These six smart steps will help forge a successful path to living a healthier life this new year.
It’s the start of a brand-new year and a brand-new YOU. With another year behind us, it’s time to stop making excuses and start making commitments. If improving fitness is one of your resolutions, consider these suggestions before you dive into a new exercise routine:
Discover your reason(s) why and set personal goals
Are you interested in working out so that you can fit into that stunning wedding dress on your special day? Maybe you want to start a fitness routine so you can have enough energy to keep up with your active kids. Find a reason that inspires, motivates and drives you to stay on track. Remember, you are doing this for YOU.
Once you have your reason(s) in mind, set personal goals that you can achieve. Goals should be ‘SMART:’
S: Specific – What, exactly, do you intend to do?
M: Measurable – Set a way to track progress and monitor accomplishment.
A: Achievable – Make your goals realistic.
R: Relevant – Does it pertain to your reason why?
T: Time-Sensitive – How often will you do perform a certain exercise? Or, when do you intend to have this goal accomplished by?
Example: During the work week, I will take the stairs instead of the elevator on my way to work to increase my step count and aim for 10,000 steps per day. I will check my pedometer/Fitbit before I go to sleep each night to determine whether I reached my daily step goal.
Get a fitness assessment
Whether you are active or haven’t worked up a serious sweat in more than 10 years, it’s important to assess your current fitness level before jumping into a new exercise routine. While you may have an idea of your ability to engage in certain types of physical activity, a fitness assessment will determine your current status and compare results against normal values based on gender and age. The assessment also will provide benchmark measurements for later comparison.
Fitness assessments are completed by a trained fitness professional and should evaluate the five components of physical fitness, including body composition (for example, waist circumference), cardiorespiratory endurance, flexibility, muscular endurance and muscular strength. While fitness assessments come with a fee, it may be a smart investment. Be sure to consult your physician before starting a new exercise routine.
Set an exercise budget
If you plan on purchasing a gym membership, new running shoes or new equipment such as dumbbells, exercise bands or medicine balls, establish a reasonable budget that fits into your current financial plan. If you’re hesitant to commit to a gym or certain activity right away, consider trying Class Pass, a monthly membership that allows you to participate in a variety of fitness classes in your area so you can get a better idea of the activities that you enjoy.
Create your fitness schedule
Design your physical activity program based on your current fitness level and SMART goals, while keeping your time availability in mind. Because it’s often difficult to find time to be active, block out time on your calendar as you would any other work meeting/task or event. Can’t squeeze a full work out in today? Don’t sweat it. Park farther away from the grocery store or take a 15-minute walk at lunch. Any additional physical activity is better than none at all.
Be sure to build variety into your routine and allow adequate time for recovery, especially after weight training. Participating in a unique mix of activities, such as running, yoga and swimming not only reduces your likelihood of getting bored but also your risk for injury and burnout.
To gain important health benefits, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults are physically active for at least:
- 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (for example, brisk walking) each week + 2 or more days of muscle-strengthening activities (lifting dumbbells, for example) that work all major muscle groups each week;
- 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (for example, jogging/running) each week + 2 or more days of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups each week;
- An equal mix of both moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week + 2 or more days of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups each week.
Build a strong support system
You’re not in your fitness journey alone! Confidently announce your commitment to becoming more fit to co-workers, family members and friends. Recruit workout buddies to help you stay on track and/or consider joining a fitness-related group, especially on social media, to hold you accountable. These individuals will help you overcome barriers, avoid slip ups and encourage you to continue working toward your personal goals.
Begin with a positive attitude
Starting your new fitness journey with a positive attitude will set you up for success. While it may be easier to stay motivated and confident in the beginning, continually remind yourself of you reason(s) why and your SMART goals.
Remember, you can’t expect yourself to bench press your body weight in just a week or run a marathon after a few weeks of training. Your fitness journey requires time, patience and realization that you won’t be able to perform at your best every day. Because setbacks will likely occur, maintaining a positive attitude and jumping back on track when you are physically and mentally able are smart approaches to becoming a better you.
Lindsay MacNab, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, health nut and deep dish pizza addict from the wonderful windy city of Chicago. A 2015-2016 dietetic intern at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Lindsay was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs and received both her bachelor’s and master’s degree in Diet & Exercise from Iowa State University.