How do I help myself stick with an exercise program?

Jan 11, 2013

Q: How can I help myself stay with an exercise program once I’ve started one?


A: OK, so you've started an exercise program. That’s wonderful! You're determined to take that walk, get to the gym or whatever it is you're planning to pursue. And for about a week or two, you do follow through.
But then, things start coming up. Maybe you skip a day you'd planned to work out, then two days. You’re tired after work and think you’ll do it later and later never comes.  Soon, you've fallen back into the old habit of not exercising at all.
If that sounds like an all too familiar pattern, it doesn't have to be that way; there are things that can help you stay with your fitness plan. For example, the American Academy of Family Physicians suggests you keep to a schedule by exercising the same time every day. They also suggest that you put your scheduled time on your calendar like any other appointment.
Here are some other suggestions, compiled from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the American Council on Exercise (ACE)
·        Don't fall for "all or nothing" thinking. According NHLBI, in order to condition your heart and lungs, regular exercise does not have to take more than about 30 to 60 minutes, three or four times a week. If you don't have 30 minutes in your schedule for an exercise break, you can try to find two 15-minute periods or even three 10-minute periods. Gradually, these short breaks can become a habit. And 10 or 15 minutes of exercise in the morning before work will help you wake up and feel more energetic.
·        Focus on the benefits. One benefit is the fact that exercise can help you burn calories.  Depending on the type of exercise you perform, ACE says long-term benefits can also include more energy and stamina, lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases, muscle strength and weight loss.
·        Do what you enjoy. If you're the kind of person who dislikes organized sports, choose an activity that's easier for you to do and enjoy. For example, NHLBI suggests you try walking,  an activity that requires no special talent, athletic ability or equipment.
·        Make goals you can keep. If your long-term goal seems difficult to attain, try breaking it down into shorter, more manageable goals. For example, if you want to start walking a mile a day, your short- term goal can be to start with a quarter mile, and work up to a mile. By setting short-term goals, you may be less likely to get discouraged.
·        Focus on your progress. As you start feeling more fit, look back on how you felt when you were just starting out and feel proud of what you're accomplishing. And always keep in mind the motivating factors that got you started in the first place.
·        Be flexible. ACE suggests that if you're starting to tire of your fitness program, look around for other activities you might enjoy. Consider getting friends or family members involved so you can encourage each other.
Of course, as you work on your fitness goals, always remember to keep safety in mind. Nothing can derail a fitness program like an injury. As always, before starting an exercise program, talk with your doctor.