By Helen Naples, Owner/Operator of Women’s Wellness & Fitness
Statistics show that many folks give up 8-12 weeks after starting an eating and exercise program. By the 6-month mark, well over half have fallen by the wayside. Here are some tips on how to maintain your resolve (and enjoy the benefits) throughout 2014:
Keep your eyes on the prize. Many people have a clear picture of what they want to move away from (unhealthy habits), but need a visual reminder of what they want to move toward. A visual representation of your goal on the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator door, or the dash of the car can be helpful. For example, if your goal is keeping up with the kids, it might be a photo of the children playing soccer. Then again, it might be a photo of yourself in a favorite outfit that used to fit comfortably.
Set small, realistic goals. Recent research indicates better adherence rates for those who start with shorter exercise bouts (15 minutes as opposed to 30+ minutes). The goal is to develop an exercise habit, and progress to doing more over time. A significant goal like losing 20 pounds seems more manageable in terms of a 1-2 pound loss per week over 10-12 weeks. By setting achievable short-term goals, you are able to experience successes on the way to reaching your ultimate goal.
Build a wall around your exercise time. I don’t know anyone who magically ‘finds’ time to work out. Our clients are just like all busy individuals: They have to carve out the time, and then build a fence around it- a tall fence! For some, exercising first thing in the morning is the best answer to lack-of-time and lack-of-energy issues. Research shows that early morning exercisers are the most consistent with their routines. However, the key is finding a schedule that works for you, and then committing to it. Honoring an appointment with yourself means honoring an underlying belief that you deserve this time.
Put pen to paper. Tracking exercise and eating behavior in writing is one of the most effective and underused tools in the fitness industry. According to industry research, when asked for a guess, most people will drastically underestimate their caloric intake, and likewise overestimate their activity level. However, by recording their behaviors and corresponding feelings, many clients are able to recognize triggers to overeating, and barriers to exercise. Once the issues have been identified, you can develop strategies for overcoming obstacles to a healthy lifestyle. Also, documenting progress can be a powerful motivator!
Find a friend. Sharing workouts with a buddy has long been known to increase adherence. In fact, you are 3 times as likely to stick with an exercise program when you do it with a friend. So, make a date to take a walk or an exercise class instead of meeting for dinner and drinks. But even if you go it alone, tell someone about your plans and goals. Ask them to help keep you accountable. When friends and family help keep you honest about your successes and challenges, peer pressure can be a positive thing!
Reward yourself. Lifestyle change is a difficult task. As human beings, we tend to fall back into our old routines because they feel comfortable. Remember, it takes 21 days to establish a new habit, and 6 months for it to become a part of your daily life. Celebrate each time you accomplish a weekly or monthly goal. Just be sure to make it a healthy reward. Pamper yourself with a massage or pedicure. Or treat yourself to a new experience like yoga, a nature hike, or salsa dancing. Whatever you choose, it should be fun and fulfilling.
Hire a Personal Trainer. In addition to providing qualified assessment, programming, and guidance, a certified personal trainer can supply insights and motivation specific to your needs. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune, either. For example, Women’s Wellness Personal Trainers charge only $200 for ten 30-minute sessions. It is still affordable to get workout advice and lifestyle counseling from a professional. Just be sure to select a trainer you trust. Find someone who looks at your overall health and wellness, not just the numbers.
Utilize technology. From cardio-theater in health clubs to ipods in running shoes, technology is changing the way we entertain (or distract) ourselves during exercise. Make the most of it by playing music, entertainment, information, or instruction on your ipod, mp3 player, or smart phone. Listen while you walk or workout and the time may pass more quickly. One of our clients records her favorite TV program during the day, and pedals her exercise bike while watching the program at night. It works for her because she is in control of the timing. Podcasts are also an excellent way to use technology to enhance exercise. Some of these media files help entertain or inform the user, and others actually take you through a workout. Many exercise apps and podcasts are available at no charge!
Focus on fun. The risk of concentrating solely on a short term goal is that when you reach that goal, you will quit the behavior. The irony is that the results will go away, too. For every long term exerciser, at some point, their focus shifted from the results to the process. In other words, they learned to like it. Let’s face it, no one is going to continue with anything that feels like torture. It might take some time and some experimenting with different activities, but you have to find a routine that is enjoyable for you.
Plot your progress. This does not have to translate into a weight chart. Exercise has so many other benefits such as improved health, strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, coordination, increased energy, better stress resilience, elevated mood, and improved self-confidence. Specifically, exercise helps prevent and/or manage high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, bone density loss, depression, and anxiety. The key is measuring progress in all of these areas, and not just dwelling on a number on the scale.
When work, family, and other pressures threaten to interfere with a healthy lifestyle change: don’t give up! When you are tempted to have an “all or nothing” approach to fitness, remember that a little is better than nothing, and you can do something today.