Smart Steps for Long-Term Exercise Success

By Rebecca Shrum

Empowering Health & Wellness

Too often, we prioritize fitness and health, because we have an event we need to be in shape for. When we want to look good in a bridesmaid or mother-of-the-bride dress. If we’re preparing for a charity 10K run with co-workers, family or friends. Even if we’re thinking of going on a new dating site.

But to be successful, exercise should be something we all do as routinely as eating, sleeping, and taking a shower in the morning. Trying to do too much, too fast, without thoughtful planning can sabotage your best intentions and motivation over the long run.

The bottom line is that you don’t need to go from couch potato to marathon runner in a week. It’s smarter to look realistically at your life, devise a plan that will fit comfortably into it, and take small steps to increase your physical activity. This will increase your chances of success by leaps and bounds. And don’t forget the value of taking time to celebrate improvements along the way.

Make it personal.
Your life isn’t quite like anyone else’s, so it’s important to start by identifying what works for you. What activities really suit your lifestyle, time constraints, budget, and physical condition? What do you like to do? What do you hate to do? Where do you find joy? Indoors in a climate-controlled environment? Or outdoors in nature? Or a combination of both? Do some soul-searching before you lace up, and do some sole-searching about where you most enjoy working out.
Walk before you run.
Let’s say walking is where you want to start. You could easily incorporate a 15-minute walk into your schedule twice a week for the first week. Then add an extra day to the next week. Then add five minutes each day. Allow yourself the room you need to change your approach if needed and monitor your results.
Set some goals.
If you decide to walk for 30 minutes five days a week, begin by breaking that goal into monthly targets. During the first month, focus on walking three days a week for at least 10 minutes or longer each time. During the second month, walk an additional day per week (so you're up to walking four days a week). Add another day in the third month. Then, every two weeks, extend each walking session by five minutes until you reach your goal.
Make it fit.

Feeling like you don’t have time to exercise? Consider making a detailed schedule of your week and recording exercise like you would a meeting or event. Could you get up half an hour earlier every morning for a walk, and commit to going to bed earlier? Get creative and multitask. Can you add an extra lap around the mall when you're shopping?

Helpful Hint: Don't schedule exercise at a time when you always help the kids with their homework – unless of course you can take them and practice multiplication tables as you walk the neighborhood. Every week, adjust the weak points of your schedule.

Chart your progress.

Once you've set realistic goals, measure your performance. Use a health app on your phone, or record minutes you walked, ran, or exercised each day in a daily planner. You can create similar records if you do strength training, stretching, and balance programs.

Reward yourself.

Celebrate your ability to keep on keeping on. Of course, avoid rewards you may regret, such as eating a hot fudge sundae if your long-term goal is to lose pounds or fit into your high school football jersey. A better choice might be new earbuds or downloads to listen to while you walk.

As you keep your commitment to exercising week-after week, remember this: the fitter you get the better your performance will be. Before long, you’ll be able to walk four miles in the time it used to take you to do three!
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