Christmas is the time of the year we spend with our families and friends; it is also the time of the year where we sit together, eat and indulge more than we usually do. Christmas time is followed by New Year´s resolutions: year after year we come up with the common intentions of eating healthier, getting into shape or losing weight.
Having worked in a gym during my student years I saw the number of members increasing drastically during the first few weeks of every new year. I also observed that, initially, these motivated new members came to sweat every day, pushing themselves to their limits in advanced gym classes or with weight equipment. However, around February many of the new members would call it quits and around April, mostly the long-term gym members would be left. The phenomenon of exercise drop-out is not new: research shows that as many as 50% of exercise beginners will stop being physically active within the first 6 months.
But why are our resolutions to live a healthier lifestyle and exercise so difficult to fulfill? What is the secret behind a long-lasting New Year´s resolution? Well, if I knew the definite answer to that I would probably be rich and permanently employed by some popular fitness magazine. The truth is, there is no clear-cut answer. Nevertheless, I have tried to discover the secret of an effective New Year`s fitness resolution and came up with five rules that can make it easier for us to put forward as well as follow through with our annual exercise intentions.
Rule 1: Come up with one specific fitness resolution
In an earlier blog post, Snezana Stoljarova already addressed one big enemy of our intentions: our lack of willpower. Snezana cited research that showed that our willpower is limited and should thus be focused on one behavior change at a time. Planning to cut down on half of the daily calories, doing four gym classes every week as well as going for a run every morning might just be too drastic a change, and will eventually lead to the abandonment of all intentions. Why not start with one clear resolution and then progressively add small challenges?
Rule 2: Find yourself a fitness-support group
It has been acknowledged that the social environment in which we exercise is of great importance, meaning that we need practical and emotional support from our loved ones to follow through with an exercise program. So go ahead and tell your parents, closest friends or partner that you will – definitely – adhere to your fitness plan. Really show off with your intentions and talk about your specific workout plans, and you can be sure that they will remind you if you fail to follow through.
Rule 3: Do a sport that you like
You don`t like the gym? Then don`t go there! You have never been the ‘running-type’? Then accept that. Try to find out which sport you like most; if you are the team sport exerciser or an individual sport exerciser. This will mean getting out of your comfort zone and trying new things, but it’s worth it because if you truly enjoy a sport, the exercise will not feel like a ‘chore’ and you will stick with that sport long-term.
Rule 4: Be aware of the intensity of your exercise
If you haven`t been a regular exerciser before, pace yourself in the first weeks and don´t overdo it. Creating an individual exercise routine is something that takes time and needs to be adapted to your fitness level. Exercisers need to experience their workout regimen as being achievable and realistic for them. If you push yourself too hard in the beginning you will feel demotivated, tired, overwhelmed, sore and definitely not in the mood for another workout anytime soon. So take it easy during the initial phase of your exercise routine and try to stop exercising before you are exhausted.
Rule 5: Be patient and consistent
A famous psychological model of behavior change states that there are several necessary steps that you need to progress through to effectively and permanently change your behavior. A person needs to exercise regularly for at least 6 months for the behavior to become a habit and be maintained in the long run. That explains the sudden drop-out of gym members during the first few months: these members haven´t reached the maintenance stage of their newly acquired behavior yet. If you exercise regularly for at least half a year, it is quite likely that you will continue doing so for the years to come. And what is half a year in comparison to a fit future?
If we follow these five rules, our New Year´s fitness resolutions could finally become reality. So let me know how it´s going for you with YOUR resolutions. You will find me in the gym…