It’s about that time of year when many of us feel like the universe is conspiring to keep us from sticking with our New Year’s fitness resolutions. Sometimes, we sabotage our own efforts. Other times, life interferes with our good intentions. Here are some of the more common fitness saboteurs – and effective strategies for dealing with them:
When you’re up against a work deadline or the kids are sick, you may feel you can’t handle one more thing, including exercise. But taking time out for yourself to go for a brisk walk or complete a quick workout is one of the best things you can do during those stressful times. Participation in regular exercise has been shown to help us better manage stress, reduce anxiety and depression, and elevate mood. It short, it enables us to better cope with life’s many challenges. Remember: Even a very brief bout of exercise (as little as 10 minutes) can be beneficial. The bottom line is that some exercise is always better than none.
- Unrealistic Expectations
People who are new to exercise often become frustrated when they don’t experience dramatic results during the first few weeks of starting a fitness program. They may be ready to throw in the towel because they haven’t dropped two dress sizes or developed those washboard abs in 10 days. To avoid this pitfall, set realistic goals, be patient and focus on steady progress. You can’t reverse a decade of sedentary living with a few weeks of physical activity. If you stick with a regimen, your body will respond positively. It typically takes several weeks or more of regular exercise before noticeable physiological changes occur.
- The Wrong Rewards
Don’t wait for the end goal – say, a 50-pound weight loss – to recognize your progress. Instead, notice when your workouts start to feel easier, you can tolerate longer-duration and more challenging workouts, and you find daily activities (such as household chores, work-related physical tasks and climbing stairs) easier to perform. Celebrate these early indicators of success by treating yourself to some new workout gear – such as clothing, an activity tracker or a fitness DVD – and use it for future motivation.
Performing challenging daily workouts without appropriate amounts of rest and recovery time won’t help you reach your goals faster. Instead, it will undermine your progress. Overtraining occurs when there’s an imbalance between how often, intensely and long you exercise and how much time you allow for recovery. Overtaxing your body’s physiological systems this way will ultimately hurt your performance. You need a day or two off from vigorous exercise each week for optimal physical and mental recovery. Simply schedule rest days into your fitness program. Or, you can alternate hard and easy workouts or perform cross-training workouts where you vary your fitness activities (say, running during one workout and then swimming during the next) in order to reduce your likelihood of overtraining.
- Unexpected Interruptions
You were planning to hit the gym after work, but that late-afternoon meeting is running over. Or, you scheduled a Saturday hike but forgot about your child’s weekend soccer tournament. Life happens to all of us. We can either throw up our hands in frustration – or we can resolve to adjust and move forward. Resilience is the ability to bounce back quickly from life’s surprises and setbacks. You can improve this ability with practice. Try practicing good self-care by eating well, getting proper amounts of sleep, exercising regularly, cultivating healthy relationships, adopting an optimistic attitude and taking decisive action. As we become more resilient, we’re less likely to allow life’s frequent surprises to derail our workout efforts. Instead, we’ll be able to quickly modify our plans and move forward.
- The ‘I Can’t’ Syndrome
“I can never seem to find time to exercise.” “I’m so undisciplined.” “Why do I even bother to make resolutions?” Sound familiar? If so, ask yourself if you would talk to a friend or loved one this way. Listening to negative self-talk isn’t motivating. In reality, it’s pretty much a complete waste of time and always counterproductive since it chips away at your confidence and motivation to the point where you can’t imagine yourself being successful. Stop subjecting yourself to that unhealthy behavior. The next time you recognize a critical thought, stop it and replace it with a more productive and helpful thought.
Behavior change is process that can be likened to a journey. Give yourself some credit for every small step you take on your journey to a more active and healthier lifestyle. Remember: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.