Get Geared Up For Fall Fitness -- And Stick With It

09/17/2011 11:11 am ET | Updated Nov 12, 2011

Last Wednesday was the second biggest peak of my fitness calendar year, second only to January 1 -- the grandmother of all workout peaks. If you took a poll on when people begin exercise programs, any Monday after a major holiday would rank in the top few. Throw in the facts that summer is over, obesity is at an all time record high and maybe you're one of the lucky few who got your period last week, and that adds even more people who are embarking on a fitness and/or dieting regime this week than possibly at any other given time in the history of the earth.

I call it EPR: Exercise Program Resuscitation syndrome, otherwise known as "here we go another friggin time" or "I can't believe I let this happen to me again."

The noises in the orchestra pit of my head have been warming up for this week since Labor Day.
Classes are packed and my peeps are sweating enthusiasm-- it's all as it should be.

But who is exercising this week is not as important to me as who is going to be still exercising in one month.

The reason this matters to me is that people, (and by people I mean you) need at least 21 days to establish a good habit or to break a bad habit. Not to mention that it only takes 72 hours to fall off the habit wagon.

Why do you think rehab programs are 28 days? And what's 28 days compared to 28 years of habit? How many more years are you going to kid yourself by saying you can have that occasional drink or six or that you can actually maintain your self-control just this one time and be able to open the bag of Doritos and have just the 110-calorie portion size )which is really only four and a half chips)?

What's the real reason you should give your new routine three weeks minimum without letting yourself off the hook? Because that's how long it takes to form a new rut in the grooves of your brain. It also takes at least that long before the bad habit crevices get spackled over. The sad news is that those old habits may never fully loosen their grip on your head.

Some people have an easier time with this three-week commitment than others. But from the fallout that I typically see in my gym come Thanksgiving, most of our brains are hard-wired to do as close to what we did yesterday as possible.

Those of you that have regularly exercised for years know that occasionally you find yourself in your Easy Spirit sneakers, strapping shut the velcro even before you've decided whether you really feel like exercising or not. It's just what you did yesterday, for hundreds of days.
The holidays become a critical benchmark for anyone who has struggled in the past with sticking with exercise.

To heck with saying you want to be healthy. What does that mean? That you want to strengthen your cardiovascular, skeletal and respiratory systems? So what? That you'll appreciate it in several decades from now when you're old means nothing to any of us.

It's too exhaustingly vague.

Not only do we have to be specific, but we also have to repeat (over and over) the new good thingies and we have to be strong for three weeks to stop the old thingies.

Thoreau once said, "A single footstep will not a pathway make on this earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path we must walk again and again. To make a deep mental path we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives." I'm pretty sure Thoreau would have been on the cover of the Oprah magazine had he lived in this century (or maybe not, since come to think of it, Oprah is the only one on the cover of the Oprah magazine). Well, he definitely would have made it on Oprah's show.

Four percent of your waking hours is all you need to commit. This equals five hours a week. That leaves you 96 percent of the rest of your waking hours for all the other stuff in your life.
If that sounds like too much, aim for 1 percent which is 90 minutes a week or 20 minutes a day.

Write down a 20 minute workout plan. Jogging in place, knee-lifts, push-ups, squats, sit-ups or a walk around the block. Be specific and stick with it for the rest of your life. Promote it around the house. Build it up to something bigger than what it is. Give it a name, make sure everyone in your house knows about your regime. Drop its name into as many household conversations as possible so that when you mention it even the dog cringes. Call it "Sophia's Salutations" or "Bob's Belly Blasting Belt Buckler" (only if your name is Sophia or Bob). How about "The Daily Dozen" or "Fanning The Lifespan" or "Up With Me?" Something flashier than "How Can I Avoid Getting Diabetes" but not so flashy as "Abs Of Steel," which might psyche you out before three weeks is up.

I bet Thoreau had a morning regime. "Thoreau's Yoga Flow," or something like that.

Woody Allen once said. "I'm a firm believer that when you're dead, naming a street after you doesn't help your metabolism."

I think he meant: Do it today and be specific.

What can you do today that will make you feel better about yourself?

And as a bonus, it might just help your metabolism.