Do we need to reconsider best practice in goal setting for physical activity promotion?

Document Type


Publication details

Swann, C & Rosenbaum, S 2018, 'Do we need to reconsider best practice in goal setting for physical activity promotion?, British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 52, no.8, pp. 485-486.

Publisher version available from:


Peer Reviewed



Furthermore, given that the greatest potential public health impact of PA promotion lies in assisting physically inactive individuals engage in some PA, as opposed to increasing the volume of PA among those who are already physically active, 4 ensuring our approach to PA goal setting is individualised and based on current evidence is of high significance.[...]the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription recommends the commonly used specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound, self-determined (SMARTS) acronym. 6 However, theory and research suggests that setting specific, challenging goals (ie, current best practice) may be problematic for inactive populations, prompting the questions: 'Are we setting the right goals for PA promotion?' and 'Do we need to rethink our approach to goal setting in order to maximise engagement in PA?' A recent systematic review and meta-analysis 7 found that while both were beneficial, specific goals were no more effective at increasing PA than goals that were vaguely defined (eg, 'to be more active').Specific, challenging goals can require greater attentional demands, create work overload, induce focus on immediate performance outcomes, divert necessary attention away from strategy development and inhibit learning. 8 Therefore, if learning how to be physically active is considered a complex task, then goal setting theory and evidence suggests that specific goals should not be considered best practice (ie, most effective) for individuals at the early stages of learning to be active.[...]weekly goals-a primary focus of the WHO guidelines-do not have a significant effect on PA, whereas daily goals and daily-plus-weekly goals do. 7 Such recommendations may also act as a deterrent for physically inactive people who may incorrectly believe that benefits from PA are only obtained once this (in many clinical cases, unrealistic) threshold is achieved.[...]it is important for researchers, practitioners and policymakers to rethink and move beyond commonly held assumptions in goal setting and to adopt a critical perspective regarding the type of goals that should be set for individuals to maximise engagement in PA

Find in your library