How to Stick with Exercise

The value of maintaining an exercise program is evident in the 1993 results of the Harvard Alumni Health Study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The men who had been moderately active but later became sedentary had a 15 percent higher risk of death over an eight-year period than their counterparts who had never been active.

On the other hand, those who started and kept up an exercise program later in life had a 23 percent lower risk of death, which approaches the 29 percent decrease in risk enjoyed by the men who’d always been active.

But knowing the intrinsic benefits of lifelong exercise or even creating a personal exercise plan will be of little use if you don’t stick to your program. As you plan an exercise routine, you need to prepare for the challenges that await you so you won’t be thrown off track.

Set Some Goals

Making an overnight change from a sedentary lifestyle to regular exercise isn’t in the cards for most people. What’s more, unrealistic expectations will set you up for frustration and failure. A better approach is to first set a long-term goal, for example, losing twenty-five pounds over the coming year.

But because this goal can be daunting when you think about it as a whole, break it into weekly or monthly targets. To drop twenty-five pounds in a year, you’ll need to lose just over two pounds a month. Because it takes a deficit of about thirty-five hundred calories to lose a pound, you would need to walk about seventy miles a month (one mile burns roughly one hundred calories).

Walking briskly (four miles per hour), you can accomplish that goal with six forty-fiveminute walks a week. This is, of course, provided you don’t make any changes in your diet or cut back on the amount of other physical activity you get.

Chart Your Progress

Once you’ve set your goal, you can begin to measure your performance. Record how much you exercised each day in a daily planner or make a simple chart that you can post on the refrigerator. The sense of accomplishment you get from writing down your exercise can be a big motivator, as can looking back over your logs and seeing how far you’ve come.

Reward Your Efforts

Meeting your exercise goals, even short-term ones, is cause for celebration. It reflects your commitment to improving your health. Find ways to pat yourself on the back. Whether your reward is small or large, make sure it’s something meaningful and enjoyable.

Rewards to avoid are those things that you may regret soon after, such as eating an ice cream cone if your ultimate goal is losing weight. A better choice might be a new CD to listen to while you walk.

Getting Back on Track

Even the most dedicated exercisers sometimes go astray. Almost anything can knock you off track: a bad cold, an out-of-town trip, or a stretch of bad weather. That’s why it’s critical to learn how to reclaim your routine. When you’ve missed workout sessions, you need to evaluate your current level of fitness and set goals accordingly.

If you’ve been away from your routine for two weeks or more, don’t expect to start where you left off. Cut your workout in half for the first few days to give your body time to readjust. The bigger challenge may come in getting yourself back in an exercise frame of mind.

Try to keep confidence in yourself when you relapse. Instead of expending energy on feeling guilty and defeated, focus on what it’ll take to get started again. Once you resume your program, you’ll be amazed at how quickly it will begin to feel natural. Here are a few tricks you might try to rekindle your motivation:

  • Imagine yourself exercising. Recall the aspects of exercise you enjoy most.
  • Come up with a tantalizing reward to give yourself when you meet your first goal after resuming your program.
  • Line up exercise partners for your next few outings.
  • If completing your whole exercise routine seems overwhelming, mentally divide it into smaller chunks, and give yourself the option of stopping at the end of each one. However, when you reach a checkpoint, encourage yourself to move on to the next one instead of quitting.
  • Rather than focus on why you don’t want to exercise, concentrate on how good you feel when you’ve finished a workout.