If you’ve tried to start a fitness program only to lose it amongst a pile of forgotten New Year’s resolutions, don’t give up. Summer is just around the corner, and long, sunny days invite more outdoor activity. Here’s how to make a fitness program a fun part of your daily routine.
We know. You made the New Year’s resolution again and ended up at the gym the first week of January. But by February, the workout clothes you bought at that after-holiday sale were hanging in the closet. Now it's the end of May, and the last time you broke a sweat was when you saw your boss coming down the hall. Between work, family, and friends, that fitness program you had envisioned has become a long-forgotten memory.
Sound familiar? You don’t have to be a fitness failure any more. Here’s how to re-start a fitness program and make it a part of your life – for the rest of your life.
Start where you are
Before you strap on those running shoes and head out the door, establish your current level of fitness. How fit are you, anyway? Establish your baseline fitness level by recording a few numbers. Assessing your fitness before you start working out will help you to establish goals. Perform the following activities and record your results:
- Walk one mile.
- Take your pulse before and after you walk the mile
- Time the mile. How long did it take, in minutes and seconds?
- Do as many push-ups as you can at one time. Count and record the number.
- Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you, then reach forward as far as you can. How far can you reach? Measure the distance from your fingertips to your toes (have a friend help, or place a measuring tape parallel to your legs, stretching from your toes to your knees)
- Measure the distance around your waist at the level of your naval
- Calculate your body mass index. Use the following equation: multiply your weight in pounds by 703. Then divide that number by your height in inches. Then divide again by your height in inches.
- Repeat these tests and record your results once a month. You’ll see that you are indeed making progress.
Get Your Doctor's Okay
Next, get your doctor’s okay. If any of the following apply to you, visit your doctor for a complete physical before starting any type of fitness program:
- Over 35 and haven’t been active for several years
Any of the following conditions:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiac disease
- Family history of cardiovascular disease including stroke
- Frequent dizzy spells
- Shortness of breath with mild exertion
- Problems with muscles, ligaments, or tendons
- Taking any medications regularly
- Any other disease
Establish a goal or a series of goals
A goal might be to walk or run a 5K, climb to the top of a nearby mountain, or participate in a 25 mile bicycle tour.
- Create a series of smaller, very doable goals to help you along the way. For instance, if you want to run a 5K six months from now, start by walking at a fast clip for 45 minutes. Gradually add a few steps of running (for instance, walk 4 minutes, run 1 minute) each time you work out.
- Whatever your goal is, make it reasonable but challenging, based on your baseline fitness level.
- Tip: view weight loss as an added benefit to your fitness program, not as a goal in itself.
Make fitness a priority
Take a close look at your calendar. Or spend a couple of days recording how you really use your time. You’ll be surprised to find that you really do have time for fitness, even if it means using 30 minutes of your lunch hour to walk.
- Enlist your friends. How many friends do you have who have been trying to start a fitness program and haven’t been able to get motivated and stick to it? Schedule a regular time that you can meet and work out together – even if it means getting out of bed an hour early.
- Make fitness a family event. Instead of viewing your family as an impediment to fitness, make them part of the fun. If kids are young, consider purchasing a baby jogger. Older kids can ride bikes on bike paths (don’t forget the helmets, please). Teens can be great training partners. Added bonus: your kids will develop the fitness habit early in life, making them less susceptible to chronic diseases as they age.
- Sign up for a class. Local fitness centers offer classes in everything from water aerobics to spinning to yoga.
Consider fitness holistically
Running every day may result in superb cardiovascular fitness, but without strength and flexibility, you’re likely to end up injured, frustrated, and ready to quit. Design your fitness program to include the following:
- Fun. If it’s not fun, you won’t do it. It’s that simple. What physical activities do you truly enjoy? If you can’t think of any, try to remember what you enjoyed doing as a kid. Were you the star soccer player in gym class? Or was the 15-minute run more your style?
- Variety. Plan a potpourri of activities to make sure that you strengthen all parts of your body. You might include walking, yoga, swimming, and strength training in your routine. Vary your workouts within a sport, too. For instance, if walking is your favorite activity, walk different routes on different days. Go to a nature preserve or park and walk for an extra hour on a weekend.
- Cardiovascular workouts. Your fitness program should include some sort of exercise that you sustain for 30 minutes or more, three times a week. Walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming are some examples.
- Strength training. While strength training usually conjures up visions of a fitness center with fancy weight machines and lots of grunting, sweating bodies, that’s not the only way to get stronger. You can develop a strength training program at home with a mat, some 5 to 10 pound weights, or resistance bands. Don’t forget the abdominal exercises, which can help to prevent and alleviate back problems.
- Flexibility training. Stretching is an important part of fitness. Stretch your major muscle groups, including your hamstrings and quadriceps. Stretch when your muscles are warm, and hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Forget fanaticism. You want to establish a routine, not an obsession. Plan for days off and time between workouts, which will allow you to recover and reduce the risk of injury.
Committing to fitness
Remember, a fitness program isn’t a task on the to-do list that you do once and cross off. In the same way that you need to eat and sleep every day, you need to engage in physical activity. Fitness is a lifestyle. Committing to fitness is a commitment to physical and emotional health. Make physical activity part of your daily routine, and you’ll soon find that it’s not a task, but a treat. You can be a fitness success.