Setting realistic goals, developing a plan and enlisting help are some of the keys to maintaining health and fitness resolutions.
Photo by Marilyn Campbell.
Many Americans begin the new year with vows to lose weight, eat healthier and exercise. For some, keeping those resolutions can become a source of stress, and by February, gym memberships and new fitness equipment often sit unused.
“If you’ve never been athletic and haven’t worked out regularly in years, setting a goal to run a marathon by June could be setting yourself up for failure.”
— Tina Sneed
“The problem comes when people see Jan. 1 as a time to make broad, sweeping transformations,” said Bethesda psychologist Barbara Lynn. “You have to remember that you can’t change an elephant into a butterfly. The focus should be on making realistic, positive lifestyle changes.”
Setting realistic goals and developing a plan to attain them will help avoid frustration and the ultimate abandonment of resolutions. It’s especially useful to have a mindset that fitness resolutions are about adding healthy habits to one’s day in incremental steps.
“First you have to be honest with yourself,” said Tina Sneed, a clinical social worker who lives in Potomac. “If you’ve never been athletic and haven’t worked out regularly in years, setting a goal to run a marathon by June could be setting yourself up for failure.”
Instead, Sneed suggests going for a 30-minute walk or hitting the gym three times each week. If your goal is to eat healthier, try swapping an additional fruit or vegetable for a highly processed food.
“Habits, both healthy and unhealthy, take time to change,” said Ben King, a personal trainer in Potomac. “If you gradually add exercise and healthy foods to your diet and slowly move away from a sedentary lifestyle and remove unhealthy foods, you’re more likely to make lasting changes. The important thing is to set small, attainable goals and keep moving forward.”
Write goals and track your progress in a journal. “Keep track of how many times a week you get moving, whether it was a 20-minute walk to the grocery store or 30 minutes on a treadmill,” said Sneed. “Spend time planning meals and snacks so that you have more control over what you eat. Don’t wait until you’re hungry to decide. Carve out time in your day to do something physical, even if it is small. At the end of the week, you can look back at what you’ve done and be encouraged.”
Remember that there is strength in numbers. “Join an exercise class or a weight loss group,” said King. “Seeing others who are working toward the same goals and achieving success can be encouraging, and sharing ideas and strategies can be very powerful.”
Enlisting the help of professionals like a personal trainer or licensed therapist might be necessary to making some lifestyle changes. “If you overeat, consider seeing a mental health professional to understand what is behind that behavior,” said Lynn. “If you’re having trouble making healthy eating choices, it might be time to see a nutritionist.”