Another New Year is upon us and with it another round of New Year’s Resolutions.
Estimates are that over 40% of Brits make a commitment to change something about themselves in the year ahead. Out of these resolutions, health and fitness ones are by far the most common. Losing weight alone accounts for over 20% in some studies and weight loss, getting in shape, or exercising (starting or increasing) lead the list of resolutions almost every year. Yet less than 10% of people are successful in meeting their New Year’s goals, often abandoning their self-improvement plans within the first few weeks of the new year.
How do you then go about making and more importantly keeping, a promise to yourself to be leaner, fitter and healthier in the New Year?
First, why should you jump on the bandwagon of making a resolution to get in shape anyway? If this is one of the most common resolutions and over 90% fail at keeping it, perhaps it’s just too hard or not worth the effort. We’ll look at ways to make this resolution easier to keep later on, but let’s start by reviewing some of the well-known benefits of following a regular exercise program.
Losing weight is the goal for 1 in 5 people, nothing is better or more important for losing weight than regular exercise. Dieting can help too – at least temporarily – diet books, diet plans and dietary supplements are a multi-billion-dollar industry, but as we’ll see, exercise is, or can be, free or at least very inexpensive.
The simple key to weight loss is to burn more calories than you take in, any exercise no matter how brief or low-intensity, burns calories. You probably know someone who is thin, or at least not significantly overweight, who battles against one or more physical or mental conditions. Regular exercise has been shown to increase good cholesterol and decrease bad, lower blood pressure, prevent or help manage strokes, diabetes, depression, some types of cancer and arthritis, it also helps prevent falls, improve mood and self-esteem, boost your sex life and improve sleep.
If none of these are enough to get you to commit to regular exercise in the new year, exercise will improve your muscular strength and endurance and give you more energy to deal with your daily activities. In other words, even if your New Year’s Resolutions do not include losing weight, getting in shape or anything else that sounds fitness related, you should exercise regularly just so that your daily grind of driving the kids to school, going to work and hauling groceries is easier and less exhausting.
Speaking of the daily grind, how do you find the time to add exercise to your busy day and if you start, how do you ensure that you won’t be one of the 90% who stop? Follow this simple, three-step process. First, choose a realistic goal, second make exercise a habit and third, employ a commitment device. Even if you’ve tried to exercise before and failed, or if you’ve never really tried regular exercise before, it’s a fresh New Year – let’s make a fresh start!
1. Be Realistic
Big, hairy audacious goals (BHAG) may be all the rage on Wall Street or with the consulting crowd, but when it comes to adding exercise to your daily routine, less is more. Starting small and ramping up in terms of length and intensity is far more likely to be a successful strategy, than is committing to a marathon when your current “running” shoes are a pair of sneakers you wear with jeans on the weekend. Both in terms of available time in an already stretched schedule and ability to pick a goal you can stick with, without physical or mental exhaustion, start with 15 minutes a day.
2. Be consistent
Much of what we do every day, walking, eating, driving to work, is done almost automatically by habit without thinking about it. Any activity, repeated often enough becomes a habit, this includes bad habits like smoking and overeating and good habits like exercise. To make exercise a habit you have to start by doing it consistently. Research shows that whatever you do consistently for 21 straight days becomes a habit. The same place and time also helps ingrain new behaviour, so resolve to get up 15 minutes early if necessary, and work out for 15 minutes first thing every morning, you’ve not only created a new habit but your resolution has outlasted almost everyone else’s.
3. Be committed
Often it takes more than willpower alone to get through those first 21 days. It can also help to employ what economists call a “commitment device”. There are many examples and wordy definitions on-line, but essentially a commitment device is anything that gives you a reward for keeping your resolution and/or a punishment for not doing so. This can be a simple as posting your plans on social media – emotional support and meeting other’s expectations can be powerful commitment devices. Working out with a partner or group is also a good commitment device, it’s harder to stay in bed at 6am if you know your friend is already out of bed and counting on you to be there to exercise together. Interestingly, buying expensive exercise equipment or joining a gym are not good commitment devices. Gym membership increases by as much as 50% each January and by mid-February 80% of new members have already stopped going regularly. Make exercise a habit first, join the gym later.
