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Keep It Going

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People often have ideas about exercise similar to common ideas about diet: if you want to lose weight you exercise for a while and then when you lose weight you can stop.

That's fine if you want to spend your life yo-yoing up and down in your weight, and if you want your health to never be as good as it could and should be. Is that really what you want?

Maybe you are not allowing exercise into your life because you fear it. Maybe that's because you think it will be too hard, or that you won't be good enough at it. It may be because you have bad memories of exercising. This was definitely the case with me. Gym class is torture for a fat kid like I was. I had to change clothes where everyone could -- and did -- check out my oversized body and stretch marks. Other kids would stare, point, laugh. Then in class I was unable to do the activities the other kids did.

But exercise doesn't have to be hard or scary. You don't have to start exercising by running a mile. You can start by just walking a little. The great thing about exercise is that it's progressive. You build on what you've already accomplished. Wherever you start, you just have to continuously do a little bit more as your body becomes accustomed to its new efforts. Even if you're so overweight that you can hardly make it to the end of the block, that's okay. That's your starting point. We each have our own starting points, but you would probably be surprised by how many people who exercise regularly started at the same place you are.

Here are some steps to follow to start an exercise program, continue with it, make it a part of your life and ultimately get so addicted to it you won't want to stop!

1. Understand where you are and start at your own level. It does you no good at all to try and start by following the same plan as someone who's been exercising for years. You can work your way up to that level, and in fact it will be easier than you think to do so, but not if you try to do too much too soon.

2. Progress! Not only does this help you continuously improve, it also makes exercise more fun. Always have a goal in mind that you want to achieve. If this week you can walk for 25 minutes, next week walk for 30 minutes. If this week you can lift 20 pounds for 12 reps, next week try 25 pounds for eight or 10 reps. Challenging yourself keeps your workouts fun, and it helps you look forward to seeing what you can do. Make sure to keep a journal -- online or in a book, whichever you prefer. It's exciting to look back and see how far you've come, and it can help you get through a plateau, when you feel like you're not progressing, to see how far you've come.

3. Find a time that exercise can fit into your life and make it a must! Don't worry about what is statistically the best time to exercise. Find a time that is easiest for you. And if you really want to succeed, then be completely honest with yourself. If you plan on going home, eating dinner with the family and then going to an exercise class later in the evening, are you really going to go? For some people, the answer is absolutely! Others find that once they get home it would take a bomb to get them off the couch. Be honest with yourself. Find other options. You could leave for work an hour early and go to the gym on your way. You could exercise during your lunch hour. You could go to the gym after work on your way home.

4. Fit more activity into your whole life. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. Don't look for the closest parking spot. Be less efficient -- make more trips to and from the car when carrying groceries in, for example. Rake your leaves instead of blowing them. Mash your potatoes by hand instead of using a hand blender. These little increases can make a big difference, and they can help you enjoy movement.

5. Enlist your family. Kids are perfect for this, because they normally want to be active and love to do things with their parents when they're younger. Make an after-dinner family walk a must. Go skating together. Play ball in the backyard. Play in the park. Go for bike rides together. What you do will be depend on your family's fitness level and which activities you enjoy, but the more activities you can enjoy with your family, the greater the chance you will keep active. As an amazing bonus, you will teach your children to live a healthier life.

6. Remember that everyone was a beginner. With the very small exception of people who took part in a fitness activity and continued into their adulthood and beyond -- and believe me, this is very few people -- everyone had to start at the beginning.

You may feel out of place at a gym because you feel like everyone there is in some other league, but you'd be surprised how many of those people were just like you, even if you are very overweight. They look like they do now and have the abilities they have now because they continued on with their exercise, made it a must, and made sure they progressed, just like you're going to do!

I'm now extremely lean, fit and strong. No one would think that I once weighed 360 pounds and got out of breath climbing four stairs. But I did. You have no idea where all those gym rats came from, but chances are they started with no experience and little knowledge. And while you may think all those fit people are laughing at you or thinking you shouldn't be there, the vast majority of them are extremely proud of you!

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