Is a community-wide challenge the answer to sustain exercise in the long term?
When getting older, staying healthy is paramount. Unfortunately, once we reach a certain age, especially women going though hormonal change, our metabolism slows down, and our routine diet and exercise are not enough to keep the weight away.
This is what happened to me over the last two years. In nine months, I put on sixteen kilos. Not only it affected the way I felt about my body but my health in general. I became short of breath walking up the street, I couldn’t lift my weight as I used to in my pole dancing, and it got me depressed. Whatever I did, the weight wouldn’t go away, or if it did for a while, it would come back after switching medication. Because of the weight gain, my back and joints started to be constantly painful and I had to quit pole dancing for good. I was already doing a bit of yoga but that wasn’t enough (and saying that I don’t particularly enjoy yoga is an understatement).
So, when we started learning about gamification and health in my social media studies at Deakin – ‘"gamification” is the use of game design elements in non-game contexts’ (Deterding et al. 2011, p.10), and because ‘little is known about the motivating components which are key to engagement and subsequent behaviour change’ (Harris 2019, p. 39), I decided to take this opportunity to experiment on myself through two different approaches: - an online application My Diet Coach for my eating habits which I talked about in details in my latest podcast,
- the real life 28-day-immersion program at my yoga studio, to implement a regular physical activity in my life, surrounded by like-minded yogis whom I would be accountable to. Let’s see how this one worked out in the video below.
A recent study suggests that 'community-wide physical activity interventions may lead to sustained increases in physical activity’ (Harris 2019, p. 39). Doing this challenge with forty or so other persons from the studio really helped me. We kicked it off with a full-day workshop, when we shared yoga practice, delicious healthy meals and tips. It was convivial and for the first time I created connections with people attending the studio, instead of just getting in and out of classes. There was a tally board in the corridor where we documented our sessions. Workshops were held on a weekly basis, which allowed us to talk about our experience and how we dealt with this increase of physical activity. I was on a roll and my future as a regular yogi looked bright.
Unfortunately, I caught a bad flu which kept me in bed for at least two weeks, and when I was finally able to resume the challenge, it was finished. The tally board had disappeared, people were away for Easter break, and I found myself lacking motivation. I had to restart all the hard work from the beginning, and I realised how much support and strength I gained from the community when we started. If it wasn’t for the illness, by now going to six classes a week would be an automatism, but as hard as it is, I’m not a quitter. So, I drew my own board in a notebook and decided to finish the challenge by myself. As my body hadn’t fully recovered, I struggled to reach my weekly goal, but I increased my activity every week.
I also realised that Tuesday was the day I was the most consistent with my practice.
At the end of the four weeks, even with the interruption, I had lost four kilos. I still have five kilos to lose to be in the BMI’s normal range, but I will continue to monitor my practice as if the challenge was still on for the next few months, which means that my motivation has increased.
Although the studio implements this program once or twice a year, I think twenty-eight days is not enough to set a habit. I am longing for a community-wide program which would run for at least two or three months, or even all year round, and I would be ready to pay extra money for it.
Deterding et al, 2011, 'From game design elements to gamefulness: defining gamification'. In (eds): Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments, ACM, 2011. p. 10
Harris, MA, 2019, 'Maintenance of behaviour change following a community-wide gamification based physical activity intervention', Preventive Medicine Reports, volume 13, p. 39
Video made with the help of Animaker and IMovie
Photos are my own unless specified otherwise