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Get energized about exercise: 5 tips for finding the motivation to fulfill your resolutions

By Sarah Folk

It’s that time of the year again when New Year’s resolutions have been made – and some have already been broken. It’s a time when we vow to eat better, exercise regularly, and keep a watchful eye on our health.

Although they are made with good intentions, these types of resolutions are often difficult to maintain, since many involve sudden, drastic changes to an individual’s lifestyle without sufficient planning. Changing too much, too soon can become an overwhelming task, and may result in more deserted resolutions than fulfilled ones.

Stephanie Naulls, registered kinesiologist with the Women's Cardiovascular Health Initiative at Women’s College Hospital, explains the importance of taking the time to develop a manageable exercise plan. She shares her top five tips and useful advice for maintaining regular exercise, to ensure you accomplish your goals.

Off to a good start

Making resolutions is a good start, but sticking to them can often be challenging. By starting to exercise – even 10 minutes a day – you will learn how to listen to your body and start to feel the changes. Naulls encourages everyone to take the time to stretch thoroughly after a workout to avoid the after effects of exercise and to facilitate stress release.

By starting slowly, you will be able to prevent injury while taking the necessary steps towards improving your endurance and fitness. With February right around the corner, it’s time to dust off your gym pass, make an exercise plan, and commit yourself to bettering your health.

Naulls lists five helpful tips for finding the motivation to fulfill your healthy resolutions:

1.       List three reasons

Naulls advises that everyone should make a list of three reasons why they want to exercise, not why they should.  By establishing the motivational factors behind your exercise plan, you will be able to better understand your personal situation and work to fulfill your needs. 

To be successful, it’s essential to understand that everyone’s situation is unique. For this reason, Naulls suggests not comparing yourself to others in the gym, but rather to turn a blind eye to those who may make you feel intimidated. People go to the gym for many different reasons and have varied goals and limitations. Use only yourself to measure your success.

2.       Schedule exercise time into your calendar

Exercise should become as natural as eating and sleeping. By scheduling specific times into your weekly calendar, you will be more likely to stick to your plan. If you plan on going to the gym three times a week, plan each day accordingly.

“The more specific you can be the better,” encourages Naulls. Don’t just decide to go ‘regularly.’ Instead determine the date, place and specific times, increasing the likelihood that you follow through with your plan. You should even plan for unforeseen circumstances and how you will make up for any missed workouts.

If you exercise at home, it is more likely that you will put it off in order to do something else. Because of this, the most important factor in getting over the obstacles of home workouts is to schedule exercise time. “If you do it first thing in the morning, you are more likely to get it done,” advises Naulls.

3.       Find an exercise buddy

Having someone to be accountable to forces you to stick with an exercise plan. By relying on each other, you will each be more likely to stay committed. Remember that it’s healthier to meet a friend at the gym rather than at a coffee shop – ensuring that you actually stick to your schedule and don’t stock up on unhealthy snacks.

If you don’t have an exercise buddy, Naulls encourages you to use your resources. “Don’t be afraid to seek assistance from gym staff.”  It’s a good idea to ask questions if you need help or would like a tour of the gym. If you decide to hire a personal trainer, Naulls advises you to know their qualifications, especially if you have musculoskeletal (MSK) issues. Ask for a resume to make sure that they are registered kinesiologists.

4.       Try things more than once

When beginning a new exercise or class, try to keep an open mind. Don’t write off exercise completely because you’re not enjoying a specific workout. “I encourage you to try things at least three times before deciding against it,” says Naulls. “You may not like it the first couple times you go, but keep an open mind, we don’t always like new things right away.”

Investigate your options. If you prefer working alone, experiment with different exercises or machines. If you prefer having an instructor, try out different types of classes. By exploring all the possibilities, you will find something that fits your needs and preferences.

5.       Set SMART goals

When setting goals, Naulls suggests adopting the SMART guidelines:

  • Specific – knowing exactly what you want to achieve is the first step of success
  • Measurable – choose a goal that you can track with numbers (heart rate, time, distance)
  • Attainable – make sure your goal is something that you can achieve
  • Realistic – every person is different and making a goal that is realistic based on your body is important
  • Timely – decide how long you will take to reach the goal; it’s better to make smaller goals along the way than to make a huge goal for the distant future 

 “You need to believe in these goals and reasons,” says Naulls, stressing the importance of self-motivation. She explains that New Year’s resolutions can be overwhelming and stressful especially if you have unrealistic expectations.

The payoff

Heart disease is the number one killer for women.  Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle. You’ve probably heard many times before that exercise is important for maintaining your overall health, but what about the benefits exercise has on your heart?

“Exercise can help to keep your risk profile low,” says Naulls, “and if you’re at high risk, exercise can help strengthen your heart.” By exercising regularly, you can modestly lower your blood pressure, improve blood sugar readings and improve your cholesterol profile. Soon after starting a regular exercise program you will notice that physical challenges will become easier for you, whether that is climbing the stairs, walking up a hill, or carrying groceries. 

Maintaining a healthy exercise program is a key factor in heart disease prevention. However this is not always easy, as daily obstacles, a lack of motivation or simply procrastination can lead to a failed program. These tips can help you stay on track for a healthy year.

This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: Feb. 11, 2014

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