Health Column: Take baby steps toward positive change

Resolution: a firm decision to do something; determination of mind.

Ah, the new year — a new beginning, a clean slate. Studies show that the most common resolution made each year is to begin an exercise regimen. Well, here you are, a few weeks into 2011, so I ask you, how’s it going?

We have every intention of sticking to our goals. So why do we fail? The problem is that our enthusiasm starts to fade once we realize we can’t change everything overnight.

Here are a few motivational tips to help anyone who is looking to make lasting changes and start a regular fitness routine:

• Take baby steps. Set small and achievable goals. Whether it’s the amount of weight to lose, length of a workout, or days per week, start small. If you set goals that are attainable, and ones you can actually accomplish, it motivates you. It energizes you. It empowers you. Depending on what shape you’re in — and you must honest here — you might have to set a goal such as going to the gym twice a week for 25 minutes.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? You will feel so completely satisfied and proud when you achieve this goal. You will be less likely to “fail” and that will give you a sense of accomplishment. Of course, if you get to the gym and after 25 minutes, you want to continue, go for it. It won’t be long before you’re doing this three times a week. Or you might have a goal based on weight loss. Let’s be realistic. Setting a goal of one pound per week is very realistic.

• Diet and exercise go together. You can’t have one without the other. Eating right and exercising are important when looking to achieve a goal of losing weight and getting fit. If you only diet, but don’t exercise, you wont see the maximum results you seek. But again, don’t attempt to change everything all at once. Make small changes. If you deprive yourself of too many of your favorite foods, you’ll resent the “diet.” And here’s an even bigger tip: Don’t call it a diet. Diets are short-lived. Even the word diet sounds restrictive. Think of it as a lifestyle change.

• Keep it fun. Try to change your attitude about fitness. Instead of saying, “I have to go to the gym”, try saying, “I want to go to the gym.” Instead of viewing exercise as painful, boring or time consuming, think of it as a break from a stressful workday, a way to boost energy and mood, the only time you’ll have entirely to yourself all day and a way to improve your quality of life immediately.
Exercising with a friend or working with a trainer will help you enjoy your workouts even more. A trainer can help you get started, keep you motivated and always keep it fresh. Remember to change your routine regularly.

• Don’t beat yourself up. Yes, there will be a day when you will be too tired to go to the gym. Maybe go anyway by making a deal with yourself, “OK, I’ll go for only a short while.” Hey, anything is better than nothing. And probably you’ll end up staying longer than you intended. Or you may have a day where your healthy eating habits — remember, don’t say “diet” — will be out the window. Don’t throw it all out the window. Allow yourself a “cheat day” every now and then. Tomorrow is another day.

Stick to your goals and remember the words of author Robert Collier: “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

Elyse Ray is a licensed massage therapist and fitness trainer who operates her own private studio on Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead. She specializes in muscle strengthening and flexibility training.