When it comes to sticking to health and fitness goals, most of us have the same problem — whether or not they’re part of a New Year’s resolution. Surveys show that 80% of Americans understand the benefits of exercise and agree that it is important. Yet there is still an alarming majority of people who aren’t meeting minimum exercise recommendations.
But if you can form a “fitness habit,” you’ll be able to stay on your exercise plan. Make it one that meets these cardiovascular guidelines: Your plan should include at least 30 minutes each day of light exercise or moderate activity (such as walking, house cleaning, and gardening), five to six days a week, as well as some strength and flexibility training.
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If your fitness goals are more advanced, you’ll need at least 20 minutes of continuous activity (such as walking, jogging, swimming, or stair-stepping) at moderate to high levels of intensity, at least three days per week.
Psychologists and behavior experts say it takes about 20 to 70 days to form a new habit. Here’s how to do it: First decide on the habit you’d like to form, and perform the action while it’s fresh on your mind; repeat it as often as possible. Then make yourself a little note and place it where you will be sure to see it first thing each morning. Repeat the desired habit when it’s practical to do so and continue this process as often as possible in the following days. Do this every day. Within ten weeks, you’ll find the action has become a habit, and you’ll do it without having to consciously think about it.
It’s also important to break down your goals into small, achievable steps, so that you don’t get overwhelmed in the process. According to Ronda Gates, MS, RPh, a health educator and weight management coach, people tend to make resolutions without thinking them through first. “If they were planning a project for business, they would create a project plan; or if they were a business, they would have to have an annual business plan, with checkpoints and goals,” Gates says. “Why not do the same with lifestyle changes — decisions that impact more than the short term?”
Gates recommends what she calls “SMART” goals, which are Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Timely. Some guidelines in creating SMART goals: Set your resolutions within reasonable limits, so you don’t set yourself up for a fall. Make a time limit so you don’t lose interest or focus. Design your goal so that your progress is measurable in numbers — focus on reducing your weight or increasing your number of laps in the pool. Change and progress with your goals as you attain them.
Leigh Crews, an Atlanta certified personal trainer, offers these resolution tips:
- Develop support — Enlist the support of your spouse, children, and friends. And don’t overlook professionals, such as a favorite group exercise instructor or a qualified personal trainer.
- Publicize — Making your resolution public puts your honor on the line and may give you the added motivation to stick to your goals.
- Commit — Make specific short-term goals and long-term commitments.
- One day at a time — Everyone has days when they miss a workout, or indulge in fudge brownies. Forgive yourself and get right back on track. Be kind to yourself about small transgressions.