By Chris Woolston, M.S.
It doesn't take much effort to sign up for a gym membership. Getting the right pair of shoes, choosing a workout outfit, finding an hour in your schedule -- no problem. But sticking to a routine that will get you real results -- that's the stumbling block that separates the successful exercisers from the rest of the crowd.
Recent surveys suggest that half of all Americans don't get enough exercise. Put in a more positive way, half of us are doing the right thing for our bodies. What's the secret to staying active? More than anything else, people who manage to get plenty of exercise in their lives are motivated to move. Even if exercise seems like drudgery, you can get motivated, too. Here are some tips:
Plan ahead. Many people make the mistake of planning to hit the gym when time permits. In other words, every other little thing comes first. If possible, try making a schedule and keeping to it.
Make it fun. The best way to liven up your workout it so find something you really enjoy. If you have a competitive streak, perhaps you should take up tennis. If you enjoy dancing, there are all sorts of classes that will give you a chance to get down. A walk can be fun too, especially if you go with a friend or a grateful dog.
Mix it up.Trying several different activities over the week-- athletes call it cross training-- will put a little variety in your routine while working different muscle groups. You're also less likely to suffer an overuse injury if you aren't doing the same motions every day.
Build exercise into your daily routine. Try to walk or bike on as many errands as you can, working up to at least 45 minutes a day. That way you'll be sure to get exercise even if you can't make it to the gym or dance floor.
Engage your brain. Many people find that a treadmill is a great place to read a book or listen to music. A book or mp3 player can help you fight boredom while you're working your body.
Don't forget your kids. If you've got children, get outside and play with them or try a game or two of Wii tennis. Informal games of tag, jumprope or badminton will get your circulation going, and you'll have fun, too.
Eat for energy. If you're feeling too wiped out to work out, you may need to take a look at your diet. Small meals throughout the day are much better option that just a couple of big meals spaced widely apart. Try snacking on high-protein foods such as nuts and high-fiber foods such as fruits. The food will fuel your brain and give you the energy to tackle your routine.
Don't let a chronic condition slow you down.Check in with your doctor, of course, but don't let, say, arthritis keep you from exercising. If daily walks are too hard on your joints, try water exercise and strength-building. Regular exercise not only builds strength and mobility, but it goes a long way toward easing daily aches and pains.
Reward yourself. Make yourself a promise: If you exercise on schedule for three weeks or a month you'll get a much-deserved treat--perhaps a new workout outfit or a movie out. You might even try putting some money in a jar every time you exercise. It's a good visual reminder of your dedication, and, after awhile, you can buy something nice for yourself with the proceeds.
Don't give up easily. Remember, exercise gets easier as you go along. Don't throw in the towel just because you feel tired or aren't making the kind of progress you hoped for. As a successful exerciser, you're in this for the long haul.
The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
Mayo Clinic. Fitness programs: 7 tips for staying motivated. 2010. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fitness/HQ01543
Centers for Disease Control. Prevalence of Regular Physical Activity Among Adults -- United States, 2001 and 2005. November 2007. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5646a1.htm
Arthritis Foundation. Staying motivated to exercise. 2010. http://www.arthritistoday.org/fitness/motivation/motivated-to-exercise.php