How to begin an exercise program and actually stick with it!

For years I have seen my local gym packed wall to wall with new members in January and every piece of equipment is monopolized. As February and March roll around it is still busy, but the numbers begin to dwindle. By the end of March, normalcy has returned. I no longer have to wait 5 minutes for a piece of equipment, no more circling around the underground parking lot looking for a spot and the air on the gym floor is quite a bit fresher.

This is a common struggle amongst those of us trying to get in shape. The greatest of intentions, but lousy follow through. Most of us have good intentions, but our behaviour is really what matters and it is what we are judged on. There are those that claim they don’t have willpower or that they lack the self discipline to be consistent to get in shape. Discipline is a fallacy. We make our choices based on what is most important to us and what we value most. If you love poutine more than you love the feeling of waking up in the morning full of energy and liking what you see in the mirror, then you will eat poutine. If you don’t, you will get up in the morning, prepare healthy snacks to take to work and you will find 45 minutes during the day to exercise. It is really that simple. We prioritize what we love and value most.

Once you have decided that being comfortable in your body and having optimal energy are things that you value most, here are some steps to getting you there:

1. Before you start any type of exercise program, go see your doctor, tell him or her what your intentions are and get medical clearance before you start.

2. Start walking. If it is hot, wear light clothing and a hat. If it is cold, bundle up. The benefits of walking are endless. Improved insulin sensitivity, helps to prevent dementia, boosts vitamin D levels, lowers general disease risk and it will help keep your weight in check if you do enough of it. Why do you think Europeans are so much slimmer than we North Americans? They walk everywhere.

3. Find something that you enjoy doing. If you like to swim, there are numerous outdoor pools that are open to the public in the summer months and most reputable clubs have Olympic-sized swimming pools that can be used in the winter months. If tennis is your thing, join a club, get out and meet the members and sign up to play in round robins. If you are not sure what you like, most gyms have numerous classes that you can try that are included in the membership fee. If strength training is your endeavour, make sure to get the grand tour of the gym and have the personal training staff show you how to use the equipment properly and design a program for you. Less chance of injuries and better results.

4. Social support might be the single greatest determinant in the success of an exercise program. Are most of your friends in good shape? Do they live active lifestyles? Or are they the sedentary type whose idea of a great weekend is lazing around on the couch watching television and stuffing their faces with starch until they slip into a carbohydrate-induced coma?

We tend to mirror those people that we spend our time with. So if your friends are low functioning, generally unmotivated individuals, chances are you are too. That is why it is so important to immerse yourself with positive like-minded individuals who value the things that you do. Look for a mentor. Somebody who is further along the path who can guide you and offer words of encouragement along the way. Whether you find them in person or via internet/social media, mentors are everywhere. You just have to seek them out.

5. “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail”. I have been guilty of this more times than I care to count. There are what we refer to as process goals and outcome goals. Way too often we focus on the outcome goals. An outcome goal would be: ” In 4 months I want to lose 25 lbs”. A process goal would be: ” I plan to lift weights 3 times a week and get 8 hours of sleep each night “. Process goals are the key to meeting your end goal. It is the day-to-day consistency and adherence, the sum of the parts, that leads to the desired outcome. So whether you are doing it on your own or with a personal trainer or strength coach, figure out what it is you want to accomplish in the long term and then figure out how you are going to get there. Whatever you do, stay off the hamster wheel.