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More than a Resolution: Creating and Maintaining Sustainable Fitness Practices

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It’s that time of year again when we may be putting the wheels in motion and plans in place to improve our fitness routine. For most, the thoughts of resolutions and fitness can feel daunting, often fuelled by Christmas guilt or the need to make drastic changes our current routine. Instead of focussing on changing something, why not think about ways to build your exercise routine? The following steps can help you to do just that!

Step 1

Assess your Current Fitness levels and Habits
You can do this by looking at objective measures such as your average jog, run, or walking speed, loads you can tolerate in functional movements such as a squat, dead lift, bench press  –  doing so under the guidance from a fitness professional may be helpful. If you use a wearable tracker like an Apple watch or Garmin, there is a wealth of useful information available on such devices, such as average daily, weekly, yearly steps, V02 max (lung capacity) and resting heart rate.

If you are evaluating your current fitness habits, a good approach is to reflect on the past year, consider moments when you felt your fitness routine was good. What factors contributed to your success during this time? Conduct the same self-assessment for periods when your fitness routine wasn’t as effective. Why didn’t this work well for you? Remember to write everything down!

Step 2

Stay Motivated 
Motivation or willpower towards a behaviour isn’t static, it is helped or hindered by our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Often, we must repeat an act (despite our motivation levels) for it to become a habit or behaviour over time. Identifying our motivation for doing a particular task is especially important if we want to make long-term behavioural changes.

Research has shown that goals that are externally driven i.e., by someone else or by a negative emotion such as a feeling of guilt, are less likely to be adhered too. Conversely, if we focus on things that truly resonate with us; activities that we enjoy and have meaning and purpose for us, we are building intrinsic motivation towards a behaviour, and this subsequently drives our motivation.

Reflecting on your ‘why’ to craft meaningful exercise goals which are connected to values, passions and strengths can be helpful in maintaining willpower and motivation.

Step 3

Sustaining Exercise Behaviours Beyond January

i.   Identify Common Obstacles: Be mindful of what can get in the way of exercising. Excuses can easily crop up such as bad weather, a busy schedule​ or feeling too tired after work​. If you are aware of these pitfalls, you can better prepare yourself for when they happen.

ii.   Strategize to Overcome Obstacles: Have a plan in place but be flexible. Look at your schedule for the following week or month if possible and identify times in the week that you may be able to fit 30 minutes of exercise into your home or work routine. Create a timetable and stick this up in a visible spot, then you can tick off these activities once you complete your sessions. 

​Choosing activities that fit into your home or work routine can save time and will mean you are less likely to skip a workout if external factors like bad weather arise. If you are a member of a gym, pre-booking classes can also help.

Two important questions to ask yourself to help strategize:

  1. Am I being realistic?

  2. Is this an activity I enjoy?​

iii.   Set SMART Goals: SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. This allows you to reality-check your goals, maintain consistency and combat any barriers by troubleshooting ahead of time. Where possible, a SMART goal should be framed in a positive manner and help you to visualise the why behind the goal.

iv.   Accountability: Who will hold you accountable to your goal? This may be a personal trainer or a buddy at work, a family member, or friend. Telling family about your plans can ensure accountability. MyLife challenges through the MyLife app are a great way to stay motivated and accountable with access to a wealth of resources, friendly competition through the leader board, group discussion and prizes. The app can be downloaded here: https://mylife.irishlife.ie/home

If you have children, why not encourage them to exercise with you? Go for a walk or hike together or head out to your local park with a ball. That way you can spend time together, occupy the children and ensure they’re also getting the daily physical activity they need to stay healthy.​

v.   Celebrate Milestones and Rewards: How will you celebrate the little wins? It’s especially important to map out these milestones throughout the year and to reward yourself when you achieve them. This can be something small – anything that promotes positive feelings towards this behaviour.

vi.   Prevent Boredom and Burnout: They say variety is the spice of life and this is certainly true when it comes to exercise. Alongside this, ensuring you are getting adequate rest or even rest weeks if you are training for an endurance event is vitally important. Cross training can also be an effective way to prevent injury, build strength and add variety to your routine. An example of this would be jogging on Mondays and strength training on Tuesdays.

vii.  Continuously Re-assess and Modify your goal: Be sure to check in on your progress and modify goals as required. If it’s not working or you realise that you need to direct your attention elsewhere, change the goal! That’s the beauty of setting goals – they are designed to suit you and can be adapted and developed.

One tip here is to keep any goal small at the beginning – you can always build or progress it as you improve. If a goal is too difficult, it will feel unattainable, and you will be more likely to give up. Don’t forget to focus on the feel-good factor of achieving goals and to frame your goals positively.

Summary

Instead of resolutions, I believe we should see these positive intentions for the year as opportunities. Opportunities to lay down strong foundations to energise yourself for the year to come.

If you think about it, focussing your attention on 1% fitness gains each week can add up to a 52% improvement by this time next year!

Be sure to check out the MyLife app for plenty of resources and challenges to keep you informed, motivated, and energised this year!

Download the free MyLife app here: mylife.irishlife.ie/home

Additionally, you can contact your dedicated Irish Life Account Manager, Wellbeing Consultant or email us at wellness@irishlife.ie for more support in this area.

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