If losing pounds is as easy as journaling about what you put in your mouth, can you use the same technique to help you stick to a fitness routine?
Dieters who keep a food diary lose twice as much weight as those who kept no records, according to a recent study by Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research. But while keeping a journal holds you more accountable for how you treat your body, sticking to a fitness routine is different from sticking to a healthy eating routine. Personal trainers we talked to recommend these tactics to keep you motivated and inspired to work out.
1. Change your perspective
Shift your thinking from couch potato mentality to thinking like an athlete. This may sound like a big challenge, but it’s not as big a leap as you think. Essex, Massachusetts mom April Bowling, 33, stopped using her busy life as an excuse not to exercise. After the birth of her children (now ages 5 and 3), Bowling started viewing exercise as a way to set a strong example for her kids.
“At first I looked at it as time away from them, but I realized kids do what they see you doing,” she says. “Now both kids are very physically active.”
Bowling started thinking about her workouts at odd hours as a blessing rather than a sacrifice. She also found inspiration in others—looking outward for extra motivation. “Take inspiration from everyone you meet—even people who can’t be physically active,” she says. “It reinforces why I’m lucky.” Whether you need to hang an “I’m lucky” sticky note on the mirror, or you can see the power of health in your children’s eyes, committing to a fitness routine begins in your head.
2. Set a goal
There’s nothing more motivating — sometimes even scary — than that first 5K looming in bold letters on the calendar. Register early and commit to an exercise program that will get you in shape by race day.
“Set realistic goals that include clear milestones, and as you progress toward your goal, you’ll find a ripple effect occurs and things fall into place in your work, home life and health,” says Stacy Fowler, a Denver-based personal trainer and life coach.
The goal doesn’t even have to be an organized race. Maybe it’s a mission to fit into that bikini by the annual beach vacation or that old pair of jeans buried in your closet. Whatever it is is, define it, write it down and revisit it daily.
Make sure it’s realistic and you can actually adapt your life around meeting the goal, says Philip Haberstro, executive director of the National Association for Health and Fitness in Buffalo, N.Y. Otherwise you’re setting yourself up for failure. Bowling started with a mini triathlon in 2006 (250 yard swim, 10 mile bike ride and 3.5 mile run). This year she completed Ironman Wisconsin (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run).
3. Schedule a regular workout time
Some of the most committed exercisers do it every day before the sun comes up or late at night when the kids are in bed. Sit down with your weekly schedule and try to build in an hour each day to be good to your body.
Tamira Cole, 24, a graduate student in Clarksville,Tenn., was motivated to exercise regularly by the energy boost it brought to her day. “It’s easy to stay in bed. But you have to set an alarm and take the extra initiative,” she says. “Then you’ll find you have more energy and can be more efficient throughout the day.”
If you convince yourself you’ll fit in a workout some time after that last meeting, once the kids go down for a nap or when your spouse arrives home on time, failure is certain. Chances are a last-minute invitation will come along; weather will foil a bike ride; or the kids won’t nap. Write your workout on your calendar, set up daycare, and rearrange things around this one hour as if were any other important appointment you have to keep. Or use technology like daily e-mail reminders, workout journaling websites or iPhone applications to keep you on task, says Haberstro.
4. Think fun and variety
By nature, humans need change and variety to stay motivated. We also need to have fun — even while we’re working hard. Do both!
Whether it’s a toning and sculpting class that changes choreography every week or a trail run that changes scenery every season, design your exercise routine around a variety of exercise methods. Make sure you include activities you truly enjoy and look forward to doing. Think movement that's more like recreation and makes you forget you're working out — like dancing, hula hooping or playing sports with family and friends.
Listen to your inner voice when choosing the best workout for you, says Fowler. Cole found a hip-hop class that satisfied her passion for dance. “I had more energy from dancing than I did from running,” she says.
Workout variety also challenges your body in unique ways, which may introduce you to new muscle groups you didn’t even know you had. Consider disciplines that give you more bang for your buck, suggests Haberstro. Ta’i chi and yoga, for example, serve dual purposes as mental therapy and physical activity. Or try a workout DVD to help you shake up your routine.)
5. Reach out to others for support
In America, some tend to have trouble asking for help, says Bowling. Yet in order to stick to a fitness program, we need buy-in and encouragement from other people.
“Exercising is built into our family life," Bowling adds. “We view it as a necessity. Sometimes it takes the place of watching TV together.”
For others, it’s finding a friend with a shared zest for running, and planning scheduled workouts together. It’s easy to hit the snooze button when it’s just you, but much harder to leave a friend waiting at the track.
Consider joining a social networking site or online community with fitness trainers and nutrition experts — and support from other people trying to lose weight and maintain healthy eating and exercise routines. People who get this kind of online support are proven to lose three times more weight than people going it alone.
Lobbying your workplace to offer on-site fitness, yoga or Pilates classes will also support your mission for a healthy lifestyle, Haberstro points out.
So start thinking of yourself as an athlete, and not a spectator. Set a goal, enlist a friend, mark it on your calendar and have some fun. You’ll be setting yourself up for a lifetime of better health, more happiness, and more energy for everything else in your life.