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How To Really (Really!) Stick With Your Fitness Resolutions

Being ambitious is good. Being overly ambitious, not so much.

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fitness, aarp, the girlfriend
Jade Schulz
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OK, OK, we know. You’ve made the resolution to up your fitness game, um, how many times? We’ve been there, (not) done that, too. That’s why we went to the pros this time to get insider tips on how to go from resolution to reality. (P.S.: No. 5 is our favorite!)

1. Set S.M.A.R.T Goals
The fastest route to #fitnessfail is to set unrealistic goals. “People get discouraged because they expect quick results, but fitness changes take six to eight weeks,” says John S. Raglin, professor of kinesiology at Indiana University. “Use the S.M.A.R.T. rule,” suggests Cynthia Geyer, M.D., medical director at Canyon Ranch Spa in Lenox, Mass. “Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. If you’ve been a couch potato, a goal of being healthier is vague, not timely or easily measurable; aiming to run a 10k your first month may not be realistic or attainable. Perhaps start with a fitness tracker, measuring your daily average steps and aiming to increase by 1,000-2,000 steps a day your first week, or going to two fitness classes at the gym. If you are already walking or doing cardio, perhaps your goal is to add in some strength training.”

2. Take It Easy
Being ambitious is good. Being overly ambitious, not so much. If you suddenly start going all hardcore seven days a week, you are likely to end up injured, too sore to move and frustrated. Start slow and listen to your body. That said, we’re not buying the “I don’t have time” excuse. “Many of us get off our plan because we think exercise only counts if it is the 45- to 60-minute class or run,” Geyer says. “The benefits of 10- to 15-minute increments of movement add up during the day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, take a 15-minute walk at lunch, get off the subway one stop earlier and walk farther to work.” Those extra movements will become a lifestyle habit, which is the key to long-term success.

3. Keep Your Mojo Up
One of the biggest causes of dropping off the fitness wagon is disappointment about not seeing immediate results, especially if you’re using the scale as a gauge. Experts warn against using weight loss as goal; the scale can’t differentiate between muscle and fat, and appearance is often the last thing to change. “Instead, concentrating on your awareness of how you feel before, during and after exercise can be instrumental in helping you connect to the personal benefits: improved energy and mental focus, better mood, better-quality sleep and less stress,” Geyser says. One of our favorite motivators: our girlfriends! When you schedule exercise with your besties, it can not only deepen your friendship, you are more likely to stick with it.

4. Prepare to Fail
News flash: No one is perfect. “Even people who are doing well can let a slight setback like missing one class throw them off and end up quitting,” Raglin says. Skip the guilt, expect it to happen and plan ahead. “Have a make-up strategy in place, increasing a little bit of activity, maybe 15 minutes of walking a day. The trick is to agree to it before it happens.”

5. Sleep. No, Really, Sleep
Spending more time under the covers may actually help you meet your fitness goals. “Sleep deprivation causes shifts in our brain’s decision making: We tend to revert to our old habits instead of our new ‘goal-directed’ ones. Decision-making becomes much more emotionally driven instead of thoughtful,” Geyser says. So, yes, prioritize shut-eye — but stash your sneakers by the bed.