So this is it. You’ve decided you’ll join a gym and start exercising, and this time, you’ll really stick with it! To make sure you’ll stick with it, you join and sign on for a full year. After all, commitment to paying the membership means total commitment to exercising, right?
Everything is going well, but soon after you get started…life happens. Work gets a little busier, and you’re working longer hours, answering emails around the clock. When you get home, you don't have much energy left, not to mention you have your family to spend time with, along with a number of other obligations. Exercise can wait, you tell yourself, and as the days and weeks go by, your initial motivation to work out starts to wane, and you continue to plan to go back to the gym "tomorrow."
You’re not alone in this! Most people drop off from their established exercise goals within six months of starting a new plan, and according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 20.8% of adults over 18 years old meet its recommendations for both strength and aerobic activity.
You shouldn’t be too hard on yourself for not sticking with it. You have good intentions, but you’re busy and life isn’t always as simple as we’d like it to be.
And if exercise feels like a chore to you, it isn’t likely to be sustainable. As human beings, we look for immediate gratification, and we look for things that are fun and make us feel good in the now.
So, what can you do?
1) Start Small
The CDC recommends 2.5 hours per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. That breaks down to only 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, or you can do 10 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity at a time. Figure out a routine that makes sense for you – ideally one infused with some level of enjoyment (riding your bike, taking dance classes, etc.) – and add resistance work 2 days per week (also a CDC recommendation) once you feel comfortable with whatever exercise routine you come up with.
Even if you have a specific health or weight related goal that seems far off into the future, be sure to note the small but significant perks you’re experiencing along the way. Notice how your energy level has shifted since you started consciously moving, and notice how much better you feel overall. Soon enough your ultimate goal will feel more like a natural side effect to your overall well-being.
The only requirement is that you have fun, that whatever you do adds value to your life, that you look forward to doing it, and that you do it because you want to, not because you should or have to.
2) Set Realistic Goals
Goals are essential to guide and direct you, but to be successful, you need goals that are realistic, ones that agree with your deepest values, and ones that add benefits to your life.
Whatever your goal, make sure it’s SMART:
Specific, so you clearly know what you want to do
Measurable, so your goal is quantifiable
Achievable, so you feel challenged but not overwhelmed
Reasonable, so it’s something you can accomplish
Time-oriented, so that you commit to achieve the goal by a given date
By breaking your goals down into smaller, SMART sub-goals, you will experience ripples of success that will do wonders for increasing your motivation to accomplish your overall goal.
For example, if your overall goal is to run a 5K race, and you have never run before, you can start with a small sub-goal of walking 1 mile every day for 10 days. This will help you slowly condition your body and mind, and will allow you to gradually increase the distance until you feel comfortable to switch from walking to running.
3) Create a Support Network
Having support from your family and friend is invaluable in helping you develop a sustainable active lifestyle. Develop a network of people who support you in your newfound decision to seriously exercise. A lot of research has been done on the relationship between social support and adherence to exercise, and the conclusion is that the more support you get from family and friends, the more likely you will stick to your plans. This support is especially important when you hit some bumps in the road. You support system will be there to lift you up and get you moving again. And if you can get your family and friends to move along with you, even better!
Once again, whatever it is you decide to do, whatever workout routine keeps you moving, don’t forget to make it enjoyable. Knowing that you have total autonomy to choose what works for you, for you own personal reasons, is extremely empowering, which is especially important as you’re looking for long-lasting and sustainable changes in your life.
And of course, before starting any exercise/physical activity routine, please consult with you doctor.