The New Year is here, and one of the top New Year’s resolutions Americans make every year is to finally lose weight, start exercising and get in shape. Unfortunately for many, those good intentions soon fizzle out — surveys suggest that up to 88 percent of people who make a New Year’s resolution fail.1
Why might that be? Quite simply, you only have so much willpower and if you try to use too much of it on any given day — or on any given goal, like your resolution — you’ll exhaust your resources.
Like working your muscles too hard lifting weights, taxing your willpower reserves will destine you to failure. This is why if you have a tendency to make multiple New Year’s resolutions — lose weight, get out of debt, eat healthier, go to sleep earlier, and spend more time with your kids — you’ll likely experience hardcore burnout, and fast.
The same goes for putting too much emphasis on your resolution right out of the gate. Let’s say you haven’t exercised regularly in years, then you resolve to start working out five days a week at full intensity come January 1. This, too, will probably lead to burnout and have you abandoning your resolution faster than you can cancel your gym membership. It will simply feel like too much, too soon, leaving you overwhelmed and exhausted instead of energized and refreshed.
So what’s the answer?
Instead of making a New Year’s resolution to exercise, a better choice is to design a plan for year-round fitness, one that fits into your lifestyle and addresses your specific needs. Rather than associating your fitness goals with the New Year, the tips that follow will help you to view fitness as a lifestyle choice that will stay with you for all of 2011, not just the first month or two, and beyond.
10 Tips to Achieve Your 2011 Fitness Goals
1. Make Exercise Part of Your Routine
Exercise should be a regular part of your day, not something sporadic. Just as you set aside time for meals, sleep, kids and work, set aside time for exercise.
Pencil it in on your calendar, program it into your smartphone and stick to it just like you would any other important appointment. For best results, you may find that exercising at the same time and on the same days each week (such as first thing in the morning Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) helps you stay on track.
2. Give Yourself Permission to Spend Time on “You”
Many adults juggling work and family life find it difficult to justify taking time for exercise, as that’s time that could be spent with family, running errands or getting ahead at work. If you fall into this mindset, it’s time to give yourself permission to exercise.
This “me” time will not only boost your health on both physical and emotional levels, but it will provide an excellent example for your children on how to lead a healthy lifestyle. If you’re not feeling fit and healthy, you won’t be able to take care of the rest of your obligations, or your family, so let go of any feelings of guilt you have about taking time to workout.
3. Set Realistic Goals
Your fitness program should fit in with your lifestyle. This means you may head to the gym three days a week, then spend weekends out riding bikes with your family, ice skating, working in your garden, dancing, or playing sports with friends. Remember that physical fitness is not just about how many minutes you log on the treadmill, it’s a lifestyle that you can tailor to your unique needs and interests.
Keep this in mind when setting your exercise goals; if you know you’ll be miserable jogging at the gym, plan to get your cardio in by jogging around your neighborhood or hitting a challenging hiking trail instead. If you’re someone who likes the stability and convenience of gym equipment, plan more workouts at the gym.
4. Hire a Personal Trainer or Get a Workout Buddy
The beauty of having a personal trainer is not only their expertise in which exercises you need to get the best results … it’s the motivation factor, too. When you set appointments with a trainer, you suddenly have someone to hold you accountable, making it much less likely that you’ll skip out on your workout at the last minute (not to mention that you’ve invested money in it, too).
If a personal trainer is not in your budget, don’t worry. Getting a workout buddy — a friend, family member, colleague — can give you many of the same benefits on the motivation front. When you set up a workout schedule with your buddy, you both act as each other’s personal cheerleaders, encouraging one another to stick with the plan. You can also celebrate your milestones and exercise successes together.
5. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Working out is, well, work, and there will be times when you’d rather sink into your couch and put your feet up instead of heading to the gym. For these times when motivation is lacking, remember why you’ve committed to your exercise program in the first place: your health.
New research shows that exercise can help you prevent about two-dozen health conditions, including cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, obesity, depression, high blood pressure and dementia. It can even slow down your rate of aging.2 Plus, exercise will tone your muscles and reduce your body fat, helping you to look great on the outside, and boosting self-esteem in the process.
Just try to get benefits like these from sitting on the couch.
6. Make it Convenient
Exercise really should be an enjoyable part of your day, a time you look forward to and embrace. But keeping this attitude will be difficult if you have to travel a long way to the gym before you even start your workout. You’ll also be much less likely to stay committed if exercising is a hassle.
To make exercise as convenient as possible, pick a gym that is very close to your home or place of work. If you’re a morning exerciser, pack your gym bag the night before so you can grab it and go in the morning. If you exercise after work, bring your bag with you to the office so you can stop at the gym on your way home.
Another great idea if you have the space and budget is to purchase a few key pieces of exercise equipment for your own home, such as an elliptical machine, treadmill, or weight set. This is the most convenient option of all, especially if you like working out privately. You can also try a mix of at-home workout DVDs.
7. Fit in Workouts Even on Your “Off” Days
Life is busy, so even with the best intentions your workouts may sometimes get sidetracked by travel, work or kids. Learn to roll with the punches and on the days when you don’t have time for a regular workout, squeeze in some exercises on the sly.
For instance, bring an aerobics DVD with you when you travel so you can workout in your hotel room (or just hit the hotel gym). At the office, exercise at your desk by doing standing push-ups (place both hands flat on your desk, take a few steps back, and push!), or pumping your arms over your head briskly.
You can also do jumping jacks, squats and lunges just about anywhere, or try standing with your back against the wall, then lowering your knees to a 90-degree angle (as though you’re “sitting” without a chair) and holding for 60-90 seconds. You can even keep a set of 5-, 10-, or 20-pound weights near your desk and do some quick bicep curls while making phone calls.
When you’re out with the kids, try jogging a few laps around the playground while the kids play, or putting your little ones in a stroller for a brisk walk. If you’re exercising at home, let your child try to do yoga along with you, or use your infant as your “weight” and lift him over your head to tone your arms or hold him while doing squats to work out your legs.
If you have a new baby, place him flat on the floor and do push-ups over him (with your face over his) while keeping eye contact and making expressive faces.
Many gyms offer childcare services, too, which provide another option.
8. Keep it Fun
You’ll be much more likely to workout if you enjoy it, so incorporate a wide range of activities that appeal to your interests. Try kickboxing or dance aerobics one day, weight training, Pilates, swimming or yoga the next. This will not only keep you from getting bored, it will ensure that you’re working all of your muscle groups and getting both cardio as well as strength-training benefits.
9. Reward Yourself
When you’ve stuck with your exercise plan for a week, a month or more, stop to give yourself a great big pat on the back … or treat yourself to a special treat, like a massage or a new piece of clothing to show off your new fit physique. This will keep exercise in a positive perspective and help you to keep striving to reach your next exercise milestone.
10. Support Your Exercise Habits With a Healthy Lifestyle
As you become more physically active, support your newfound healthy habit by broadening into other positive habits as well. Eating right, getting plenty of sleep and keeping your stress levels to a minimum go hand-in-hand with exercise, and when combined are one of the best “prescriptions” for health and happiness out there.
1. WSJ.com December 26, 2009 “Blame it on the Brain”
2. International Journal of Clinical Practice December 2010; 64(13):1731-4.