Regular exercise has been associated with significant improvements to physical, mental, and emotional health, including, increasing energy, decreasing stress, helping you sleep more soundly, making it easier to carry laundry up the stairs, or even playing with your grandchildren. Exercise also plays a huge role in the prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases and reduces inflammation in the body.
Despite all of these amazing benefits, starting an exercise program can be challenging and even overwhelming if you don’t have a good plan. You may have time constraints, different priorities or low energy. This is why more than 50% of those who start an exercise program will discontinue it within a year. The good news is that employing a few simple strategies before you begin exercising can help you create a program that you love and stick to.
1. Set SMART goals
SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. These parameters help us to create goals that are achievable.
Specific goals help to narrow down exactly what we are trying to accomplish. For example, a non-specific goal would be “I want to start exercising.” A specific goal would be “I want to build up to walking for 30 minutes, five days per week over the next three months.”
Measurable refers to the ability to measure whether or not you met that goal. If you can’t measure it, then how will you know if you achieved it? Having a goal of “I want to walk for 30 minutes, five days per week” is measurable because you will know if you did or didn’t do this.
Attainable goals are within your capability and help to foster success. An example of an attainable goal might be “I want to walk in the CIBC Run for the Cure this fall.” An unattainable version of this goal might be “I want to be the top finisher in the CIBC Run for the Cure this fall.”
Realistic goals make your chances of achieving them much higher. For example, if you’re not a runner, making a goal of running the CIBC Run for the Cure may not be realistic for you. However, making a goal to walk may be more realistic, and likely more achievable.
Timely goals have a time frame which they are set around. Having a time frame can help shape your goal and give you an endpoint to work towards.
One of the biggest mistakes of novice exercisers is doing too much, too quickly. Creating an exercise program requires progression of duration, frequency, and intensity. Doing too much too soon can lead to muscle pain, fatigue, and no desire to return to that activity. Rather, try pacing your activity and slowly building up. For example, if you are not used to a regular walking program and your goal is 30 minutes of walking on five days of the week, start out with 10-15 minutes on two days of the week, monitoring how you feel. Then progressively increase the frequency and duration until you meet your goal.
Sometimes having a little extra help, can give you that boost you need to get going. We can usually find things we would rather be doing, so until exercise turns into a habit, try to schedule it into your daily routine. Put it in your calendar or to-do list. You can also cue yourself by putting your running shoes by the door as a reminder to get outside for your walk, or setting out your workout clothes the night before so that you are ready in the morning. These tools help to create regularity in your new routine, and eventually, help to make it a habit.
4. Pick something you like doing
If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it. It’s just that simple. Notice whether you prefer exercising outdoors or in (but remember that we are getting into the rainy autumn, so take that into consideration when planning), alone or with a friend, as part of a class or on your own, and try to determine what type of activity you do based around these choices. There are so many different options for exercise out there…from walking to dancing to rowing to swimming to yoga to gardening. The list goes on and on. Try a few and see what you like! Enjoyment is one of the top predictors of exercise adherence, so keep that in mind when setting your SMART goals!
Since it can take anywhere between two and eight months to create a new habit, employing these four tools can help you to create your exercise goals and stick with them. Try different activities and monitor how you feel. Keep changing things up until you figure out what works for you. And above all, remember that it’s never too late to get exercising and reap the benefits associated with it!
Rachel Mark is an Exercise Therapist and Yoga Instructor at InspireHealth, an Integrated Cancer Care Centre with locations in Vancouver, Victoria, and Kelowna. She holds a Master’s degree in Kinesiology and is a RYT-500 yoga instructor. She believes that physical activity has the ability to heal the body, mind, and spirit and should be incorporated into our daily lives for substantial health benefit.