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Exercise for Life!

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Nine simple strategies that will turn your workout into a can't-live-without habit.

Steps 1 - 3

You've heard it before: Regular exercise increases your energy and metabolism, improves strength and flexibility, decreases stress, brightens your mood and helps fight disease as you age. With all those fantastic benefits, why would you ever skip a workout? Alas, fitting it in can be difficult as your life gets busier. What you need is a plan that makes out as much second nature as brushing your teeth. Use these nine strategies to turn exercise into your favorite new habit.

1. Pick the right buddy

Exercising with a peer can make the difference between quitting or sticking with a fitness plan, but not just any old buddy will do. Find someone who's fitter than you are, suggests John Jakicic, Ph.D., an associate professor of exercise science at Brown Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island, who supervises an ongoing exercise study called the Mentor Program. After starting 120 people on a walking plan, he split the group into "mentors" (those who excel at exercise and who were losing more weight) and "mentorees" (those who were lagging behind or weren't seeing results). Jakicic found that not only do the the mentorees do better and stick to exercise when matched with advanced exercisers, but the mentors -- who provide follow-up calls, companionship and advice -- perform significantly better when paired with the mentorees.

2. Mix it up

"Motivation may ebb and flow over the course of a few months, so learn how to ride the waves," says Scott. If you're occasionally uninspired or feel like you've hit a plateau, change your routine. Hire a personal trainer once a month to reorganize your program, try a martial arts class with your kids, or sign up for flamenco lessons. "You'll be stronger and have more energy for all of your other activities, and it will keep you motivated to exercise," says Scott. You can also spice things up simply by altering the intensity or duration of your workout or switching from weight machines to dumbbells. Research shows that your body adapts to an exercise after just two to three weeks. Think of this as your "grace period." After that, you'll stop seeing results unless you take action.

3. Get a daily dose

"To make exercise a ritual, avoid taking two consecutive days off," urges Richard Cotton, chief exercise physiologist for First Fitness, a consulting company based in Salt Lake City. People who work out just once or twice a week are more likely to fall off the exercise wagon than those who do it three or more times a week, he explains. That's because consistency affects adherence more do than how long you work out or what you do. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you exercise three to five days per week; if you can squeeze in only three, spread them out over the week to sustain your momentum.

Next:  Steps 4 - 6


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