How to Achieve Your Exercise Goals
This may be the first year you've resolved to exercise regularly. Or perhaps you've failed at this resolution before and are trying again. Either way, you're more likely to succeed if you understand why many people fail to meet their exercise goals.
"People have expectations of achieving immediate physical changes from exercising, and when they don't see these changes occurring right away, they become frustrated," says Jeff Zwiefel, an exercise physiologist and president of Life Time Fitness. "Those changes will come, but patience and persistence are required. People need to consider how long it has taken to get in the kind of condition they are in and adjust their expectations accordingly."
Mr. Zwiefel also says many people fail to maintain exercise resolutions because they tackle too many lifestyle changes at once. He recommends attempting one change at a time. For example, first establish an exercise program, then try to give up smoking or improve your diet. It's a good idea to start with exercise because research has shown that getting fit generally prompts us to adopt other healthful habits.
The overall picture
The first few weeks of an exercise program are the most difficult, because you'll likely feel more tired as your body adjusts its metabolic rate. Within three weeks, however, you should start noticing improvements. Your resting heart rate should decrease and metabolic rate should increase, resulting in reduced blood pressure and more efficient use of fat calories. You should have more energy at day's end and sleep better at night. Your anxiety and stress levels should drop as well.
Tips for staying motivated
The longer you stick with an exercise program, the more likely it will become a permanent part of your lifestyle. Unfortunately, 50 percent of all people who start a program drop out within six months. Here are some ways you can stay motivated:
• Set goals. Make them realistic and attainable. Create a plan to achieve them. For example, promise yourself that you will walk at least twenty minutes three to five times a week and when you can do this comfortably and consistently for three weeks, you will increase the time to thirty minutes.
• Exercise for yourself, not someone else. For you to be successful, your motivation must come from within.
• Don't do too much, too soon. Start with a simple, low-intensity, balanced program that you perform three days a week. Combine stretching and flexibility exercises with aerobic activity. As you build endurance and stamina, start increasing your program's duration and frequency. Experts recommend getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least three to four times a week.
• Make exercise convenient. Studies have shown that people who must drive eight miles or more to an exercise facility are less likely to stick with a program. So, exercise close to work or home.
• Work out with family or friends. Working out with someone you like will make you less prone to skip your workouts.
• Choose enjoyable, varied activities that you can alternate throughout the week.
• Incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Find ways to increase your activity level during the day; e.g., walk up stairs instead of using an elevator.
• Challenge yourself. Compete with yourself to attain your own personal best.
• Think long-term. Periodically assess your program's benefits. Once you reach your goals, create additional ones.
• Reward yourself. Give yourself a non-food treat -- such as a day of pampering or tickets to a professional ball game for achieving a goal.
Most of all, remember to be patient and stick with your regimen long enough to see and feel the results. You will be rewarded.
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