First-time exercisers often set unrealistic goals that are too ambitious for beginners. Gerald Endress, fitness director of the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, N.C. says, “They want to go for maximal goals, but they tend to get overwhelmed.”
So don’t start off trying to work out an hour every day. Instead, set more reasonable, achievable goals, like exercising 20 to 30 minutes two or three times a week.
Keep Track of Your Progress
Remember to chart your progress, whether it’s with a high-tech online tracker or an old-school fitness journal. Seeing incremental improvements, whether it’s improved time, increased reps, or greater frequency of workouts, can boost your exercise motivation.
Don’t Expect Perfection
Another pitfall is all-or-nothing thinking, a perfectionist way of looking at life that leads to giving up when you miss a day or two or your workout doesn’t go well. Endress says if you accept that there will be some sidesteps on your fitness journey, you’ll be better prepared mentally to deal with setbacks.
Expect that you’ll get sick from time to time, and be psychologically prepared to miss a few days of exercise when that happens. Don’t let it be an excuse for giving up. “From then on, many people say, ‘I can’t exercise,'” Endress says. “But there’s always a way to exercise.”
To keep injuries from sidelining you, do your best to prevent them by warming up, cooling down, stretching properly, and not doing too much too soon.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
We’ve all seen those toned, fatless specimens who strut through the gym in their Barbie-sized shorts and sports bras.
Don’t compare yourself to them, Endress says. Forget about them. Forgive them. But do not let them deter you from your goal.
Enlist the help of your spouse, girlfriends, boyfriends, buddies — anyone who will encourage you to stay on track.
“The person should be in support, but not say, ‘Why can’t you? It’s so easy,'” says Sottovia. If helpful reassurance turns into criticism, gently remind your pal that you don’t need nagging.
If you need additional help, hire a trainer, she advises.
Find the Fun In It
Sottovia and Endress both say it’s essential to find an activity you like. With an explosion in the number and types of fitness classes at most gyms, it has become easier to find something to appeal to you, from aerobics to Zumba.
If you’re not the gym type, walk around your neighborhood or try activities around the house, such as walking up and down stairs or dancing with the stars in your living room. If you’re motivated by being social, follow Geiger’s lead and join a team.
Break It Up
You can make it easier on yourself by splitting your exercise session into two or three sessions, says Endress. Research supports the idea that this can be as beneficial as one long workout, he says.
So, for example, if you don’t feel like exercising for an hour on any given day, do three sessions of 20 minutes each.
Make It Convenient
Do whatever you can to remove obstacles to exercise, and make it as convenient as possible, says Sottovia.
If you are time-pressed, for example, don’t spend 30 minutes driving to a gym. Try exercising at home to fitness DVDs instead. If you’re too tired to work out at the end of the day, set your alarm a little earlier and exercise in the morning.
Forget the Past
Don’t let previous bad experiences with exercise hinder you, Sottovia says.
So maybe you weren’t the most athletic kid in high school and were the last chosen for class games. That was years ago. Your goal now is not to win a letter jacket or make the cheerleading squad — you want to exercise to stay healthy and enjoy your life.
Treat yourself for making the effort to exercise — not with food, but with something that you enjoy, like a movie or flowers, says Endress
Try to think of indulgences that will reinforce a mind-body connection so you can savor the rewards of your hard work. Plan a short trip, or just an hour in a botanical garden. Go to a ball game. And remind yourself with each precious moment that you are enjoying this time because of all the great things you have been doing for yourself.