Finding it hard to make exercise stick? Maybe you're going about it all wrong.
The secret to exercise adherence is creating your own road map to success, not copying someone else's. Sure, you can try what worked for your sister, neighbour, co-worker or the gang on The Biggest Loser, but in the end you'll be the loser.
That said, there are a few wrong turns you'll want to avoid when creating your road map as well as some best practices you should keep in mind. These simple dos and dont's are designed to steer you in the right direction with a minimum number of false starts and detours. So while it's easy to get lost en route to becoming a regular exerciser, these tips will help you find your way.
Stay in the present: The best exercisers learn to appreciate and enjoy the moment instead of just going through the motions. Focus on your technique, how your body feels and the many small accomplishments you make every workout. Lifelong exercisers aren't just concerned about the end result, be it losing a few pounds or achieving a personal best, they also know how to derive satisfaction from the process itself.
Have an express workout ready: With the latest studies suggesting short, intense bouts of exercise are just as effective as longer, steady-state workouts, it's not only smart to have a 20-minute express workout at the ready, it's essential. As daunting as your goal seems, the real challenge is trying to stay on track with your workouts when the kids get sick, the boss pushes up your deadline or your in-laws visit. It's the ability to juggle day-to-day plans while still getting in a workout that's the difference between occasional exercisers and regular exercisers.
Get enough sleep: Getting motivated to exercise is tough enough; you don't need to battle exhaustion on top of it. If that's not reason enough to get some shut-eye, consider the fact that studies now suggest a lack of sleep has been associated with carrying excess weight. Ironically, regular exercise is one of the strategies sleep experts suggest for getting a good night's sleep, which suggests sleep and exercise are not such strange bedfellows.
Get your workout in early: The longer you put off your workout, the more likely it is life will get in the way. Admittedly, pulling on your exercise gear before breakfast takes some getting used to, so start by incorporating one morning workout into your weekly routine. Still too early? Delay your workout to lunch, which allows you to grab an extra few zzzs (see above) in the morning while getting your workout done before the demands of supper, homework, carpooling and must-see TV get in the way.
Set goals you can't obtain: I'm the first one to recommend setting a big goal, but don't make it so big it's impossible to achieve. Weight-loss goals can fall into that category. So, too, do goals that don't take into account your likes, dislikes and lifestyle. Start with attainable, small goals that build your confidence and keep you coming back for more, which is what setting goals is all about.
Let exercise become routine: Not only does doing the same thing the same way every day become boring, in the world of exercise it also becomes less effective. The fittest of fit are those who mix up their workouts, taxing their bodies in different ways on different days. That type of non-routine constantly forces your heart and muscles to adapt, which is the best way to become stronger and more functionally fit.
Refuel after every workout: There has been a lot of press about the importance of eating for exercise, but that doesn't mean you need to eat before and/or after every workout. Moderate workouts of less than an hour don't need a special pre- or post-workout diet. Do the math. If your workout burns fewer than 600 calories and you aren't planning a second workout during the day, your muscles will get all the energy they need by eating a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Do what the other guy is doing: As tempting as it is to emulate the guy or gal who swears their workout and/or diet is the key to longevity, injury prevention, weight loss or any other too-good-to-be-true outcome, don't do it. When it comes to exercise and diet, the results vary considerably between individuals. Studies have proven individuals who consume the same diet don't all gain or lose the same amount of weight. The same goes for exercise. The same routine doesn't always result in the same physiological results.
The best routine is the one that keeps you coming back for more.
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