While many of us know that exercise is vitally important to weight management and staying healthy, challenges commonly derail plans to start – and stick to – an exercise program. So although the knowledge and intention may exist, the execution and follow-through are typically where people struggle. As a result, more Americans are overweight and obese, and suffering from corresponding health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
But starting an exercise program need not be out of reach. Following a simple plan, coupled with some resolve and motivation, and you can become a regular exerciser, enjoying many benefits.
Make a Plan
One of the biggest mistakes is to simply throw on some workout clothes and jog or ride a bike – only to be discouraged when you can’t go very far. Being eager to get started is positive, but you’re more likely to be adherent over the long haul if you spend some time planning first. Consider the following:
- How is your current health? If you are significantly overweight, have major health issues or are over age 50, get a doctor’s clearance to exercise first to help reduce the risk of problems. Visiting a physician also can give you some benchmark data, such as your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI, that you can use to set goals.
- Set goals – Identifying why you are exercising and setting targets is valuable for motivation and consistency. Be specific in your goals, i.e., don’t just say “lose weight,” but instead, commit to “lose 10 pounds,” or “reduce BMI by 5 percent.” Your goal could be to “exercise 3-4 times per week for 30-50 minutes,” or “practice yoga at least once weekly.” Not all goals have to be quantitative, however, but it helps you to know definitively if you are meeting them. Certainly, goals such as “have more energy” or “stretch daily” are valuable to identifying and accomplishing your priorities. Write goals on paper or log them into your phone or tablet – anywhere you can see them easily and often.
- Assess your gear – Exercise doesn’t necessarily require more than some workout apparel and a good pair of shoes, so first ensure that you have those, and that they fit comfortably. If your shoes are old and worn, get a new pair for better support and less risk of injury. If you know you want to run, invest in running shoes; and if you’re not sure what activities you will do, buy cross training shoes.
- Tech check – Many people like to listen to music during workouts, so you may want to load some playlists on your phone or mobile device and keep a working pair of earbuds handy. For tech lovers, smartwatches with heart rate monitors and a built-in GPS track data and can sync to your computer to store results and analyze progress over time. Simple heart rate monitors, with a chest strap and watch receiver, are a convenient way to monitor your intensity. And some people like apps for workout ideas and tracking, nutrition tips, a social community and more. Even activity trackers have value if they motivate you to move more.
- Home or health club? Home workouts are convenient, but for best results, require that you invest in at least some accessories such as dumbbells, a mat, a bench, resistance tubing, a stability ball, workout DVDs and a cardio machine such as a treadmill or elliptical. With a health club, you can access a variety of equipment and classes, personal trainers and amenities; however, you must purchase a membership and get yourself there frequently. You can also find low-cost options via local recreation centers or smaller fitness studios; or some large corporations have on-site fitness centers for employees. The best option is whatever keeps you working out consistently.
- Schedule workouts – Let’s face it, most of us don’t just have free time in which to exercise, so schedule your sweat sessions each week in your calendar, working around your other commitments. Honor these sessions like you would any other appointment for work or a family obligation. If you miss a workout, look for another time to make it up, or go longer on your next session. The key here is to make exercise a habit so that it automatically becomes part of your routine, just like taking a shower.
Go for It
Once you have your plan complete, get going! For best results, try to incorporate cardio, strength training and flexibility exercises throughout your routine. And while you may prefer doing the same thing to build a habit, over time, add variety if possible to continue challenging your body and to stay motivated. Additional recommendations to maximize your adherence to your exercise program include:
- Track your results – Whether your write down what you’ve accomplished, or keep it in your head, it is supremely motivational to go from being able to run just one mile to advancing to a 5K. Or to witness your strength increase by the amount of weight you can lift, or by how many push-ups you can complete.
- Be social – There’s nothing wrong with exercising alone, of course, but a group can provide a social outlet and support. This can be in the form of a workout buddy, a local running club, a group exercise class at the gym or a cycling club. Or you can become part of an online community in which you can celebrate your progress, get new workout ideas and provide encouragement to others.
- Stay flexible – When life interrupts your scheduled workouts, don’t beat yourself up, but look for opportunities to make up exercise. Even a short workout at home is better than doing nothing – every moment counts! Just keep after it, and don’t get discouraged. Some seasons of life can be challenging for fitting in workouts, so prioritize your fitness and do the best you can. Never quit!
- Add variety – Again, if you like to run everyday, no problem. But if you tend to get bored with the same workout, seek ways to vary it. Try a new class at the gym, hire a personal trainer, invest in some new videos or an online workout service, pick up some new exercise accessories, experiment with different programs on the elliptical, go outside to inline skate or play tennis, join a softball league and more. If you like competition, sign up for a local race or activity that will add direction to your workouts.
- Move more – In addition to regular workout sessions, embrace everyday activity. Walk instead of driving for errands, take the stairs versus the elevator, park farther away from your destination and walk there, do calisthenics or stretches when watching TV, and pace when you talk on the phone.
- Enjoy rewards – Over time, if you are consistent with your workouts, treat yourself to a new workout outfit, music, a massage, a pedicure, luxury cosmetics or tickets to a sporting event. Use your reward as motivation to keep going.
- Adopt a new mindset – Exercise isn’t something you have to do, but is a privilege that you get to do for a healthy body – not just for a season, but for a lifetime!