Does it seem a little harder to keep our fitness routine these days? Seasons shift. Schedules shift. Commitments compete for our time. And now, cooler temperatures and fewer sunlit hours send us inward, cocooning, hovering near the soup pot (or the leftover Halloween candy). What happened to our fitness vows and how can we rekindle them? Here are some answers from the pros.
Do it for You: the Energy - Relaxation Loop
Studies have shown that the best reason to exercise is to feel good. According Dr William Stone, Chair and Professor of Exercise & Wellness at Arizona State University, the long-term exerciser’s strategies and rationale for exercising are non-existent; they’re on autopilot. The “faithful” maintain a fit lifestyle, not for weight management or appearance, but because they simply like to feel and be well.
“The number one reason to stick to a fit lifestyle is fitness itself,” says Stone. “For the feeling of wellness that comes part and parcel with getting to the mat, or gym, or hiking or whatever.”
What are some of these feelings?
A general sense of well being, more pep and energy, greater alertness, yet simultaneously, a more relaxed state and better sleep quality. Exercise triggers this loop. “You have to continue to be physically active in order to achieve these feelings,” says Stone. “If you are an exerciser, you know that that feeling can go away if you stop.” So fitness can almost be addictive. Indeed, some people do carry it too far, until it interferes with their job, their family, their life. But a healthy approach is to make your fitness routine a priority, automatic—kind of like exercising to live and not the reverse.
Keep that Feeling
You can ensure that you maintain your program, whether it's yoga, weights, Pilates, dance, anything:
• Dress For Success
Get some clothes that you really like. Have them cleaned, packed and keep them either by the door, or in the car. Have your water bottle filled, iPod charged.
• Mix it Up
According to Julie Emmerman, Psy.D., a Boulder-based psychotherapist specializing in athletes and also a former pro mountain biker, same is lame.
“If we do anything for too long without change, we will get bored.” Everyone has options. “I combine solitary aerobic activity with gym workouts that are more social,” she says. Also, try to adapt to shifting situations. “I accept that weather and schedules will require more flexibility. I try to structure workouts with people in the darker months because I know that will keep me going.”
• Find a Friend
For fun, for support. If you know someone with a similar schedule, similar interests, similar aerobic level, keep it social. Call or email the night before.
“Even if I don’t work out with someone,” says Emmerman, “just having a rapport with others at the gym who are half expecting to see me will encourage me to get there.”
• Avoid Work-Out Saboteurs
Stone warns against hooking up with saboteurs. “There are people that might say, “let’s go eat instead.” Steer clear.
• Don’t Catastrophise
Big word, bigger idea. You missed a session; it’s not the end of the world. According to Stone, “the long term adherent might say, ‘ok, I’ve sprained my ankle, and I need to take ten days off, but based on past experience, I know I am an active person, and I will get back when this is resolved.'" Injuries, illness, visiting relatives, business trips; stuff comes up. Just jump back into your routine as soon as possible.
• Grade School Approach
A simple way to set and keep fitness goals is the SMART system. Dr. Charlie Brown, Ph.D., sports psychologist, fps-Performance director and an American College of Sports Medicine expert, reminds us how it works: “Lots of sports psychologists know that setting smart (SMART) goals is critical for success and confidence,” says Brown. “Your confidence comes from how well you have achieved your goals.”
S – Set specific goals for yourself.
M – Make sure they are Measurable.
A – Be Action oriented, in terms of what you are and aren’t going to do.
R – Ensure goals are Reasonable, yet still challenging.
T – Implement Time oriented goals. “Say for the next two weeks, I am going to do that,” s ays Brown. “Then re-evaluate.”
Another big element is part of your SMART planning: Think It, Ink It. “Put it down,” says Brown. “Research shows us that if you commit to a goal, and actually write it down, your probability of completing that goal is much greater.” It also makes life planning easier when your fitness time is blocked out in your calendar or Blackberry.
“Goals affect your energy and the choices you make,” says Brown. “We know that if you are really close to achieving your specific goals, you actually tend to dig a little deeper to make sure you get there.”
Keeping fit is its own reward, inside and out. “I tally up all the reasons I want to exercise,” says Emmerman. “What it does for me internally is more important than what it does for me physically.”
Because it‘s There
Enjoy your workouts, simply because you can. “I remind myself that it is a privilege to have a body that works,” says Emmerman. “I want to do what I can to keep enjoying it.”