Staying on Track With Your Exercise Resolutions

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January 2, 2018


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This post is available in: Spanish

If you are like most people, you’re looking toward the New Year and promising yourself you’ll be more active in 2018. Good for you! Getting fit is consistently America’s top new year’s resolution — for many important reasons.

Unfortunately, although most people start out hopeful, fewer than half manage to sustain their New Year’s resolutions for six months, according to a study from the Statistic Brain Research Institute. And many give up long before that.

You don’t have to be one of those quitters. There are plenty of tried-and-true ways to stay motivated as you aim to add more physical activity to your life.

“The single biggest mistake people make is setting unrealistic goals,” explains Joann Santiago-Charles, an exercise physiologist at Baptist Health’s Miami Cancer Institute. “Those are the people who sign up for the gym in January or February, and by March they are gone.”

No matter what you do to increase your activity, it’s important to keep going so that your body — and your attitude — have a chance to adjust, Ms. Santiago-Charles said. Before long, you may find you actually crave being more active. Yes, that may be hard to sedentary people to imagine, but it’s true. “You’ll start to feel like without activity, something is missing from your day,” Ms. Santiago-Charles said.

Starting Strong

Getting started is not as tough as it may seem, especially if you have a positive attitude. It’s all about what feels right for you. Here are some guidelines to get you started and keep you motivated into the New Year and beyond:

Find something you enjoy. If you say you’re going to go to the gym five days a week to get on the treadmill, but you hate the treadmill, you are not going to sustain your plan. Adding physical activity to your life is not a quick fix, but a lifestyle change. You may be more likely to walk your dog daily than you are to get on a treadmill, for example. It’s important to find activities you’ll want to continue. You’ll be more likely to stick with a plan if you’re having fun.

Break up your activity sessions. While the suggested “dose” of activity is a minimum of 30 minutes a day, you don’t have to do it all in one shot. It’s great if you do, but if you need to — and if you are more likely to stick to your exercise plan long term — break your activity into two more manageable 15-minute sessions daily, or even three 10-minute sessions.

Vary your routine. Enjoy walking? Great! But don’t limit yourself. Riding a bike can be exhilarating, and dancing around your living room can be a blast. Organized exercise classes, such as those offered for free through Baptist Health, can add a social element to your activity plans. The bottom line: try something different every now and again. You’ll exercise different parts of your body and will be less likely to get bored. And try to include the different components of fitness such as strengthening, flexibility and balance. All are important to your long-term health.

Set goals that are realistic for you. Start slow, and gradually increase. A 10-minute walk or bike ride may be all you can handle initially. “Some people think that they haven’t accomplished anything unless they can’t walk for three days or want to throw up after exercising. That’s just not true,” Ms. Santiago-Charles said. “You want to find the balance between doing enough and pushing yourself just a bit to get a positive result.”

Don’t compare yourself to others. Your neighbor may run marathons, while you can barely get around the block. It doesn’t matter. This is about you, not about how others may perceive or judge you. Don’t psych yourself out before you even begin.

Take outside factors into consideration. Something as seemingly simple as selecting a realistic time and place to exercise came make a big difference. “Some people say they are going to get up at 4 a.m. every day so they can be at the gym by 5 a.m. That may not be feasible over the long term for a lot of people,” Ms. Santiago-Charles explained. Taking a walk or climbing stairs during your lunch break might be a more realistic place to start.

Challenge yourself. Once you start moving, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you make progress. Keep improving by gradually increasing your routine. To get the highest benefit from physical activity, push yourself to a new comfort level. Once that starts to feel easy or routine, kick it up a bit by adding more time or intensity.

Track your progress. It doesn’t matter where you start. What matters is how far you progress. Jot down how many minutes you engage in an activity, how far you go, or how much you can accomplish. Or wear a pedometer every day and watch your steps increase. Celebrate your continued commitment and any improvement. Yes, you should be proud. Feel free to brag!

Pay attention to pain. A modest amount or stiffness should not be alarming as you use parts of you body that may have been sedentary. This should pass quickly, especially if you keep moving. But if significant pain persists for more than a few days, causes swelling in a joint or limits how you’re moving, get it checked out by a doctor so you can continue to pursue your fitness goals.

Get a buddy — maybe. Some people enjoy having an exercise partner or even joining a group. But don’t let the participation of others affect your own. Keep going, even if your activity “buddy” doesn’t. Explains Ms. Santiago-Charles, “It’s important for people to take ownership of their activity goals and say, ‘I’m doing this for me.’ ”

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