How many times have you made up your mind to start an exercise program, only to find yourself struggling to get started or keep doing it after the first few weeks? You're not alone.
Many people realize they're not living a healthy lifestyle, and at some point decide they want to change it. But something always seems to sabotage their efforts and chance for success. Certainly, it's not a lack of advice or know-how, given the number of books, articles and self-guided programs available these days.
So, why is personal-fitness success such an evasive "moving target"?
Perhaps it's because your plan has some missing elements -- or you may not have a plan at all. Here is a practical, six-step approach to achieve improved health and personal fitness that I recommend to my clients and friends.
· Step One: Take a hard look at where you are now, and decide to make a change. Facing the truth about your self is sometimes very difficult. Emotions of guilt, blame, shame or even disgust may show up. To succeed, you must get rid of the negative thinking; it works against you and hinders progress.
The "I tried every diet there is and failed," the "I join health clubs and never go" and the "nothing is going to ever work for me" mentalities are history.
Making the commitment to change your lifestyle is your most important step, and no one can make it for you. Only you can decide you want to maximize your health and well-being through a better lifestyle.
· Step Two: Set reasonable expectations and practical goals. Only realistic goals appropriate for your age, health and body type are achievable; don't set goals for a Hollywood model. Unrealistic goals create a path to failure, poor self-esteem, and only encourage more obstacles along the way.
Change can be difficult; just accept it. We are all creatures of habit. What you did yesterday, you are most likely to do today.
It will take discipline and time to change habitual behaviors. You may experience some setbacks along the way; the key is to keep going and stay focused on your goals. I guarantee new lifestyle patterns will emerge if you give them enough time.
· Step Three: Organize a support group and get a coach. Tell someone you trust your goals, ask to be held accountable and for positive support only.
And know that sometimes, other family members may not be on your support team. They may be saboteurs, and create more obstacles by their actions and behaviors. Be aware of them. While it may be harder to change when close friends or family are not on your team, it's not insurmountable. Build a different team of people who will support you.
People often say to me, "I feel so stupid that I can't do this myself -- I know what to do." Never let embarrassment stop you from hiring a "coach." World-class athletes, the rich and the famous -- they all have coaches. Why should it be any different for you?
The process of getting healthier and fitter can be intimidating to anyone starting out who has not exercised for a while, or who has health concerns or "has tried it all," and still can't achieve the results they're after.
The bottom line: Don't be afraid to ask for help and support. We all need it!
· Step Four: Begin a strength-training program to restore your muscle. Strength or resistance exercise is key for reshaping the body. It gives the stimulus to restore and maintain muscle.
Why restore muscle? It shapes your body, while fat distorts it. It's metabolically active tissue that requires energy to function (fat is metabolically inactive tissue). So the more muscle we have, the more calories our bodies will burn, even at rest.
· Step Five:Add cardiovascular exercise to support your strength training. Heart or cardiovascular exercise makes you feel better and more alive. If done properly, it helps your body burn fat reserves for energy.
Proper cardiovascular conditioning supplies your body with the stimulus to release fat from storage and burn it. Your ability to burn more calories from fat is enhanced when combined with strength training.
· Step Six: Eat to support your body type. This is the key ingredient to achieving health and personal fitness success. Without proper nutrition, the other steps simply will not work. In fact, your body's condition can actually worsen.
In the series of articles that follow, I'll address and explain each of these key elements in detail and give specific "how to" steps to help you create a new you. But remember: The greatest challenge facing you at this moment is deciding to take the "first step" and make you a priority.
Rita Bryan is certified by the American Council of Exercise Personal Trainers with expertise in nutrition and weight management. She is the president of Genesis Personal Fitness of Newtown and can be reached at 215-504-0100 (www.GenesisPersonalFitness.com ).