"Get in better shape" is probably the most-resolved New Year's vow each January, and the one most often abandoned. It's such a struggle to make it happen, despite best intentions. As failed workout plans pile up, or expensive equipment purchases gather dust, it's easy to become discouraged and decide that you will never be able to improve your physical condition.
One reason this resolution fails so often is that people set unrealistic goals. They envision the lean muscular build of their high school or college years, or turning a well-established spare tire into a six-pack. Then they embark on a grueling regimen at a gym, get sore or even injured, and take a break. Before long, months have slid by.
This year, do it differently. Make a fitness plan you can stick with, with small, simple goals that you build on incrementally, piling success on success instead of failure on failure.
More than Zero is Progress
Most of us get NO real exercise. The speed of life and the myriad to-do lists are overwhelming, and who wants to do anything but chill on the sofa after a long and busy day? This makes the thought of going to the gym or even dressing in workout clothes for a run feel like too much.
So start with a small goal. If you haven't been exercising regularly for a long time, aim to get just 15 minutes per day of some kind of activity. No regimen, no gym, no big plans. Your activity quota might include:
• Taking a brisk walk during a work break or just after you get home
• Playing in the yard with the kids
• Taking the stairs at work
• Standing up and dancing, marching, or holding a plank through one commercial of each commercial break
Combine activities to total your fifteen minutes and you will have reached your goal. Do that for a few weeks and see how you feel. Then try for five minutes more each day.
After another couple of weeks, consider adding a more formal activity like joining a gym, a group walk or a local swimming pool. Here are some tips before joining a gym. Bonus: all the New Years Resolvers who were crowding the facilities in early January will have begun to fall away, making it easier to get your own workout in!
Expand Your Routine to Include More Enjoyable Activities
Many people begin the year by sinking big dollars into a gym membership, a series of classes, or some new fitness equipment. You convince yourself that the expenditure will motivate you to use the membership or equipment, but it rarely works out. Then the prospect of wasted money makes you feel even worse about the entire situation.
Instead of plunging into an expensive new activity on January 2, try the gradual ramp up to 15-20 minutes of activity a day. Stretch your muscles gradually and get used to moving again; build up some stamina. If things are going well, then look around for an activity you might enjoy, such as:
• Dance or martial arts classes
Once you have found something you might like, see if there is a way to try it without a big expenditure, like a short-term membership or a month's worth of lessons. Make that investment as a reward for what you accomplished so far in meeting your "move more" goal.
Think of it as a gift to yourself or a prize you won. Try to follow up and see if you really enjoy the activity. But if you don't, let the membership expire at the end of the month, and move on to something else. Don't beat yourself up. Let it go and move on.
In the meantime, keep getting your basic 15-20 minutes of movement, and keep looking for a more intense activity that you will enjoy and stick with.
Celebrate your successes
If you have been sedentary for a long time and fallen badly out of shape, getting moving again is a true victory, even just a little at a time. Keep track of the number of days you have met your goal, and when you rack up five or ten in a row, give yourself a treat as a reward. If you have taken on a new activity and seem to be sticking with it, get a new piece of equipment or an outfit to wear while working out. Sore muscles? Get a professional massage or a pedicure with a foot rub. Find something that will motivate you to keep going.
Tracking your success can be extremely motivating. Start with simply recording the number of days you have met your goal of 15-20 minutes of activity. As you progress, you will be able to see some changes, like a faster walking time on the same route, more push-ups, or a longer plank.
If you are making a number of changes in eating habits as well, notice when the scale number drops or your clothes fit differently. Get a notebook or an app where you can enter these accomplishments and create a record to look back on.
Creating a realistic fitness plan is about managing your expectations. Meeting reasonable short-term goals is more feasible than one big, amazing goal. Find activities you enjoy, and track and acknowledge your successes. Understand that every day may not be perfect or successful, and forgive yourself and try again the next day. Over time you can and will succeed!