Keeping It Going
First of all, congratulate yourself on making fitness a priority in your life. Making that commitment is often challenging, but it yields substantial immediate and long-term benefits. However, you may find it difficult to keep up your progress. There are several steps you can take to help you stay on track. Although no one solution can motivate all people to stay physically active, the following general guidelines may make it a little easier to keep on moving.
Set goals. Ask yourself what you want to accomplish through physical activity. Include both short-term and long-term goals. Periodically set some new goals if you've met your original ones. Try running a race or tackling a hill in your neighborhood that you always skip. Revisit the self-tests you used before beginning your exercise program, and re-evaluate your fitness level. The improvements you see can be very motivating.
Write it down. Putting your intentions in writing can make a big difference in the success of any behavioral change. First, list all the reasons why you want to become more active. This is a good reminder to have at your fingertips when you can't get to the gym or go for a walk outside. Make some copies and hang them in strategic places — at work, on the refrigerator, etc. — where you can see them, and look to them for motivation.
You can also write up a contract that states your goals and how you plan to achieve them. For example, you might write, "I want to lose 15 pounds. I agree to walk for 45 minutes at lunchtime, four times a week. When it rains, I will ride my stationary bike after work instead."
Next, make a list with two columns — one with barriers that might prevent you from fitting in activity and the other with possible solutions. For example, if your problem is not having enough time to exercise, your solution might be to wake up earlier.
Create a support system for the changes you've made in your life. An exercise partner can be helpful; it's hard to skip a workout when someone is waiting to meet you. Interacting with people during activity can also make it seem more like a social outlet and less like a chore.
Involve other people in your new lifestyle choices. Let them know how important these changes are to your well-being, and seek their support. Tell your friends you'd like to engage in more physical activities; for instance, instead of meeting for coffee, suggest going for a walk together.
Learn something new. Boredom is a major reason why people stop exercising. Trying a new activity can help alleviate any staleness you may encounter. Ever wonder what it would be like to snowboard or kickbox? Try it. Learning a new skill can keep your physical activity challenging and can boost you past a plateau. You'll be using different muscles and proprioceptors (the receptors that give you your sense of position in space).
Schedule it. If you don't schedule your daily bouts of exercise, they will become much easier to skip. Get a calendar and plan out how you'll fit in at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. And write down the activity you plan to do each day.
Reward yourself. When it comes to exercise, there's a lot of guilt out there. Positive reinforcement feels good, and it works. When you reach a goal, reward yourself with a new pair of sneakers or a new CD. Just try to avoid using food as the reward. One idea is to "pay" yourself for every workout or for every mile you walk. Consider buying something that fuels your motivation for continuing to exercise, such as a new book on tape to listen to on the treadmill.
Make your health a priority. Reflect on how much better you've felt since you started working out and acknowledge the importance of staying healthy.