Tuesday, January 5, 2016

6 Ideas to Make New Year's Fitness Resolutions Stick

First off, let me apologize for the absence the last few weeks. Winding down the year at work and the holidays got the better of me, and I've slacked off. And though I'd like to resolve to write at least an article a week, with marathon training on my plate this winter and spring, I don't want to make promises I can't keep.

But I Do Have Something to Talk About: Resolutions

A lot of fitness writers decry New Year's resolutions. They're arbitrary. They're unrealistic. They're too easy to give up on. Sure, that stuff is true. A lifelong commitment to Keeping Fit and Living Your Life shouldn't start with a simple flip of the calendar page. A serious commitment requires a concrete plan and the discipline to stick to it. I get it.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't make a resolution.

Cliche alert: Every journey begins with a single step. You have to start somewhere. If the New Year is what pushes you out the door, that's as good as anything.

So Let's Talk About Making Resolutions Work for You

Incremental Change: Set some achievable, concrete goals, and meet them. Once you do, you can set some more. Running a marathon -- or even a 5K -- might not be in your immediate future. That's OK. Maybe for now you can find time for a 15-minute walk every day. A brisk walk, not a stroll. Or if you're not sure about joining a gym and trying to lift, check out some basic bodyweight moves, like pushups and planks. You'll get better quickly, and then you can set new goals.

Do Stuff You Like: You're not going to keep doing something you absolutely hate. That's not just a Regular Guy thing -- it's just human nature. If you dread it, you'll find every reason not to do it. So find activities you enjoy. Maybe for you that's walking, or playing basketball, or riding a bike. Or maybe it really is picking things up and putting them down. Whatever you do, don't make fitness into a punishment.

Don't Overhaul Your Diet All at Once: A lot of people are tempted to cut their calories down to some tiny amount, ramp up the protein to 300 grams a day, cut out any trace of simple carbohydrates and keep a minimum 10-foot distance from added sugar. Slow down. You're going to make yourself miserable, which means you're destined to fail. And really, unless you have at least some understanding of what you're doing, you're as likely to do harm as you are good.

Learn Some Basics: You're not going to get anywhere if you don't understand the basic principles of nutrition and fitness. You don't have to get a PubNet subscription and bury yourself in research. But find a few good resources, like this one, to learn the essentials. Do you know what a macro is? How many calories do you have to burn to lose a pound? What's the difference between HIIT and steady-state cardio? The trick to achieving a goal is knowing how to get there.

Have a Back-Up Plan: Especially during the coldest months, you may not be able to exercise the way you want to. Weather is a major issue. So is daylight, especially if you live in a rural area where there's lots of wildlife. But even setting that aside, sometimes life gets in the way. If you want to run but can't hit the roads, find a cheap gym like Planet Fatness to use the treadmills. If you just want to get your heart rate up, find a good HIIT workout you can do in your living room. If you're snowed in and were hoping to lift, figure out some bodyweight alternatives. And can we talk about cold for a minute? 35 degrees isn't cold -- you just need warmer gear. I'm a notorious baby, but it has to be in the 25 range or below to keep me indoors. (Caveat: As I write this, it's 12 degrees with a wind chill of 0. I'm not running.) Don't let circumstances derail your progress.

Think About Future You, Not Present You: Many fitness-resolution articles suggest that after people miss a few days, or have a fridge binge, they say, "Screw it, it's a lost cause." Really? I don't think people do that. My wife turned me on to this concept: "Many of the decisions we make seem to suggest that we think about our future self as a different person than the one we are today." We're wired to make ourselves happy in the now. But you do lots of things for Future You. You save for retirement. You get your car's oil changed. You wash the dishes after dinner, not just when you need something clean to eat on. I'm not suggesting you pass up every opportunity for fun or enjoyment -- as I always say, if you really want the cookie, just eat the damn cookie. Just keep Future You in mind when making all these small decisions.

Tying It All Together

The bottom line with New Year's resolutions: The more easily you can fit them into your everyday life, the more likely you are to stick with them.
  • Don't bite off more than you can chew, and make sure you enjoy what you're doing. Start with some basic activity, make some small changes in your diet and don't turn it into a chore.
  • Understand the why of what you're doing. Think about Future You, and learn the basics to get there. 
  • Know that it's not a straight line. You need a backup plan, and sometimes, it just won't work at all. That's OK if you're consistent in the long run. 
What are you doing about your New Year's resolutions? I wanna hear from you! Leave a comment below, or sound off on Facebook or Twitter.

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