By Sheryl Chatfield
The first day of a new academic year marks for many people an opportunity to start or return to an exercise routine. Unfortunately, many people have trouble sticking to a fitness plan over time. Lack of motivation, family pressures, academic responsibilities, changes in the weather, and time are frequently mentioned barriers that cause people to stop exercising. There may not be any one sure-fire way to guarantee you will stick with exercise – even if you have the best of intentions, but here are a list of things compiled from research and discussions with people who have managed to make it work for the long run.
*People with enduring goals such as improve health or relieve stress are more likely to stick with exercise than those with temporary or one-time goals like lose 20 pounds or complete a 10km race. Short-term goals are still important, and some research suggests that having a goal for each workout – pace, intensity, repetitions, or duration – is helpful. However, people are more likely to stick with exercise if they can regularly remind themselves of the long-term benefits.
“Identify the times you absolutely cannot work out – even if it is just because you prefer to plan a day off every week – and leave that part of your schedule alone. Make it a point to stick to your schedule otherwise. Along those lines, stick with the same time each day whenever possible. According to fitness professionals, morning exercisers area most likely to be regular exercisers. While this does not work for all people, making it a daily routine at a regular time that works for you maximizes your chances of turning exercise into a long-term habit.
*Enlist your partner’s support when embarking on a new exercise plan. It is not necessary for partners or spouses to work out together; in fact, some couples prefer to exercise independently due to different interests or abilities. However, if your partner is threatened by time spent in exercise, your chances of staying with a program are decreased. It may help to involve your partner in conversation about your goals, your successes, and your struggles and she or he may be inspired to begin her/his own exercise program. At the very least, helping your partner feel involved rather than left behind may help her/him be more supportive of your exercise.
*Believe that you deserve to take the time. Some parents are fearful of neglecting their children by spending time in exercise. However, improving your health will make you a stronger parent, and you are providing a positive role model for your children by showing that exercise can be a priority for grown ups.
*Find friends to exercise with, but stick with your plan even when they are not available. Social support seems to be important for people when the initiate an exercise plan but tends to be of decreasing importance over time. Your friends may make it easier to get through a tough work out, but as lives and priorities change over time, your workout buddies may drop off or move away. Your best bet is to become the member of the group that everyone else counts on to always show up.
*Pick a fitness activity or activities you like. People are far more likely to stick with something that is enjoyable and offers a reasonable amount of challenge. On the other hand, if exercise is seen as just another chore, like cleaning house or doing laundry, chances are you will look for ways to avoid it. Try a variety of things until you identify the ones you like. It may help keep things fresh if you change activities yearly or seasonally. Don’t limit yourself to the things you used to do – believe me, there are things around now that I wish had been available when I was young, including roller blades, snow boards, and some of the types of group exercise currently available. (Not to mention the much better-looking workout clothing than we had in the 1970s!)
What works or has worked for you? Email me with your suggestions.
Sheryl Chatfield is currently a graduate student in Health and Kinesiology in the Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management Department at Ole Miss. She plans to complete her dissertation work during the 2013-14 academic year. Sheryl grew up in central Ohio and took a 20-year break from academics after completing her bachelor’s degree at The Ohio State University. Through the years, she has worked as a piano teacher, an insurance broker, a landscaper, a disability recreation assistant and a lifeguard. Her other less profitable past experiences have included playing in rock bands, small-scale sheep farming and winemaking. She has traveled to Europe several times and lived in Pocatello, Idaho; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Lake Worth, Florida; and Hattiesburg, Mississippi, before temporarily settling down in Oxford to complete her Ph.D. degree in health and kinesiology with emphasis on health behavior and promotion. In addition to being a graduate student and instructor, Sheryl enjoys running, cycling, swimming, working on bicycles, sewing, and reading.
Email Sheryl at: email@example.com
Starting an exercise plan – and staying with it!