by Angie Wilgus, M.S. in Exercise Physiology
With the New Year comes the tradition of making resolutions for various changes that we will make throughout the year. One popular resolution is making changes to our health, whether it be losing weight, getting in better shape or improving certain health conditions. I want to tell you, the readers, CONGRATULATIONS! By taking this first step toward better health, you are proving to yourself that you have the skill and determination to do something very positive for yourself.
This is the time of year that health and fitness centers look forward to. People, like you, wanting to get into better shape for one reason or another. From January to March, fitness centers are crowded. By March, the crowds begin to thin and people drop out of their exercise program for one reason or another. We know that exercise is good for us. There are many positive benefits to exercise, such as improving mental health, losing weight, and increasing stamina. How can you sustain this and become a healthier, happier person year round?
“There are many positive benefits to exercise, such as improving mental health, losing weight, and increasing stamina.”
A good strategy is to set goals and to create a long term plan to continue to be physically active throughout the year. We use short term goals (3 months or less) to reach our long term goals (3 months and longer). By setting short term goals, either daily, weekly or monthly, we will eventually reach our long term goal. Use the acronym S.M.A.R.T to help you set your goals, this represents Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timed (give yourself a deadline). An example of a S.M.A.R.T goal is “I’m going to walk 1 mile, 2 times this week.” I remember when my daughter was toilet training, I used this same system. My long term goal was to have her toilet trained. So, I used weekly short term goals to get her to use the potty.
There will be times that you go off track. It’s OK! Just get back on the wagon and try again. It takes time to make something a habit. Close barriers that keep you from exercising (I don’t have the time, I’m tired, etc…) and schedule your exercise around those barriers. Keep that exercise appointment with yourself like you would a doctor’s appointment. Make sure you have a good support system (get an exercise buddy or personal trainer), use visual aids (a graph or a pedometer) and rewards to keep you on track. Going back to my daughter’s toilet training, I created a grid using poster board with the days of the week on it to give my daughter a visual aid to keep her on track. When she’d used the toilet like a good girl, she got a sticker on her board.
Once she got so many stickers, she would get rewarded with something small like a coloring book. It took about 2 months of these short term goals and she was on her way to being a big girl. Once your reach your goal, you should reward yourself. Now most people automatically think of food as a reward. Don’t do this, especially if your goal is to lose weight! Give yourself rewards that reinforce what you are trying to achieve. Your reward could be new clothes, new music to exercise to or something you’ve wanted for a long time.
You may be asking yourself what’s the best activity for me? Depending on your individual goals and your current physical condition, the type and amount of activity will vary, but, it always helps to make your activity something you enjoy. These activities can be a good start: Walk your dog, go for a walk with your spouse or friend, ride bikes or play outdoor games with your children, window shop or do yard work. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, one should get activity every day for at least 30 minutes or an accumulation of 150 minutes per week. It’s also OK to get 10 minutes of activity, 3 times a day to add up to the 30 minutes. Another question you may have is, “How hard do I need to exercise?” While you should always work with a professional to set specific guidelines, one simple way to check yourself is this: if you are exercising at the right pace, you will be able to carry on a conversation. If you can sing you need to work a little harder or if you can’t talk at all and are gasping for air you are exercising too hard and need to slow down.
Using these tips will help you stay on your track for a healthier lifestyle. If you can’t invest in your own health, what can you invest in?
Angie Wilgus is an Exercise Physiologist and Personal Trainer for Fort Sanders Health and Fitness Center. She has her Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology and is Certified Personal Trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Angie is also one of the few Certified Cancer Exercise Specialists through the American College of Sports Medicine in East Tennessee and has been involved in the health and fitness field since 1994.