Getting fit is a popular resolution — but most break it

How does one keep the resolution to start and maintain a fitness program in the new year?
Personal trainer Justin Palermo assists Allison Moran of Glenville with exercises at the Greater Glenville YMCA recently.
Personal trainer Justin Palermo assists Allison Moran of Glenville with exercises at the Greater Glenville YMCA recently.

According to the third annual New Year’s Resolutions Survey conducted by FranklinCovey, developing a healthful exercise or eating habits rank third on Americans’ list of New Year’s resolutions, behind getting out of debt or saving money and losing weight.

The survey also notes, however, that 35 percent of respondents say that they break their New Year’s resolutions by the end of January, with only 23 percent keeping them. So, the question is, how does one become one of the 23 percent to keep the resolution to start and maintain a fitness program in the new year?

There are a variety of considerations and strategies. While it might seem obvious, the first is simply deciding to do it, said Michael Kalogridis, manager of the Physical Therapy Department and the Lifestyle Wellness Center at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital.

This is where Krista Duncan, 27, of Burnt Hills started last year. “I had just decided I needed to do it,” said Duncan, who lost 18 pounds.

After making the decision comes developing the mindset that will help to put that decision into motion. Certified life coach Lin Murphy of One Roof Holistic Health Center in Saratoga Springs said that it is not about making a resolution or commitment to exercise so much as it is getting a vision, or a bigger picture about what exercising will mean. People have to get in touch with what they really want, Murphy said.

Murphy doesn’t like using the word “resolution.” She encourages clients to set intentions. “Intentions are something that you intend to do,” she said. For example, a person might set the intention for 2008 to achieve better health so that he or she will have more energy, feel lighter, and feel good overall. It is important to write the intention down, too.

Beth Ogden, owner of Malta Health & Fitness in Malta, points out that internal motivation is key to being committed to an exercise program. “People have to want to do it for themselves,” Ogden said. “You can’t really do it for your spouse or your friends or anyone like that,” she said.

Where to begin?

So, where exactly does one start? Kalogridis said that there are basically two categories of people: those who have been sedentary, and those who have been minimally or moderately active. Those who have been sedentary should definitely consult their physicians first, so that they can be advised of any precautions their doctors might have. Kalogridis also suggests that others who haven’t seen their health care providers for physicals recently should do so, too, as regular checkups are part of a healthful lifestyle.

Setting realistic goals is key. In January, gyms and fitness centers are flooded with new exercise devotees. Nancy Gildersleeve, wellness director at the Greater Glenville Family YMCA, said that some people decide that they’re going to work out every single day. “They burn out,” she said. “By March, they’re done. You have to make it realistic — something that you can fit into your lifestyle,” she said.

Kim McGuire, fitness director at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center, sees the same type of scenario. “People say, ‘I’m going to lose 120 pounds this year’ or ‘I’m going to go every day to the gym.’ For most people, it’s not realistic,” she said. McGuire encourages people to set “baby-step goals.” Instead of setting a goal to go to the gym every day, the goal could be to make exercise an important part of one’s life. “Maybe your reachable goal should be to maintain an exercise log,” she said.

Key factors

In determining the type of exercise one is going to do, there are two key factors. One is convenience. The exercise venue, whether it be a gym, exercise class or simply stepping outside and walking, needs to be easily accessible. “It should be no more than five to ten minutes from your home,” McGuire said. “There have been enough studies done to show that if a fitness facility isn’t a stone’s throw from your house, you’re not going to go regularly,” she said.

The other is that it has to be something that a person enjoys at a place where he or she feels comfortable. A person can shop around at fitness facilities to see how they feel and sample a few different activities. For example, Gildersleeve said that the YMCA offers “getting-started classes” that give participants a sampling of various exercise classes. Finding the right fit is a process of trial and error, she said. If the thought of getting on a treadmill turns a person off, a water aerobics class might be a better fit. If group exercise seems uncomfortable, a person should find some solo activities that are appealing. “There’s a workout out there for everybody,” McGuire said.

Durcan admits that she doesn’t like to work out, but she set a schedule of going to the gym every day after work, before she even goes home. “I wouldn’t go back out again just to go to the gym” she said. She also switches exercise machines to add some variety and help take the edge off of not enjoying the exercise. For example, she might do 10 minutes on the treadmill and then switch to the stationary bike for 20 minutes.

Common obstacles

There are a few common obstacles people face in starting and maintaining a fitness program. At the YMCA, staff works with a member to determine an exerciser’s stumbling blocks to maintaining a fitness program and how these can be overcome.

One is a perceived lack of time. “Everybody’s got time to exercise — it’s just a matter of being dedicated and sticking with it,” Ogden said. “You have to find time for yourself,” she said.

McGuire said that what commonly happens is that people decide to make a change in their lives, but they let other things get in the way and they stop putting themselves first. One of the ways to overcome that obstacle is to enlist support. This can come in various forms, including joining an exercise class where people will come to know you and miss you if you’re not there, working with a personal trainer or finding a workout partner. “I do think that people get better results if they do have a workout buddy,” Ogden said.

The JCC offers small group personal trainings, where friends can schedule sessions together with a personal trainer, and the whole group is expected to be there.

Gildersleeve said that being accountable to someone, be it a staff person or friend, can be a motivator. YMCA staff will make calls or send postcards, reaching out to those they haven’t seen for a while to offer support.

Ogden developed online personal training, where members can receive weekly workouts via e-mail and log their nutrition online.

Another obstacle is when people start out too quickly and hurt themselves, experience muscle fatigue or burn out on exercise. This stumbling block relates to goal setting. “The reason people fail is that they set their expectations too high from the get-go,” Gildersleeve said. “They do too much too fast. The progression is not there,” she said.

Realistic goals

Kalogridis said that people need to make their goals, both short- and long-term, realistic. “They have to say, “I want to start this, and I want to keep doing this. A year later, I don’t want to be inactive and thinking about it again,’” he said.

Even though most people don’t like to hear the word, discipline is a major factor. “There are a lot of ways to talk yourself out of it,” Kalogridis said. “If you break your routine, it’s very difficult to get back into it. So it really does take a lot of discipline,” he said.

Fitness experts say that a healthful diet works in tandem with exercise to create fitness. Exercise alone does not do it. When Durcan started out at Malta Health & Fitness, she worked with a staff member to not only develop a workout plan, but also to outline a healthful eating plan.

If a person can stay focused on the long-term goal of being healthy and fit and make exercise a habit, the results are worth it.

“When you’re doing something that you set out to do, and you end up doing it, you’re going to feel better overall,” Kalogridis said.

“You accomplished this, you’re taking care of yourself, and this gives you a sense of control and increases your self-esteem and confidence,” he said.

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