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Don’t throw in the towel! Six tips for sticking to your exercise program

The new year brings a rush of enthusiasm and new goals. Getting started is relatively easy, but keeping up that momentum is a lot more challenging. Case in point: Everyone seems to know that the gym is crowded in January, but the crowd begins to thin out as early as February.

a person in a grey shirt smiling for the camera

Dr. Brian Huber, family medicine physician at Beacon Medical Group Mishawaka Primary Plus

If one of your 2024 goals is to get more exercise — especially if you’ve taken a break from having an exercise program — check out these tips for long-term success from Dr. Brian Huber of Beacon Medical Group Mishawaka Primary Plus.

  1. Know your reason. We all have different motivations for wanting to increase our exercise. A vague sense of “I should do more” is nowhere near as motivational as “I want to be able to play basketball with the kids.”

For some people, the reason (and the goal) might be more specific and health-related.

“The overall health benefits of exercise are wide-ranging and can affect mood, sleep, weight, blood pressure and much more,” explained Dr. Huber. “Setting specific, reachable goals based on your medical conditions are the best way to track your progress.”

  1. Aim for slow and steady. Trying to do too much, too fast, can be discouraging. If you haven’t exercised for a while or are trying something new, it can even result in injury. Remember, you’ll start seeing the health benefits of exercise any time you walk farther, lift more or play longer, even if the changes aren’t drastic.

Dr. Huber advised, “If exercise is new to you, then I would highly recommend taking several weeks of short, low-intensity routines to start so you can prevent the inevitable injury or inability to continue because of pains, etc.”

To help you see the benefits of your hard work, be sure to record where you start so that you can see how far you’ve come!

  1. It’s also important to find activities you enjoy. If going to the gym is drudgery, you won’t keep it up. After all, it’s more important to keep moving than to find the “perfect” exercise.

“The perfect exercise is the activity that is a normal part of your life,” said Dr. Huber. “If you enjoy sports, then join a community league. If you like walking your dogs or gardening, that’s great, too.”

To make an activity even more enjoyable, ask a friend to join you or listen to your favorite music or podcast.

  1. Seek out variety. If you get bored with an activity, you’re virtually guaranteed to skip it the next time your willpower is low. So to keep activities from becoming boring, plan ahead for ways to keep things fresh.

For example, think ahead to new places to walk, run or hike so you can enjoy the change of scenery. Find several exercise classes you look forward to throughout the year. Switch to swimming during the summer months if that sounds like more fun!

  1. Piggyback on a habit you already have. Forming any new habit can be difficult. A way to “hack” your brain is to add an activity to an existing habit. For example, if you’re used to letting the dog out as soon as you get home from work, take him for a walk around the block instead.
  2. Make it easy on yourself. For some of us, even an extra step or two can mean the difference been doing an activity or putting it off for another day.

So find ways to make it easier to stick to your habit, such as putting your exercise gear in a convenient, easily accessible spot. Instead of storing your running shoes inside a closet, toss them into an open basket near the door, where they’ll be a visual reminder. When you wrap up an activity for the day, make sure everything is ready to go for next time.

As you incorporate more movement into your life using these tips, it’s important to keep your perspective; after all, this is your journey.

“Like most of us, if you are starting with minimal physical activity, then anything is more than zero!” emphasized Dr. Huber. “Life happens and can set you back. The failure is not the short pause, but rather the inability to jump back into a more active life style. No two patients are the same and everyone must find their own motivation to take back control of their health.”

 

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