VIOLA - The odds of someone continuing their New Year's exercise regimen throughout the year are as slim as the radishes my dad would slice, salt, and put on Wonder Bread.
Clubs and exercise classes are bursting with activity in January, thanks to New Year's resolutions and holiday gifts of flashy workout clothes and gadgets. By February this will change—a sad fact, but also enticing if you want to be the person who beats the odds, completes a year of fitness, and reaps the rewards.
365 days of fitness seems daunting, yet the benefits of a regularly scheduled exercise program are outrageous—as outrageous as a banana split, without calories. We know that lifting weights and engaging in cardiovascular activities will increase our strength, improve our endurance, reduce the risk of chronic illness, and keep us agile.
What we forget is how a routine exercise program can also keep our minds healthy and flexible. Working out helps our bodies handle stress more efficiently, and improves brain functions such as memory, creativity, and cognition. Becoming more physically fit enables us to feel more confident. We feel more alive!
The word “routine” implies “boring.” But exercise doesn’t need to be boring. Changing up your repetitions, the order in which you do the exercises, and even the plane in which you perform them— standing, lying, kneeling, or sitting—will yield better results, faster.
Routine is also a game changer for depression and other mental health challenges. A walk a day keeps the doctor away isn’t a far-fetched fantasy.
There are five major components of fitness:
1) Cardiovascular endurance
2) Muscular strength
3) Muscular endurance
5) Body Composition
Lifetime activities such as hiking, biking, running, dancing, cross-country skiing, skating, or swimming will address your cardiovascular needs. Plan on anywhere from three times a week to seven; it’s hard to overdo the benefits of moving. Monitor yourself for injuries, ease into your routine, and step on the gas when you’re able.
Muscular strength comes from lifting weights at least two or three times a week, on an every-other-day basis. You can do this at home or in the gym, or sign up for a class. After the age of forty our bodies start to sag like flan left out on a ninety-degree day. It’s called sarcopenia. Strength training is the answer.
The combination of aerobic activity and lifting weights will take care of improving your muscular endurance.
Flexibility can be achieved by including a ten-minute overall body stretch once your body is sufficiently warm. Stretching your muscles when warm will safeguard you from injuries.
Body composition refers to the amount of muscle you have in relation to fat. We need fat to keep us warm, to store fat-soluble vitamins, and to protect our organs. But we don’t need an excess of it.
Regular exercise is an important component of any weight-loss program. A solid exercise program will often naturally lead to wanting to eliminate simple sugars, reduce carbs, and stop overeating. Losing weight without exercising is a recipe for failure. Worse is exercising to lose weight. Keep your head in the game by focusing on the daily benefits, not weight loss.
How can you beat the odds, avoid being a New Year fitness dropout statistic, and reap the rewards of a year of fitness?
Show up! Walking out the door is often the hardest step and yet the most important. Get yourself out the door or into the gym.
Begin slow. Start with resolving to walk around your block each morning. Use less weight or no weights, perform fewer reps, or modify harder exercises. Hitting the gym or the treadmill at full force in January is as effective as the hare racing along for a while, then taking a nap. We know the tortoise wins.
Consistency is crucial. Tread gently on your fitness goal and aim for consistency, not to fit into the bridal gown you’ve been saving for your 50th wedding anniversary. Be real.
Jump back in. During those first few weeks, your boss may give you extra work, your child may come home from school sick, or your car may break down. Chances are you’ll miss a workout or two because life is messy. Sticktoitiveness is key. Get back to class, back to the gym...get yourself through the door.
Your body will start to respond near the third week. You may notice that you’re not getting as sore, that your breathing isn’t as labored when you climb the stairs, or that you can now reach your toes when you bend over. Hang on to each new discovery. Write them down, keep a list, and on those days when you’re in a slump and thinking of nixing your workout for a beer and a burger, look at that list. Remind yourself that it takes sixty-six days to create a habit. Sixty-six days to be well on your way to a year of fitness!
Showing up, focusing on consistency, starting out slow, and jumping back in if you miss a day or two, along with tracking your results, will set you up for success. Pin these words up on your bathroom mirror: “Today I will show up and do the work. Each day I feel better. I want to live well while I’m alive.”
A year of fitness is possible. Will you be the one to beat the odds and go the distance? I hope so.