Starting an exercise routine is a common New Year’s resolution, but it’s just as common to abandon that resolution early on. The path from solution to reality is often paved with setbacks.
Several factors influence whether an athletic endeavor succeeds or dies.
Planning and starting a workout routine usually seems difficult. The best advice I can give anyone is to start looking at what you have, where you are, and find a way to make ends meet.
It’s important to set realistic movement goals first. If you’re a beginner, we recommend setting aside at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day, including aerobic and strength training. If time is of the essence, instead of one 30-minute walk, you can give him three 10-minute brisk walks. Additionally, playing with the kids, working in the garden, doing housework, and cleaning the garage can also be training.
For those looking for a structured startup exercise plan, apps like Fitbod and MyFitnessPal can help.
You don’t need gym equipment for an effective workout. Some basic exercise tools are versatile and inexpensive. For example, stretch bands can be used for resistance or to help modify more difficult exercises such as pull-ups.
If free weights are not possible, you can use household items such as soup cans, water bottles, and milk jugs to perform strength training. Simple strength training can also be applied to tone the core and improve balance by transitioning from bilateral to lateral movements.
Motivation is just as important as planning your daily life. Identifying the cues that motivate you to engage in positive health behaviors can help you maintain those behaviors. It may be aesthetic. It may be performance based. Maybe you’ve been battling an illness or want to build up your endurance. Whatever it is, it’s important to remember your “why” for the goals you set. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not just a short-term solution that you check a box and then immediately abandon.
Goals that are too ambitious can lead to injury and burnout. Workouts don’t have to be intense to be effective, especially for people who are returning to exercise after an injury or illness, or after a period of inactivity. It’s human nature to try to pick up where we left off, when in reality it’s better in the long run to get used to it and progress gradually. There’s a big difference between pain from a difficult workout and pain from pushing your body beyond its limits or going too fast.
Staying active is another key to achieving your fitness goals, but it’s also important to give yourself grace when you fail. We want to foster good habits, not punish bad ones.
Accountability and support make it harder to abandon solutions when setbacks and challenges arise. Fitness technology can help by recording your activity and quantifying your progress. Smartwatches can track your steps. There are now AI-enabled scales that can show you what your body looks like at a certain weight. All of this is great if data points motivate accountability.
It is also important to note the qualitative results of exercise. Even seemingly small benefits are important, such as reduced stress, increased focus and energy, improved balance, and increased strength and mobility. These are things your friends, family, and training buddies are likely to notice and provide additional accountability and encouragement.
After all, exercise shouldn’t feel like a chore. A fitness routine is only sustainable if you enjoy it. Think about what that means to you. There is no one-size-fits-all exercise regimen. It’s about finding out how our bodies like to move and feeding it. It also relates to longevity. What you can do today is what you can do for the rest of your days.
Dr. Toby Brooks is the Director of the Athletic Training Master’s Program in the School of Health Professions at Texas Tech University Health Science Center.