Exercise resolutions: Staying the course

Question marks

If exercise was driven solely by intention, we’d all work out consistently. But as we know from experience, many outside factors affect our exercise routines. If you’ve been struggling to maintain your physical activity, instead of giving up, ask yourself these four questions:

Did I choose the right activity?

Perhaps you chose an activity that you feel you “should” do over an activity that you “want” to do. Like a diet, you are more likely to stick with an exercise program that you can maintain. Take a moment to consider what type of physical activity you enjoy and switch to that activity.

You may find that after you have been doing a physical activity program for awhile, it may be easier to add new components into the program gradually. We tend to feel comfortable with a familiar routine, and the lack of motivation in the beginning of a new exercise program may reflect difficulty with change rather than difficulty with a specific activity. Once a program is initiated, however, you may find it easy to experiment with new activities that are added onto your existing program.

Did I choose the right intensity level?

You may have the right activity, but wrong intensity level. For example, if you were running, perhaps walking or jogging would be more enjoyable. It may be better to slow down rather than to give up and return to a sedentary lifestyle or do nothing because you associate the exercise with discomfort. Remember, exercise should be a comfortable yet challenging process.

Was my schedule realistic?

Perhaps you scheduled the number of days you felt you “should” exercise and not the number of days you actually “could” exercise. If you have difficulty finding time to exercise, cut back on the number of days and increase the length of time.

How can I refocus on the benefits?

Remember the benefits that first encouraged you to begin your physical activity. Ask yourself: “If the potential benefits are still important to me, what changes can I make in order to rejuvenate my motivation?” Then, instead of letting your program go, simply reset your choice of exercise, frequency, duration or intensity.

Let go of “all or nothing” thinking, which can be a destructive force that sabotages an exercise plan. If you let go of trying to do it perfectly, you will find a way to enjoy exercise; and if you enjoy it, you’ll want to do it more. Modest success will build on itself and, over time, will lead to greater successes. Practicing "success” is a good strategy for health improvement through physical activity.

Julie Croteau, Communications Manager
Wes Alles, Director of Health Improvement Program, Stanford School of Medicine

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