How To Create SMART Exercise Goals in 2018

The New Year is a time filled with promise and hope. It’s also a time for reflection, thinking about the year that has passed, celebrating your achievements and switching gears in places of your life that need adjustment. Many people use New Years’s as an excuse to make resolutions, making goals for themselves in order to improve their lives and themselves. And we all have heard about the abysmal rates of success with New Year’s resolutions- I’ve read that up to 80% of resolutions are broken by early February. As someone with JRA, I’ve found that committing to goals, especially goals around physical fitness, can be really hard because the disease is so changeable. As soon as I sign up for an exercise class, it seems inevitable that I’ll end up in a flare-up soon after and be disappointed.

When I worked as an occupational therapist we were taught how to create functional goals with our clients in order to guide our treatment plan, and we used the acronym SMART to guide us.


Each goal had to be:

Specific: Meaning you can answer the question, “ How will I know I reached my goal?”

Measurable: Meaning you have a way to measure what you are doing, for example times per week, repetitions of an exercise, or using a scale like 1-10.

Achievable: Is your goal realistic?

Relevant: Ask yourself if this is really important to you or are you trying to do or be something that you don’t truly care about.

Time-Bound: Do you have a date set for when you aim to achieve this goal?

Using these guidelines helps you to create goals that you will actually be able to see through while avoiding disappointment and frustration. The key word for most of us to pay attention to is Achievable– how can you make your goal realistic given the nature of RA? I think I have a few ideas around this, as I’ve had a lot of practice with unrealistic goals!

The first thing to remember is that you need to start where you are and not compare yourself now with what you were able to do before RA became a part of your life. If you can progress slowly with small, manageable goals, even if they seem ridiculously easy, you will stand a better chance of making them a part of your life. Pacing is key; it’s important not to push too hard on bad days even if it means you aren’t reaching your goal that day and you definitely don’t want to make up for lost time by doubling your activity level when you feel better. Stick with your plan, remember that life is a marathon, not a sprint, and even if you have a bad month or two there is still time to reach your goals when your body is ready. Pay attention to the process, not the outcome, and use the opportunity when you are exercising to tune into your body. Along with the pain you are feeling, try to focus on the parts of your body that feel strong. Avoid all-or-nothing thinking, because it’s always better to do a little bit than nothing at all.

The question then becomes, can you have an achievable goal that is SMART? Meaning can you put a time limitation on your goal when you have to accommodate to how you feel every day, can you be that specific with what you want to do when you may not be able to do it on any particular day? I have some ideas about this too…

The way I’ve been most successful at keeping exercise goals is to create a goal that has flexibility in it. I said earlier that it seems as though as soon as I commit to an exercise class I have a flare, so if I created a goal around a class I’m asking for failure. Instead, I will tell myself, “ I’m going to walk 3-5 days this week, for at least 30 minutes. (Specific, measurable, and time-bound) I know that this is achievable because it has some flexibility in it, and it is completely relevant for what I want to do to get stronger and more functional. I can also add to it; My next goal can be something like, “ This month I will walk at least 16 days for at least 30 minutes.

Soon, your goals will stop being goals, and turn into your life plan. You will find that moving your body every day becomes part of your daily life. And on days when it is too hard, you won’t stress as much because your plan is intact and you know that as soon as your body lets you, you’ll be back to your routine. And you’ll become more confident adding new things that may seem out of reach at this point, maybe trying a Tai Chi class, and committing to going to at least half of them.

Exercise is an important part of living well with RA, and it can be one of the most frustrating. But why not choose 2018 as the year you will commit to moving your body every day in some way? You never know what you are capable of until you try…

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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