Every January brings with it the New Year and the promise of change, growth and progress. For many people this includes resolutions for self-improvement such as: volunteer more often, be a better friend or family member, quit smoking, etc. The most popular of these is the resolution to exercise more, eat healthy and lose weight. While the resolution to improve one’s health is very noble, many go about it the wrong way and end up abandoning the resolution after a few weeks or months.
Have you ever noticed all the local gyms are very busy January through March and then the numbers slowly dwindle? Adhering to an exercise routine requires planning ahead, joining a gym or club of some sort, packing workout gear, and maintaining motivation levels. The tendency is to initially dive in to working out with reckless abandon going from never stepping foot in a gym to exercising 6 days a week or from being a couch surfer to running 3 miles on the treadmill. For most people it is difficult to maintain such a schedule, and as life tries to interfere with the resolution to exercise more, it is easy to lose motivation or rationalize missed gym visits. Motivation also wanes when the spontaneous 3-mile run causes such severe soreness that it is hard to drag oneself out of bed in the morning.
Instead of a resolution, why not make a lifestyle change? I propose making a plan instead of a resolution. First, decide how many days a week you can realistically commit to working out. Second, what is your end goal? Whether it is to lose weight or train for a 5K adventure race, you need to establish a training program to build up to your goal. This also prevents unnecessary severe soreness and the risk for injuries such as shin splints and back pain. Motivation is maintained easier when one can accomplish goals and see consistent progress. Participation in group classes, running/training groups, finding a workout buddy or working with a personal trainer can also help maintain motivation levels.
A lifestyle change also implies a change beyond hitting the gym. There should also be an effort to eat a well-rounded diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, whole grains and plenty of water. Planning out meals for the week ahead of time, on Sunday for example, reduces the risk of reaching for unhealthy options simply out of convenience. A healthy diet will complement your new exercise regimen to produce desired results.
Now, there is one aspect of a healthy lifestyle that many people forget or discard due to time constraints: stretching. Stretching is the key to soreness and injury prevention. It also helps reduce or get rid of many bodily aches and pains caused by increased tension and strain resulting from tight muscles. So let’s say you have followed everything I have suggested above and still end up with soreness after a challenging workout. Here are a few quick tips: drink plenty of water (yes, water, not sports drinks), massage the sore muscles gently with a foam roller, do a light workout (ex. gentle walking or biking) to remove any left-over lactic acid from the muscles, apply ice to sore joints or muscles, and in case you forgot … stretch.
There are plenty of resources available these days to track your exercise and nutrition progress from blogging, smart phone apps, and websites to the old fashion daily planner. Tracking progress will provide concrete proof of your accomplishments and can help bolster motivation on days where the couch is calling your name. A simple internet search will provide a multitude of walking, running, weight lifting, and interval or cross training programs, meal plans and recipes available to print and immediately put to use. Sticking to a healthier lifestyle has never been easier. Now get planning and I hope to see you in the gym and grocery store long past March and into the next New Year.