Making a resolution to change something in your life—add more time, money, and exercise; subtract weight, stress, and smoking—is nothing new, of course. A December 2013 Marist poll of 1,173 Americans found that 44 percent of Americans said they were going to make a resolution for 2014, up slightly from 2013 numbers. It’s also no big surprise that “exercise more” is one of the top commitments we make; it topped the Marist poll alongside two other resolutions (“spend less/save more” and “be a better person”), at 12% each of those polled.
And while many of us might not see a resolution through, there’s research showing that some resolution-making is better than none at all: A 2002 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that “resolvers” said they had more success in reaching their goals (which included more exercise; weight loss; and stopping smoking) than did “non-resolvers.” After six months, 46% of the resolvers in the study reported success, compared to 4% of those who didn’t set a goal.
It matters, though, how you set a resolution and which ones you set, says Jennifer Huberty, Ph.D., a leading researcher in exercise motivation and adherence and an expert advisor to ih8exercise.com, a new site aiming to turn more of the many millions of Americans who hate exercise into people who like it—or at least hate it a little less. Currently, some 80 percent of U.S. adults fail to meet the Centers for Disease Control’s minimum recommended amount of aerobic and strength exercise every week.
Dr. Huberty notes that the 2002 study (which she was not part of) found three things that increased the chances that the resolution-makers would succeed: “They had self-efficacy—meaning they felt they could succeed; they had the skills to change; and they were really ready to change.”
Here are six resolutions the experts at ih8exercise.com advise against making if you really want to “exercise more” in 2014, as each could make it a whole lot harder to succeed in your goal:
1. Commit to daily, lengthy, vigorous workouts right off the bat. While experts do advise getting some physical activity every day, too many resolution-makers start out hard on January 1, only to burn out within a few days or, if they’re lucky, a few weeks. Exercising very aggressively after months (or years) of being sedentary is also an easy way to end up with an overuse injury (so you can’t exercise at all) . For most people, keeping up a daily regimen is challenging, especially if you try to commit to not only hard workouts, but long ones—like an hour or more. You really don’t need to spend that much time to see a benefit.
2. Exercise only because you want to lose weight. “This is the quickest way to failure,” says Dr. Huberty, the founder and president of Fit Minded and an associate professor of exercise and wellness at Arizona State University. “When your reason for exercise is solely weight loss, it’s easy to quit when you don’t see the scale go down. There are so many other factors that play a role in weight loss, beyond exercise, such as nutrition and sleep) that using the scale to motivate yourself is a guaranteed way to fail . However, if you are internally–or intrinsically—motivated, for instance, you want a healthier life,you’re more likely to stick with exercise and stay motivated.”
3. Spend a fortune on a gym membership. Trust us, guilt is not the motivator you think it is. Signing up with a swanky gym will probably just deplete your checking account every month and create more negative associations with exercise (just what you need, right?). If you’re not absolutely sure you’ll go to the gym regularly, it’s better to invest in a couple of DVDs you can do at home; get an online fitness membership to a site like Udaya.com (which offers online yoga classes for as little as $9 a month); or sign up for a lower-price gym, like Planet Fitness, which offers $10 monthly memberships.
4. Cut calories dramatically. While the reality is that most people start exercising because they want to lose weight, if you seriously cut back on what you’re eating and drinking and ramp up exercise at the same time, you’ll end up hungry and much likelier to fall off the wagon. ”It’s better to consider portion sizes and what’s in your food—especially protein and healthy fats, as opposed to high-glycemic carbs,” recommends Dr. Huberty. “If you watch your portions and the content of your food the calorie count will automatically come down.” It may also be more productive to focus on changing your eating or your exercise one at a time, rather than tackling both at the same time, especially if you’re finding it difficult or impossible to do both.
5. Don’t factor in sleep or stress. Even if you’re not trying to shed pounds, if you don’t get a decent night’s sleep most of the time your workouts will get way harder. The same is true of stress. Though exercise is, of course, a great way to tame tension, it can also be hard to keep up when you’re going through a very stressful time, especially if you’re trying to exercise and lose weight at the same time.
6. Keep your fitness goals to yourself. There will probably always be people who overshare on Facebook, or talk loudly on their cell phones everywhere they go (and these people should indeed be incarcerated). We’re talking to the rest of you: If your goal is to exercise more and hate it less, you should definitely tell the people around you what you want to accomplish; that you want their support; and what sort of support you want. Share it in email, in person, by phone, and, yes, on social media, if you’re so inclined. “People need support, whether they get it from informational resources or from other people,” stresses Dr. Huberty. “You have to be an advocate for yourself to get the support you need and the specific type of support that you want. For example, not everybody needs someone to work out with them or remind them to hit the gym. The most useful support is individual and specific to each person.
Ready to get started on a fitness resolution you can actually stick to? Start by doing any one of the 10 Workouts on ih8exercise.com!