Yes, it's the new year, and I am guessing you have already declared your annual "I'm gonna lose weight and exercise" New Year's resolution.
Oh, the promises we make. You are not alone. And you are especially not alone when you go to the gym because you are surrounded by your fellow New Years "resoluters." In fact, the regulars at the gym hate this time of year. They truly enjoy being alone in an empty club for 11 months of the year. But that first month, waiting in line for a treadmill or trying to score a spin bike for a 5:30 class is wretched. No need to fret. Soon, it's back to the usual. No lines, no people, and the January gym-goers are back home watching "The Biggest Loser" from their couch.
Ever wonder why it's so hard to keep up that exercise plan? Is there anything you can do to make 2012 different? It is important to remember that people don't fail; plans fail. If your plan falls apart after a few weeks or even a few days of trying, chances are it was the wrong plan. It was probably destined to fail. But don't worry. There's still plenty of time to salvage your New Year's resolution.
First, change the terms of your resolution. Long-term plans often lead to short-term failures. So shorten the length of your resolution and choose a temporary plan. Instead of one you expect to maintain until Dec. 31, make a plan that ends April 1, because like it or not, plans will change. In fact, plans not only will change, they need to change. Priorities and responsibilities change, schedules change, even the weather changes, so be prepared to mix up your activity plans to accommodate these changes. In other words, whatever routine you are doing, decide to do it for three months and then re-evaluate it. Maybe you will need to adjust your plans to a change in season or daylight saving time. Or perhaps you are bored and just want to do something different.
Most importantly, set achievable goals -- ones you know you can accomplish. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends doing 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity each week. These are evidence-based recommendations that help reduce risk for disease and mortality; however, they may not be achievable for you right now.
More important than a New Year's resolution aimed at meeting recommended guidelines are ones that fulfill your own set of goals. Setting achievable goals simply means choosing the number of days and minutes you absolutely know you can do. It might be only 45 minutes a week (15 minutes on three days) or maybe just 30 (10 minutes on three days).
The number doesn't matter. If you know you can do it, it's a good plan. You can always add an extra day or go a little longer when you feel like it. A gradual increase is easy. Making it stick is the hard part. So this year, be kind to yourself, keep it simple and make it last. Maybe this year won't just be another new start to the same old habit.
Annie Lindsay is an assistant professor and exercise physiologist at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She conducts research and programming in adult fitness, physical activity, body image and childhood obesity prevention. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.