It’s the start of a new year, so you might be making resolutions, at least some of which probably have to do with health and fitness. Unfortunately, resolutions have become more synonymous with failure than success and many people do not really expect to achieve their resolutions. It is almost as though it has become a tradition to just make an effort and then wait till the following year to try again.
The good news is that it is possible for New Year’s fitness resolutions to become a reality, but there are some things you need to do in order to be successful.
The first step is to come up with the right resolutions. Resolutions are essentially long-term goals, but many resolutions do not meet the requirements to be considered effective goals.
Resolutions often involve general statements, such as “I want to lose weight” or “I want to get in shape.” Unfortunately, these types of resolutions are too vague and the most useful resolutions or goals share 3 things in common. They should be as specific as possible, challenging, and attainable (realistic).
The problem with general resolutions is they do not provide any real direction or plan of action to help you reach your goals. Saying you want to get in shape or exercise more does not necessarily put you on a path to success. Instead, making a specific resolution, such as becoming a better endurance runner and completing a half or full marathon is much better. This provides a concrete and measurable task to work towards.
Of course, having good long-term goals is just the first step and the real benefits happen after you figure out what you need to do to accomplish those goals. For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds of fat, then you should plan to eat better and exercise. To increase your chance of success, it is important to figure out smaller goals to encourage progress in those areas.
A good place to start is by looking at your current nutrition and exercise habits (ideally keeping a journal for at least a few days) and making a list of the things you need to improve. If you eat fried or fast food every day, then a goal can be to decrease your consumption of those foods over time. With exercise, you could focus on increasing your workout frequency, length, intensity, etc., depending on your specific goals.
One important tip is not to increase your exercise too much too fast. Many people start new exercise programs by working out too hard or too frequently, because they think doing more will give them better or faster results. More is not always better and improvements only happen up to a point. Doing too much will not allow your body to recover enough and your body will start wearing down instead of improving.
If this happens, you will feel worse in general and start losing motivation to continue with your training. Always remember that exercising should make you feel good and you should not constantly experience aches or pain. It is much better to start off slow and gradually increase the length or difficulty of your workouts as your body gets used to the training. Workouts do need to be challenging, but they should not make you hurt.
A similar approach is also recommended with eating, where you make small nutritional changes over time. If you eat a lot of fried food, fast food, or other unhealthy foods, it is not realistic to say you will immediately stop eating those foods and never have them again. People have better long-term success when they make gradual changes in their eating habits that can be maintained throughout their lifetime.
For example, if you eat fried food 7 times a week, then make a goal to eat it 6 times for the next week and then decrease from there. After just a couple months you may be able to eliminate fried food from your diet or at least significantly decrease the amount you eat. Going cold turkey may keep you from eating fried food for a little while, but there is a high probability that you will eventually return to your old habits and end up right back where you started.
As a general rule, if you cannot maintain an exercise or nutritional change over the long run, then it is probably not a good change to make. Being successful in health and fitness is about making permanent lifestyle changes and not going back and forth between healthy and unhealthy habits. Slow and steady changes are much easier to maintain indefinitely, which is the key to long-term health and fitness success.
The approach of making small changes can also be used to increase positive eating behaviors, such as drinking more water or eating more vegetables. Just increase in small amounts so you are not overwhelmed and your body has a chance to get used to the changes. It may also help to only work on one or two improvements at a time and then move on to new ones after those changes become a regular part of your lifestyle.
A good strategy is to start by improving the most significant problem(s) with your nutritional program. Most people have at least one or two things that stand out as unhealthy habits that easily cause weight gain or prevent fat loss. Some common examples are eating too little in the morning and too much at night, not eating enough protein, or eating too many calories at every meal (portion control) or simply eating too few total calories.
In terms of exercise, one of the most important first steps is to make your workouts a regular part of your weekly routine. Initially, performing shorter, but more frequent workouts can be a good idea, since they are easier to fit into a busy schedule and frequent workouts help reinforce workout consistency. Once you start going 3 or 4 days without exercising it becomes too easy to start skipping even more workouts.
Once exercising becomes a regular habit, you can work more on increasing the length and/or difficulty of your workouts. It is also helpful to figure out what type(s) of exercise you enjoy most. If you are not sure, try some different types of workouts until you find something that works for you and your goals.
If you have more specific fitness goals, it is important to include the right type of training to accomplish those goals. For example, if you want to increase upper body strength, then you would certainly want to include upper body resistance training exercises in your workout program.
As a final note, always remember to listen to your body. If you are not recovering enough between workouts, than cut back a little until your muscles and joints feel better. It is much better to do a little less at first and improve gradually over time then it is to keep pushing your body until you develop an injury, get burned out, or become over-trained, which may cause you to stop exercising altogether.
By Ross Harrison
VFT Fitness Expert
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