Many of us make New Year’s resolutions and many of those resolutions are health and fitness related. Resolutions such as “I will give up coffee” (or alcohol, or cigarettes) are common. So are the resolutions to eat better, lose weight, join a gym, or go to the gym we joined last New Year!
Regardless of how they’re phrased, people often find it hard to stick to their New Year’s resolutions. Notice how many flyers you receive in your mailbox in late December for discounts on gym memberships or weight loss programs. Fitness centres, weight loss clinics, and alternative health practitioners expect to get new customers in the New Year as people resolve to be fit, healthy, or live a more balanced life.
While it is good to see people thinking of positive things they can do for themselves, how many actually do the things they plan to do or stick with them long enough to turn their resolutions into healthy lifestyles? Just go into your neighbourhood fitness centre in January and see how crowded it is. However, by February, the numbers start to dwindle and by March, the numbers are back to where they were before the holiday season.
Why is it that people have such a hard time sticking with resolutions that are good for them?
There are many reasons. Poor planning is a big one. People say they’re going to do something without planning on how they’ll actually carry it out. Without a game plan, there can be no winning the game. Habits take time to form, whether they’re good ones or bad ones.
You need to exercise regularly for at least 1 or 2 months before it becomes a habit. This, of course, will depend on how frequently you exercise. I tell my clients to incorporate exercise into their lives at least three days a week, but also recommend that they be physically active every day if possible. Being physically active means doing things like taking your dog for a walk, taking the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator whenever possible, getting off the bus one stop early and walking the rest of the way home, doing household chores, etc.
Exercise, however, is structured physical activity. Adding structure to an already busy schedule can be tricky, but not impossible. I often hear older adults who are retired say that they can’t imagine how they ever worked full-time because they lead such busy lives. I also know that we can make ourselves too busy — too busy to see friends and family, too busy to take a vacation, too busy to finish that novel we were reading and too busy to exercise.
How can we put exercise into our busy lives so that it starts becoming habit?
The first thing we need to do before adding exercise to our lives is some homework.
Start by talking with your doctor or health care professional to determine if there are precautions you must take. If you are taking certain medications or have particular health conditions, you may need clearance from your doctor on such things as your target exercise heart rate, intensity level, certain exercises to avoid, or modifications to exercises.
Next, think about what activities you are interested in doing and try to match your fitness goals to your interests and lifestyle.
If possible, have a consultation with a personal trainer or fitness consultant. Even if you are unsure or unwilling to begin training sessions, you can still benefit from speaking with someone trained in the field of fitness counseling about identifying and setting goals. One consultation session can go a long way to helping you develop a program you can stick with whether you choose to do the program on your own, in a class, or with a trainer.
Consider your lifestyle needs and activity preferences. Is it important for you to be in a group, be independent, meet new people, be a leader, learn something every day, or to be alone? Do you like being physically active or does it feel like a chore? Do you feel the need to release frustration, energy, or to be relaxed? Do you prefer to be outdoors? Do you like to try something new? Do you have family, job, or other commitments that require large blocks of time?
Once you have identified these and other lifestyle needs that are important to you, prioritize them and for the top three, identify activities which will help you satisfy those needs.
Next, plan your first steps. How are you going to be more active or incorporate an exercise program into your schedule? What days of the week work best for you? What works best with your schedule: morning, afternoon, or evening? Remember that if you are planning on doing muscle conditioning you should leave at least 48 hours in between sessions.
You may want to formalize your plan by creating a self-contract where you list your goals, what you need to do to realize those goals, and what you can do to help you stay on track. Remember: old habits die hard and new ones are hard to pick up. You may have “fallen off the wagon” in the past. Ask yourself what made you lose your resolve. Be honest. Identify the event or pattern you followed and write it down. This will help you to seal your contract so that you can prevent that from happening again. Sign your contract and on separate piece of paper, identify the areas you think you may be at risk of in terms of cheating or breaking your contract. If weight loss is your goal, identify your weak areas. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you can have the occasional chocolate chip cookie and but stay committed to losing weight, then don’t sweat it. However, if that one cookie always seems to take you down a slippery slope to throwing in the towel, then it’s best to identify it and develop a strategy to avoid the temptation.
Finally, don’t get paralyzed by failure. A failure is not a failure if you learn something from it. If you find that you really dislike attending the abs and back class at your gym after a month, then do something else. Just don’t beat yourself up over it or stop being active. Maybe you should try a different class or work with a trainer. There is no right or wrong way, only the way that works best for you.
Remember the slogan from Canada’s Physical Activity Guide: “Make physical activity a part of your life every day”.
Don’t dwell on past mistakes, move forward, and make this your year to get fit and stay strong!
To your health,