As a doctor of sports medicine, Dr. Jordan Metzl frequently hear a similar line from his patients: “Doc, I’m 20 pounds overweight. I’ve got three kids, a mortgage and a 45-minute commute. I know I need to move more and lose a few pounds, but I seem to be heading in the wrong direction. What can I do?”
Many of them, like most people, will make getting fit and losing weight a New Year’s resolution. Unfortunately, the odds are overwhelming that they’ll fail.
Last year, the most common New Year’s resolution was fitness-related. A study published by the Statistic Brain Research Institute last year showed that roughly 50 million Americans pledged to increase activity and lose weight in 2017.
Despite good intentions, success was hard to come by. Two months after pledging to become more active, only 37 percent of people in their 20s and 16 percent over age 50 had kept to their new fitness habit. Behavior change is tough, even when the benefits of such a change are clear.
There is no question that exercise plays a role in the prevention and treatment of many diseases across almost every system in the human body. Weekly exercise routines have been shown to reduce rates of depression and anxiety, lessen risk of heart attack and stroke, and reduce the prevalence of diabetes, the most expensive disease in the United States costing more than $100 billion annually. Even cancer rates are affected by exercise: A recent study among 1.44 million subjects showed that regular exercise programs reduce disease frequency in 13 types of cancer including breast, colon and endometrial.
Is There a Best Type of Exercise?
The simple answer is: The most effective form of exercise is the type that someone will consistently perform. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise like speed walking or swimming, or 75 minutes per week of intense exercise, like H.I.I.T. (High-Intensity Interval Training) or jogging, is the minimum amount of exercise needed to achieve maximum medical benefit. Beyond that, recent data suggests that a combination of strength, flexibility, balance and intensity all have value. There is no one size fits all equation; the holy grail of exercise is compliance.
Often, the best way to increase your exercise is to incorporate movement into your everyday life. On average, urban dwellers who commute via walking, biking or public transportation are fitter than suburban commuters who drive to work. Studies have shown that increasing the amount you move every day, by using a standing desk, walking your dog or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
So, whether you resolve to work out at your local gym three times a week, take 10,000 steps a day or give your dog an extra walk every day in 2018, commit to something you love and know that your body and mind will benefit.
Now, it’s one thing to make a commitment to exercise, it’s something else — something more difficult — to keep to it.
Here are four proven ways to increase the odds that your resolution will stick in 2018:
1. Make It Social.
Social interaction has been shown to increase fitness compliance. Suggestions here are to join a group fitness class, a running club or pair up with a friend or neighbor and go together to the at local gym or community center. You can also pair up with your spouse or roommate and work out at home together. Try one of our at-home workouts, which can be done in minimal space with minimal equipment.
If direct human contact isn’t available, evidence suggests that virtual fitness communities increase exercise compliance. Tracking platforms like Fitbit, Garmin and Strava, as well as newer virtual fitness communities like Peloton, allow people to create social communities that serve a similar purpose to the real thing.
2. Make It Fun
It’s not easy to work out when it’s boring. A small study published in Germany last year showed that compared to a “no fun” control group, subjects who were smiling and laughing during exercise were statistically more likely to stick with their exercise program. In runners, a recent study showed that smiling increased running efficiency by more than 2 percent.
How to keep your workout feeling fun? Try something new, upbeat and with people who make smiling easy. Also, consider a change of scenery. Physical environment has been shown to make a difference, so look for an exercise location that inspires you.
3. Consider an Incentive
A meta-analysis of exercise programs concluded that previously sedentary adults respond to incentive. In other words, humans are glorified lab rats who will go through a maze in a certain direction to find sugar water at the end. Figuring out the correct type of incentive makes a difference.
Your company may offer an incentive program to keep employees fit, including reduced premiums for more active members, businesses creating internal competitions to promote exercise, and health programs offering prizes for those meeting movement benchmarks. The bottom line is that rather than pay for costly diseases such as diabetes and hypertension once they happen, it makes more fiscal sense to pay a smaller cost upfront to reduce disease rates by incentivizing activity.
If you don’t have access to a companywide incentive program, find a way to encourage your ongoing fitness by prepaying for sessions with a personal trainer or figuring out a personal reward system (such as a special splurge purchase or a smaller, weekly treat) based on exercise compliance.
4. Commit to a Date-Specific Goal.
Goals don’t need to be lofty to be effective, but it’s useful to sign up for an event such as a 5K walk, triathlon or ballroom dance competition. By goal-setting, preferably with a target just slightly outside your comfort zone, you’re more likely to stick with a fitness regimen. The best approach here is to jump right in, select a goal and register. Once it’s on your calendar you’ll know where you’re headed and can work to get there in time.
Just Keep Moving
Remember, the most important key to making a New Year’s resolution succeed: commitment.
Starting a group fitness program, running with your spouse or joining a basketball league is an important first step. More important? Keep moving, day after day, step after step. Move when it’s cold, move when you’re tired, move when you don’t want to keep going or even get off the couch. The toughest part of any exercise program is taking the first few steps out the door. Once you’ve taken that first step, it’s much harder to stop.
Resource: The New York Times