Which brings us to our final point regarding the new you in the New Year, what exercise program should you do? Again, start with something simple, realistic and what you’re likely to stick with. This could mean nothing more than walking for 15 minutes every morning or even just taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator. In today’s information age there are hundreds of exercise programs available on DVD or streaming video. There are books and magazines if you are more old-school and smartphone or tablet apps for the tech savvy. Whatever program or programs you pick try to find one that uses body weight for resistance or otherwise does not require a large commitment in terms of money and space for equipment. Remember, an unused treadmill is not a commitment device, it’s a clothes hanger.
Finally, if you have no other place to start, begin with the below workout. It’s designed for beginners, but is flexible enough for more advanced exercisers or workout partners. It requires no equipment except for a good pair of shoes and some comfortable clothing, it works out all parts of the body and includes some aspects of cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility. Lastly, it focuses on time working out, not weights, reps or sets. It can be done generally in less than 15 minutes allowing time between exercises to rest, towel off and hydrate.
If you are new to exercise, always check with your physician before starting any exercise program, but no matter where you’re starting from you can find a program to meet your needs. Don’t just make a New Year’s Resolution, resolve instead to make a new you!
15 Minute Body Weight Work Out
Hip Swings (side) – 30 seconds
- Stand up straight with feet shoulder width apart.
- Keep your left leg straight and lift it out to the side as far as it will go without discomfort.
- Swing it back across your body in front of your right (support) leg. Then swing it back out to the side and repeat for 30 seconds. Switch legs.
- Keep your torso upright, don’t lean, and keep your swinging leg straight.
Hip Swings (front) – 30 seconds
- Similar to the above except swing your leg directly forward and back.
- Do 30 seconds on each leg.
These two exercises help warm up your large muscles and cardiovascular system for the exercises to follow, improve flexibility in your hips and your ability to balance, and strengthen your core.
Hip Rotations – 30 seconds each side
- Start from a similar shoulder-width stance.
- Stand on your right leg. Lift your left leg, flexed 90 degrees at the left knee.
- Extend your flexed knee from the hip out to your left side.
- Return to the starting position and repeat for 30 seconds. Switch sides.
Good Mornings – 30 seconds
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands touching behind your head, elbows bent. (Don’t interlock your fingers).
- Bend forward from your hips. Knees should not be locked, but the motion is from the hips, not the knees.
- Keep your head up and your back flat. Straighten up and repeat.
- An old-school exercise for your core.
Wood Choppers – 30 seconds each side
Another core exercise. This one for the obliques (love handles) mostly.
- Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Extend both arms up at 45 degrees toward the left shoulder.
- Bring them down together across your body toward your left hip.
- Return to the starting position and report for 30 seconds.
- Change arm direction for another 30 seconds.
Cross Body Rotations – 30 seconds
Also for the core but adds shoulders and flexibility.
- Again, stand up straight with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Extend both hands out to your sides.
- Keeping your feet flat, rotate back and forth from your hips swinging your outstretched arms.
Wall Sits – 1 minute
- Stand with your back flat against the wall again.
- Sit down as far as you can and still hold the position, but no further than with your legs parallel to the ground.
- Hold for as long as you can with a goal of one minute. Keep your back flat. Your hands can rest on your hips, or be held out in front for an added challenge.
A great exercise for the quads (front of the legs) and glutes and for sports that depend on them like skiing or skating.
Split Squat – 30 seconds each side
- Start with one foot approximately one foot ahead of the other and feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend your knees and lower your body toward the floor. Be sure your front knee does not go past the toes on your front foot and keep your body upright.
- Repeat for thirty seconds each side.
Works the front of the legs and the core. More advanced exercisers can alter the length of their step and/or add hand weights to work different muscles or make the move more challenging.
Side Lunge – 30 seconds each side
- Stand with your hands on your hips and your feet hip-width apart.
- Move your left foot out to the side, flex that knee and hip, lowering your body toward the floor. Your right leg should be at a slight angle and your left should not extend beyond a 90 degree angle. Don’t let your knee go past your toes on your flexed leg.
- Stand back up, pushing through your heel on the left leg.
- Repeat for 30 seconds each side.
The longer your step to the side the more you use your glutes, but this exercise works your whole lower body and core. Because it uses so many muscles it also burns a lot of calories.
Push Ups – 1 minute
An old standby for core, chest and arm strength. Do as many as you can with good form (back straight, head neutral) in one minute. You can do these from your knees or even upright facing a wall if needed until you develop the strength to do them flat on the floor. A single good push up from your knees beats five bad ones prone.
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