Steps towards an active life – how to maintain your New Year health and fitness goals
A new year brings the chance for a new start, and for many people that means committing (or re-committing) to a healthier and fitter new you. Exercise goals are thick on the ground as the new year commences … but often vanish faster than autumn leaves in a westerly wind by the time March rolls around. Making resolutions is easy – but sticking with them once the initial euphoria has worn off is not. Most people know they need to be healthier, fitter or lose some weight, but that isn’t always enough to keep you going.
So how can you make your new year’s exercise, health and fitness resolutions stick for longer than a few months? Try these tips to help.
Set SMART goals
Setting well-intentioned but vague goals such as, “I want to exercise more” or “I’m going to lose weight”, does not often lead to results. These vague wishes do nothing to help you focus your efforts or achieve your goals, and you’re often just setting yourself up for failure. Instead, set some SMART goals, which are:
- Specific (rather than vaguely hoping to lose weight, make your goal much more specific, such as “I want to fit back into that size 10 dress I was wearing five years ago”).
- Measurable (you need criteria for measuring your progress towards your goal, such as aiming to lose half a kilogram a week).
- Achievable (your goal needs to be challenging but achievable, given your circumstances, resources and capabilities. If you’re seriously overweight, running a marathon this year probably isn’t within your reach, but running a 5km run is much more likely).
- Realistic (your goal needs to be realistic and within reach; for instance, aiming to lose 5 kilograms a week is probably not going to happen and will just leave you feeling like a failure).
- Timely (your goal must have a start and finish date to give you a sense of urgency and motivation; for instance, “I will fit back into my dress by August for a family wedding”).
This type of focussed goal setting helps you to take control of your direction and provides you with a benchmark for determining whether you are actually achieving your goal.
Make your health goals visible
To make your goals stick even more, write them down and keep them somewhere safe where you can regularly refer to them. The act of writing a goal down makes it much more tangible and real and increases your chances of achieving it. Even better, put your goals up somewhere public and visible to remind yourself everyday of what you’re trying to achieve, and keep yourself accountable. Out of sight can all too quickly become out of mind. You can use a goal tracker (where you record each day you have achieved your goal) to help you see your progress.
Make an action plan
To help your health resolutions stick, make an action plan outlining the steps you need to take to get you from where you are to where you want to be. Write out each individual step and cross them out as you achieve them. This is especially important if your health or fitness goal is long-term or complicated.
Make sure you’re ready to start
You need to be both physically and mentally ready to start a new exercise, weight loss or fitness program, so see your doctor and get cleared to proceed. And be confident in your ability to achieve your goal. Be mentally prepared for the occasional setback and don’t let it derail your confidence or motivation.
Don’t go too hard at first
It’s wise not to rush into high intensity exercise right at the start, as you have more of a chance of being successful if you start easy. It’s okay to start with three days of low to moderate intensity exercise at first, rather than feeling you have to do six days of hard workouts. Starting too hard is a leading cause of people losing motivation, as their bodies are not prepared for such a level of exercise. Go easy on food resolutions as well – for instance, if your aim is to cut out sugar from your diet, start by gradually reducing the amount you consume, rather than going cold turkey. You’ll be much more likely to stick with it.
Expand your view of exercise
If you quickly get bored of working out in a gym and find yourself gradually losing motivation, it’s time to expand your view of exercise. Make exercise into an integral part of your lifestyle rather than something you take time out of your life to do. You’ll reap the same benefits, and you probably have a much better chance of sticking to it. Walk to the corner shop rather than driving, park further away at work, play tag or cricket with your kids, go on walking dates with your friends rather than coffee, offer to walk dogs at your local RSPCA, go for a walk in your lunch break rather than sitting in the lunch room – the options are endless and each gives you an opportunity to add more activity to your life.
For more ways to find your 30 minutes of exercise a day, click here.
Choose something you like doing
If you hate running, there’s probably not much point deciding you’re going to run a marathon this year. Instead, achieve your health goals by finding a type of exercise that you’ll enjoy and are more likely to stick to. If pounding the pavement isn’t your thing, try a Zumba class, or a barre class, or a water running class, or even trampolining! You’re sure to find something you enjoy and look forward to, so keep trying until you find it.
Investigate the results of not achieving your goal
There’s nothing like seeing the real-life consequences of what will happen if you give up on your goal. For example, if your goal is to lose all that extra weight, research the negative outcomes obesity can cause in your life. If your goal is to quit smoking, listen to someone dying of throat cancer talk about how they wished they had given up earlier. Read or watch real case studies – and you might find that little bit of extra motivation that you need to keep going.
Be clear about your motivation
On the flip side, get very clear about why you are trying to achieve this resolution. It’s not enough just to want to be healthier, it’s much better to decide you want to be healthier so that you can play with your kids without getting out of breath. Or that you want to get stronger so that you can make the state swimming team. Whenever you’re tempted to skip out on your goal, bring your motivation to mind – and imagine yourself achieving it. Creating a vision board or something similar might help. Look at your vision board often and feel again the inspiration and motivation it provides.
Harness the power of teamwork
Bring a friend along on your exercise, fitness or health journey and you’re much more likely to achieve your resolution. It’s much easier to get up and go for a walk in the morning if you know your friend is waiting for you and you’ll be letting them down if you don’t go. You can support and help motivate each other, and you might just have some fun along the way.
Don’t have an all or nothing mindset
It can be hard to fit exercise into your life, and if you’ve only got a short amount of time left in your day you might think there’s no point hitting the gym or going for a walk. But keep in mind that something is always better than nothing, even if it’s only a quick 20-minute session. Plus, it keeps you in the habit of exercising, and you might be surprised how the health benefits of shorter sessions add up over time.
Ask for help
If you’re nervous or unsure about the change you’re trying to make, ask for help. See a dietician for ideas on quick and healthy meals. Book a session or two with a personal trainer to help get familiar with the gym, the equipment and the movements you’ll be doing. You could also look up how to do different exercise on the internet. You might even ask to watch a class you’re considering taking first, just so you know what’s expected. It’s normal to be a little hesitant about trying something new, but don’t let that stop you. Do a bit of extra preparation to help you feel more mentally and physically ready to achieve your goal.
Celebrate your milestones
If you achieve a significant step towards your goal, make sure you celebrate your achievement! You’ve worked hard to get there, so you’ve earned a reward – and experts says this is a great strategy for helping you stick to your goals. Just make sure your rewards aren’t something that will derail those goals, such as unhealthy treats or junk food. Think of buying some great new activewear instead – that will also help keep you on track.
Click here to find out how wearing activewear can make you more active.
Think long term
It can be easy to get de-motivated from your goals if you don’t see results right away. But keep in mind that it takes time to experience significant change. Getting fitter and healthier can be challenging and rarely happens quickly. Plus, it takes 30 days for a change in behaviour to become a habit, and six months for a habit to feel like a natural part of your life. Have reasonable expectations about your health journey and realise it will take time and patience. But this time next year, you’ll be seeing results and you’ll be glad you stuck with it.