Be Healthy By Being S.M.A.R.T

By Dr. Marie Donabella – Providence, Rhode Island

Whether you are someone who is thinking of starting a fitness program, or an athlete wanting to try something new and challenging, goal setting is an important aspect of any exercise/fitness program.

For those of you just starting out, choose an activity you like, because you’re much more likely to do it. When I bring up the topic of exercise to those just starting out, I’ll hear stories of failed attempts at keeping up a fitness program. Usually it’s because the person has chosen what they feel is a “classic” form of exercise (running, elliptical, etc.) and they hated it. Sometimes just finding an activity that’s a good fit is the first step in getting started.

Don’t wait until you are thinner, stronger, less busy, have more money, etc., etc. Do it now!!! Don’t allow shame to stand in your way. It was only five years ago that I learned how to swim. At that time I was nearly 100 lbs heavier than I am now. Swimming requires walking out of the locker room across the swim deck and getting into the pool. At the time I thought, “Could I draw *any* more attention to me and my very nonswimmer-like physique????” Ugh. But you know what, did anyone there really care? Was anyone really paying attention to me? And if they were paying attention or had any negative thoughts, did it affect me? No, I was there to learn to swim, period. Do you think anyone is sitting at home now right now thinking, “Wow, I remember back five winters ago I saw an overweight woman taking swim lessons at the Y.” Really now? If there’s one thing I can impress upon my audience, it would be to not let anyone one else’s perceived (or real) reaction interfere with you doing something you really want to do.

Goals provide inspiration, focus, help us define specific actions, and provide evaluation and feedback. I work with clients to set, what are referred to as SMART goals. SMART = Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-limited. Let’s talk a little bit about each of these:

(a) Specific:
Vague: Saying, for example, “I want to improve my health,” is too abstract, and may leave you feeling overwhelmed and unable to determine the next step.
Specific: I want to increase the amount of physical activity in my life (specific) by walking (even more specific).

(b) Measurable:
You should be able to define a specific outcome or endpoint.
Vague: I’ll walk maybe a couple times a week when I have a chance.
Measurable: I’ll walk 30 minutes a day three times a week after dinner.

(c) Attainable:
This is not to say you should not reach or aspire, but again, take small steps.
Less attainable initially: “ I’m going to run five times a week, 60 minutes a day. Holy hamstring pull. Injury prevention is inherent in setting your attainable goal!
Attainable: I would like to build up to jogging and running using the “Couch to 5K” plan (a very well-known plan you can obtain on-line).

(d) Relevant:
Obviously the goal should relate to something important to you, like reducing anxiety levels, decreasing risk of mortality, etc.

(e) Time-limited:
We do much better when we set concrete, achievable time limits for ourselves. For example, if you set the goal of building up to running a 5K race, choose a race six months out, register for it, and chart your progress on a training plan spreadsheet.

Set those goals, get out there, and watch yourself succeed!

Dr. Marie Donabella is a licensed clinical psychologist and consultant, with a private practice in Providence RI. She specializes in stress management, sports performance anxiety, recovery from injury in athletes, and other fitness and health issues. Dr. Donabella received a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Syracuse University and a Ph.D. in Medical Sciences from the University of South Florida College of Medicine. She has taught at various universities and medical schools and has published numerous articles, book chapters, and research presentations in the area of high blood pressure, stress, and health. She is a member of APA Division of Exercise and Sports Psychology (Division 47) and the Association of Applied Sports Psychology (AASP). Marie is an obsessed triathlete and has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

For more information, please visit her website: and her blog: or call 401-829-7527.

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