The 10% Rule

The 10% Rule for Increasing Your Activity Level

By Diane LaChapelle Ph.D., LPsyc

The 10% Rule is a rule of thumb that you can follow when increasing your activity level. The rule is to increase the duration or intensity of any activity by no more than 10% at a time. This rule is applicable to all activities, including exercise, work, and fun activities.

To begin, you need to determine what your baseline level of the activity is. This means, what you are currently capable of doing without causing a spike in your pain level. Starting at your baseline, you should then increase your level of the activity by no more than 10% at a time.

For example, let’s say you will be starting a gradual return-to-work trial for your job as a nurse. Your job might involve walking around the unit, lifting patients, and writing in patient files. To follow the 10% rule, you need to determine how long or how much of each of these activities you can presently do without causing yourself a significant increase in pain. Perhaps you can currently walk for 15 minutes and can sit for 25 minutes without making your pain worse. You should then be sure that during your first week you walk no more then 15 minutes and sit no more then 25 minutes at a time, intermixing these activities with each other and with other activities as well. The following week, you should increase your walking and sitting by a maximum 10%: 16.5 minutes and 27.5 minutes respectively.

This might seem like a very small increase. But remember that this is the safest way to gradually increase your endurance and strength. This will keep you on a steady track towards improvement. Steady progress is much better than getting stuck in the trap of overdoing it on one day and being unable to do anything the next day.

If you have a tendency to overdo things, try setting an egg timer or your watch timer as a reminder to stop or switch activities. You might also want to keep a log or diary to track your progress.