How many of us have started the year--perhaps each year--with some portion of our New Year's resolutions revolving around weight loss and exercise? We start off with wonderful intentions that too often fall flat. As a fitness class instructor, I expect to see class sizes swell in mid-January when new enrollments hit at my club, only to see those numbers begin to decline again as soon as mid-February. Why?
Well for starters, too many people approach fitness as an all or nothing deal. If I can't work out 2 hours each day every day, it's not worth it. WRONG! If you're not doing anything besides exercising your thumb on the TV remote, or fingers on a keyboard now, 20 minutes every other day is a wonderful start, even just a time or two a week! Granted, that may do no more than begin to loosen some joints that are stuck in that desk chair position, but it's a great start.
And what should those 20 minutes consist of? If you've got a health club facility or equipment available, you're ahead of the game. It's easy to hit the treadmill, but why not get creative? If you've got a lap pool (no deep end), try running in it--a great option for coming back from injuries, or protecting tender joints. You need not even get your your face or hair wet.
If you're going to include any weights--a key to increasing bone density--stick to major muscle groups to make your time spent effective.
Take advantage of any training your club may offer. There are often classes and free personal trainer time included in those new memberships. If you've never tried a class before, check one out. Granted, for the next month or so, prime lunch-hour classes and post-work classes may be packed, but there are often class times that are just a bit off those peek hours that offer some great variety. And as an instructor, I would prefer that class attendees pace themselves, and even leave early if necessary. Better that than risking injury by pushing too hard too fast. Listen to your body. Also, talk to your instructor before or after class if you've got questions. Any certified instructor has a wealth of information that he or she is required to know. However, it often just doesn't fit into the normal class format, but we are usually still happy to share.
When those 20 minutes are no longer challenging, go for another time or two a week. You may do this naturally as you explore classes, but other things to keep you motivated include music or even books on tape. It's amazing how many extra calories you can burn just trying to get to the end of a chapter, and enjoy it!
For those without the heath club option, consider finding exercise videos/DVDs to help motivate you. They are not only free at the library, but also available through all other rental options, be they online, or the local store. Just going for a walk is a great option, but if weather gets in the way, consider mall walking. Many areas even have mall walking clubs. Just leave the cash and credit cards at home to avoid any expensive side effects.
You don't need expensive equipment such as weights, either. A tricep curl with a soup can may be a great place to start, but move up to grandma's cast iron pan only when you're ready. And if you miss a day, it's no biggie. But if you keep missing days, then it's time to look at why and consider other ways to keep your motivation up. Maybe moving to a different time of day that fits your schedule better and avoids the pitfalls of needing to work late, taking the kids to soccer practice or whatever your excuse of choice is. Doing shorter sessions over the course of the day is another option when a large amount of time isn't going to work for you.
Now about those diets, again back to the all or nothing fallacy. We all know American portions are too big, and we're all confused about carbohydrates, fat and protein, but the best rule of thumb is moderation. If you can't do it on your own, get help, even if it's just frozen heart-healthy meals. Whatever works for you to keep portions in check. While it may seem wasteful to get single serving containers of everything, this can go a long way towards helping to create the mental trigger that we often need to say: stop--I've had enough.
We've all seen the new food pyramid, and probably have a good idea where we deviate from it on a daily basis. Pack your meals with nutrition--the empty calories in junk food or bad food choices leave us still feeling hungry because our bodies are still craving the nutrients they do need. Also remember that a little bit of something you love, but isn't high in nutrition, like chocolate, doesn't have to be bad. Just make it worth it. Savor it, while still controlling the portion. And as with exercise, a day off the smart eating wagon isn't a big deal, but a week is. Look for why. Cut back gradually and make it reasonable.
After all, nothing in this life is necessarily all or nothing.
Merril Miller is a full time applications programmer and webmaster. To counter the side effects of a mostly sedentary job, she became a part-time fitness instructor 8 years ago, when looking for a little extra motivation to get to the health club regularly.