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Estelle Underwood

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New Year's Resolutions: Do It Differently

Posted: 01/06/12 01:11 PM ET

January 1... Here we are again. A new year! This is the time when many of us come up with a list of New Year's resolutions, and very often the topic of "exercise" is at the top of that list. We "resolve" to either start an exercise program or to improve the program we're already doing so as to become healthier and more fit. Think back -- how many years have you been one of these people?

More often than not, when people make these fitness resolutions, they come up with a grand plan to launch into an unrealistic and often ego-driven exercise regimen. It involves going from "zero to 60" in a day -- completely changing their daily routine and changing their diet at the same time. Sounds like a setup for failure to me. Why even make these resolutions? What are the chances that you will stick to them long term?

What? A fitness trainer who is discouraging people from making resolutions to exercise in the new year? What's up with that, you ask?

Well, that's not exactly what I'm saying. I'm just suggesting that people reframe their resolutions so as to be more realistic and thus have a better chance of success. How about a "next day only resolution"? As a personal trainer, I have had colleagues estimate that the risk of clients quitting their workout program is 50 percent within the first six months of starting it. In your own situation, maybe it didn't even take you that long to give up. But over the years, I have discovered that the key to successfully changing your lifestyle is to be gentle with yourself -- taking small steps, making small changes, one day at a time.

Doesn't sound very profound, does it? But sometimes the simplest things can be the most profound and the most life changing. Think about it. Doesn't it seem much more manageable to plan what you will do for one day rather than for one whole year? Take tomorrow, for example. Perhaps you already know that you have to get up at 6:30 a.m. so as to get to work by 8:30 am. The first thing you do is shower and dress, then you eat breakfast. What if you made a resolution tonight, just for tomorrow, to get up at 6:15 a.m. instead? You can then devote that extra 15 minutes to taking a brisk walk outside, walking on the treadmill, riding an exercise bike or jumping on a rebounder. Then you follow through with the rest of your day as you would normally go about it. If that is the only resolution you've made, and you can follow through with it for that one day, then you've achieved success! Bravo! You did it!

Now that you've experienced success once, you can probably follow through on a new resolution for the next day. So what might that look like? Well, since we know that the exercise guidelines include strength training, you could again get out of bed 15 minutes earlier and devote that time to doing some strength training. Warm up for three to five minutes by walking, cycling, marching in place, etc., and then spend 10 to 12 minutes doing some strength exercises. No need for any big, fancy equipment -- just pick up some dumbbells or a latex exercise band for resistance. You might consider checking out my product, the "BodyWorksBand," which provides instructional illustrations right on the band, making it easy for you to know what to do. Or perhaps you can do a mini yoga session during that allotted time. A great online resource for short, guided yoga programs is www.yogadownload.com. You'll be surprised how much you can accomplish in a short amount of time. And as I've said before in previous articles, all these short bouts of exercise have a cumulative effect over the long term. So you can bet your (getting firmer all the time) little booty that all of this will soon produce results that you'll be able to notice!

At this point in our example, you've been successful in keeping your resolution for two whole days! Don't laugh. Two successful days is much better than one long, unsuccessful year. And if you keep resolving to make a small change every day, one day at a time, those days will eventually add up to a whole year of success! You get the idea by now. As you go along making your "next day only resolution," you can increase the time a little if possible, or as you get stronger and develop more stamina, you can increase the intensity. When you make your resolution for the next day, be flexible and realistic. It might be more realistic to add your workout time in to your lunch hour (really easy to do with the BodyWorksBand at work!), or add it in at the end of your day when you get home from work or after dinner. Managing your resolution on a daily basis might be better for you because you can then work it into each specific day's demanding schedule. In this way, every bit of effort you make, no matter how small, counts in a big way without placing overwhelming demands on your life as it is.

I'd like to suggest that this simpler approach to making New Year's resolutions can be adapted to any area of your life, whether it be making nutritional changes, giving up bad habits or just taking steps to learn a new skill. It may be helpful and possibly necessary to seek help from a qualified expert such as a certified personal trainer, nutritionist, doctor, therapist, etc. -- at least at first -- as you make your daily resolutions. But again, in my life and in the lives of my clients, I have seen that taking this gentle, simple, one-day-at-a-time approach has proven to be successful in keeping those resolutions so as to implement lifestyle changes that really make a difference in the quality of our lives. I hope you'll give it a try, and I wish you a happy, healthy, and fit new year!

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