstances and priorities. Ensure the goals you choose fit with your current place in life. Consider family responsibilities, work commitments, and personal health issues when setting your goals. For example, if you’re the person responsible for getting the grandkids to school in the morning, it may not be realistic to plan to swim before breakfast. Instead you may do you swim after you get them to school.

T = time-based
No goal is perfect forever. You get more fit, your preferences change, the season changes, etc. Set an end date for your goal (e.g., one month from today). Use the end date as a time to reflect on what did and did not work, as well as what you did and did not like. Then refine your goal and go through the SMART goal setting process again. Don’t forget to reward yourself for the progress you made along the way.

Remember, there is not a “right” way to be active. Walking, cycling, gardening, and dancing are all good options, and there are many more. Focus on things that you enjoy and keep you motivated; in the end, the best physical activity is the one that you’ll keep doing.

Happy goal setting.


Author: Mary Kennedy

Mary Kennedy, MS, is an exercise physiologist certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.

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