Welcome to "52 Weeks to a Healthier You"....

Are you thinking about making changes in your life to become a healthier person but don't quite know how to get started? Perhaps your doctor has suggested eating healthier, exercising and losing weight, but it all seems so overwhelming. Many of us already know what we should be doing, but implementing all of those pieces of information can be quite a challenge. Too often we embark on a new diet or exercise plan only to give up after a few days or weeks because it seems too difficult. Well, worry no more. You have arrived at the ideal place to help you make those changes. We are going to develop new habits, one week at a time. Health, exercise, and nutritional goals have been broken down into small, manageable steps. Each week you will add one new habit and have seven full days to perfect it before moving on to the next one. This is not a traditional diet and exercise plan, but rather a journey towards a permanent healthy lifestyle. The steps may seem small at first, but collectively they add up to major improvements in one's overall well-being. In just 52 short weeks, you will be amazed and proud of the changes you have made. You will look back and see just how far you've come on your quest to be a healthier YOU. Now, scroll down in the archives to January 2011/Week 1 and let's get started.... Then, follow each week's tip to a healthier YOU!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Week 15 - Goal-setting and accountability.....

Most people, when they begin any new form of exercise, start out gung-ho and full of optimism.  They have big plans and big ideas on how to get started.  Donning new exercise clothes and brand new sneakers, they have big dreams for their final results.  After a few short weeks, plenty of muscle soreness (in muscles they didn't even know they had!) and less than stellar results, many people abandon their efforts altogether and slip back into little or no exercise.  Sadly, what they fail to realize is that there is no quick-fix when it comes to improving fitness and physique.  They didn't get out of shape overnight and they surely won't get in shape overnight.  Consistency is key and this is one example where slow-and-steady really does win the race.

If you have been following all of the Healthy Tips up to this point then you are already taking a daily walk, participating in strength training, and performing calisthenics and stretching exercises.  You have laid a very good foundation on which to build the ultimate fit YOU.  Perhaps you've already lost a few pounds and gained some strength and new muscle, but odds are that after only 14 weeks you have not yet seen a total body transformation.  This is the point where you might ask yourself, "Why bother? It's really not making a difference."  But the truth is, it is making a very big difference.  Too often we measure our progress by what we see on the outside -- scale weight, body measurements, clothing size, cellulite -- and fail to recognize what is really happening on the inside.  Lower blood pressure and resting heart rate, healthier arteries, stronger muscles, faster metabolism, improved circulation, etc. are all benefits from exercise that we don't necessarily "see."  We must remind ourselves of our ultimate goal -- to be as healthy as we can possibly be -- and not focus exclusively on our outward appearance.

This is the point where we want to dig in and stay focused.  Daily exercise and healthy eating are becoming  ingrained habits and this is no time to turn back when results aren't as fast as we would like.  We mistakenly believe our new plan isn't working because we are constantly barraged by media messages telling us we can transform our bodies quickly.  Magazine articles promise things like "Your Perfect Beach Body in 30 days!" or "Lose 20 Pounds by Summer" (and it's already May 1st).  These are unrealistic claims that are meant to sell magazines.  Would anyone buy a magazine with this headline: "Lose 2-4 Pounds in 1 Month!"  Of course not, and magazine editors are savvy business people who know how to sell their product.  We've all seen the glossy photo spreads of beautiful fitness models using five pound dumbbells to build muscle, doing crunches that promise 6-pack abs, and performing the latest, greatest belly-blasting workout.  What they don't tell you is the models usually diet for 2-3 weeks before a photo shoot, reduce water intake so that their muscles "pop" for the photos, and no one gets muscles like that from lifting five pound dumbbells!  Don't be fooled -- these models are pumping heavy iron at the gym.  To add insult to injury, the pictures are often heavily photoshopped so the models themselves don't even look like the pictures.  If your goal is to look like a magazine fitness model in a short period of time, then you are setting yourself up for major disappointment.  People who set realistic, long-term goals are much more likely to achieve them.

For most of us, getting in shape is a long, slow, steady process.  Fitness gains and health improvements come in very small increments.  Some weeks you may not notice any changes.  It is important, therefore, to look for other ways to keep yourself motivated.  Set short-term goals such as walking a little bit further each week, increasing the speed of your pace, or reducing the time it takes to cover a certain distance. Then, reward yourself for accomplishing your small goals.  These rewards can be a small treat such as a new book, new exercise clothes, or a spa service.  Perhaps the best reward of all is the great feeling you get after a workout.

One of the best ways to stay on track with your fitness plan is to involve yourself in activities where you must be accountable to someone else.  Exercising with a buddy means you have to show up at a certain time.  Working out with a personal trainer means you have someone waiting for you at the gym.  And my personal favorite -- signing up for an organized event such as a 5K walk or run.  When you commit to participating in an event like this (and especially after you pay the entry fee) you are much more likely to continue your training efforts.  These events are scheduled every weekend all across the country and are open to people of all fitness levels from total beginners to elite athletes.  Most events are for both walkers and runners. Your goal is to do your personal best, so don't be intimidated by more experienced participants.  You can find local races by visiting sites such as Active.com or Running in the USA.

Another fun way to be accountable in your exercise program is to join a local walking, swimming or biking club such as the American Volkssport Association.  This group organizes more than 3,500 events nationwide each year.  Volksmarching (non-competitive fitness walking that originated in Europe) is particularly enjoyable -- you can walk in organized events or you can complete the walks on your own.  Most cities have Volksmarch walks already mapped out so you can participate in your own hometown or even when you are traveling.  For a small fee you can buy a passbook to collect stamps showing the Volksmarches you have completed.

No matter which form of exercise you are participating in -- walking, biking, weight lifting, running, swimming, martial arts -- the most important thing is to do it consistently, set realistic goals, and be accountable.  Your task this week is to commit to an organized exercise activity in your community.  Search newspapers and radio stations for upcoming local events, sign up for one, and put it on your calendar!  Involve friends and family and make it twice the fun.  Training for an event like this can help keep you motivated and elevate your workouts to a whole new level.

"An athlete who tells you the training is always easy and always fun simply hasn't been there. Goals can be elusive which makes the difficult journey all the more rewarding."
         ~ Alberto Salazar

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