The Right Stuff: Tips for Maintaining An Exercise Program

At the beginning of the year, you resolved to lose some weight. You started exercising regularly on January 2. But now months have passed and the gym looks more like a prison camp than an exercise facility. How can you keep exercising without feeling like you're in a torture chamber? University of Arkansas professor of kinesiology Barry Brown has suggestions for people who want to stick to an exercise program and reap its health benefits.

Set small, realistic goals. Start out with 10 minutes of exercise a day. And don't expect to see results too soon.

"People often forget that it took many years to get out of condition," Brown said. They think they will see significant improvement in a month, and become discouraged when they don't.

Be sure to set short- and long-term goals. Some people want to reap the health benefits of exercise, which requires a less vigorous exercise regimen than trying to stay fit.

"People who want to get fit want to get the "A" and not the "B,"" Brown said. "They want the energy to be able to play with their kids and their grandkids later in life."

Make exercise a priority. Decide what you want to get out of an exercise program. Do you want to lose weight? Become healthier? Realize fitness benefits? Then decide how much exercise you are willing to incorporate into your schedule.

"People use time as an excuse, but it's usually a matter of priorities," Brown said.

Do an activity you enjoy. Running, bicycling and swimming are not the only ways to achieve fitness, Brown said. Mountain climbing, circuit weight training, and even golf become ways to achieve good health and be fit if practiced properly. The next time you golf, walk instead of taking the cart.

Look at your lifestyle. When it comes to fitness, little things can make a big difference.

"You can engage in less structured activities that are not thought of as exercise and gain benefits from them," Brown said. If you park a quarter of a mile from your office and walk to work, you expend 40 to 50 extra calories a day. Multiply that by 200 days and you have burned 10,000 calories, or the equivalent of three pounds of fat, in a year.

Involve others. It's easier to stay motivated if you have an exercise partner who can affirm that you're doing well.

"It's critical to have role models" to help motivate and inspire you when trying to accomplish your goals, Brown said.

Brown has worked with more than 10,000 people over the past 34 years through campus fitness programs, and he has studied their motivation and adherence to exercise programs.

"Do people know they should exercise? Sure. Do they know the health benefits? Probably," he said. "Do we know why they quit? No."

Through fitness programs that he has supervised, Brown has found that external incentives, such as t-shirts or autographed athletic equipment, can help people stick to exercise programs in the short run.

"If we can get people to be externally motivated for three months, we hope to translate that into internal self-motivation and hope that they will stay with the program," he said.

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