February 16, 2011
If you started off the new year with a resolution to get more exercise, then good for you! Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to for your long-term health. And most people find exercising is easy and fun when they first start out. But then comes the hard part: sticking to the plan once the newness has worn off.
Starting an exercise routine is important, but making a plan to stay with it is the key to success. Here are some expert tips that will help you stick with it and keep that excitement going.
An article in the Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School tells us to start by setting a long-term goal - such as walking 30 minutes a day five days a week - and then breaking it into smaller monthly targets. For example, during the first month, focus on walking three days a week for at least 10 minutes each time. During the second month, add another day to your plan. Add another day the third month. Then, every two weeks add another five minutes of walking each day until you reach your goal. The same plan can work for biking, working with weights, getting ready for a half-marathon, or doing anything you enjoy.
And that leads us to the second tip:
Keep looking until you find exercises, sports, or activities you enjoy. The Mayo Clinic staff says if you're not enjoying your workouts, try something different. You're more likely to stick with a fitness plan if you're having fun. So join a volleyball or softball league. Play soccer with your kids. Or check out a health club or martial arts center. If you don't like cold weather, try walking laps at the mall and doing some window shopping along the way.
Paige Waehner, a personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise, puts it another way in an article on About.com. "If the thought of going back to boring gym workouts makes you want to curl up and die, do something totally different. Sign up for a local bellydancing class or check out that new yoga studio you drive by every day." A change of scenery and a brand new activity can be very refreshing.
Finding time to exercise doesn't just happen by itself. You need to schedule workouts just as you would any other important activity. For example, you might plan to exercise on your way home from work. If so, make it easier by keeping your gym bag packed and in the car.
You can also slip exercise into your day in more creative ways. As the Mayo Clinic staff says, you might plan to take a walk during your child's music lesson. Or you can walk a treadmill while you watch TV. If you look, you'll always find ways to work exercise into your daily routine.
When you exercise with a friend, it can make your workout more fun. Your partner can also talk you into working out on those days when you're tempted to skip it. And there's another benefit. In an article written for AARP, athlete Martina Navratilova says, "Working out with someone who's a little stronger, faster, or at least on the same fitness level will challenge you to be your best."
Make a chart or keep a log of how far you've come. When you keep track of how much you've improved, and can see it on a daily basis, you'll be more like to want to stay with your exercise plan for the long haul.
When you're tempted to slack off, remind yourself of why you started exercising in the first place. If you're trying to lose weight, boost your energy or sleep better, the Mayo Clinic staff says to write it down. And don't forget to note the most important benefit of all: improving your long-term health. A Harvard Alumni Health Study showed that men who started and kept up an exercise plan had a 23 percent lower risk of premature death. That alone is a pretty good reason to keep it up.
Nobody is perfect. And a major lifestyle change like making exercise part of your daily routine isn't easy. So when you slip up, or when travel, holidays, or illnesses throw you off, don't give up. The important thing is to get back on track as soon as possible. As Paige Waehner put it, "Stop the blame game. If you mess up, give yourself a time limit for how long you'll feel bad about it. When the time's up, let it go and focus on today's workout."
When you reach a goal, even a short-term one, that's something to celebrate. So enjoy the moment. Buy yourself some new workout gear, download new music to listen to when you exercise, get a manicure, or take an extra-long bubble bath. You've earned your reward!