Many people make -- or at least talk about making -- health and fitness resolutions at the start of a new year.
I am certainly in favour of anyone trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle. What I am not in favor of is when New Year's resolutions become synonymous with finding the "perfect" miracle weight-loss program. I hate that the underlying assumption behind most quick-fix diet programs that people need a "whole new" them.
These programs are sold by making people feel crappy about themselves -- the idea that someone needs a "whole new" them is predicated on the fact that something is wrong with the original version.
No matter what weight I am (and I have been different weights throughout my life) I would never want my goal to be a "whole new" me. I like me.
Yes, I like exercising. And yes, if I stopped exercising, my New Year's resolution would be to start again, but my resolution would not "be to be a new person." My goal would be to be me, just a version that was more regular about her exercise routine.
Don't fall into the trap of believing that how much you exercise makes you a good or a bad person. Be proud and respectful of who you are. If your goal is to be more active (and I hope it is), aim to be you, just a version of yourself who exercises more regularly.
The other reason I am not a fan of quick-fix diet and exercise programs is that they don't set you up for long-term success. There is no such thing as a "miracle" diet. Making long-term sustainable health and fitness changes is a process that takes conscious effort. You can't change habits overnight.
Tips on how to make long-term, sustainable lifestyle changes:
1. Don't keep your goals a secret. Tell your friends and family what you want to accomplish. Stating the goal out load, so that other people know about your plans, can help keep you on track.
In addition, write your goals down. Writing your goals down will help you be more accountable to yourself. Revisit this process every few months to asses your progress. If you have not been successful, brainstorm why. Then form new goals based on the new-found knowledge.
2. It is important to have both long-term and short-term goals. Breaking goals down into smaller, more manageable pieces can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed. For example, your long-term goal may be to lose 20lbs. If so, a possible short-term goal would be to lose one pound per week for a total of 20 weeks.
I like to break my goals into long-term yearly goals as well as monthly goals. For example, my 2013 goal is to improve my cycling time at my triathlon in August. One of my December goals was to follow an intense interval bike program. The intervals will help to strengthen my legs, helping me to achieve my long-term goal.
3. Make sure all your goals are realistic and specific. Don't plan to workout for two hours everyday if you know your schedule will not allow it. Take the time to plan how you will successfully implement the goal. For example, instead of stating a non-specific goal such as "I will exercise", re-frame the goal so it is more specific. Instead say, "I will workout three times per week for 45 minutes."
The next step is to plan in advance how you will achieve the goal. Part of how you will know if your goal is realistic is if you take the time to plan in advance how you will make it happen. A plan of, "I will workout three times per week" is specific, but you will not know if it is realistic until you plan out when during the week you will workout.
A specific and realistic goal would be to say, "I will arrange for my kids to be picked up from school by their father two days per week so I can walk home. The walk will take 45 minutes. On the weekend I will go for a 45-minute walk when my child is at swimming lessons."
4. Don't try to implement multiple changes all at once. Instead, introduce the changes gradually. Try picking one new goal per week. Maintain that goal for the week, then add in an additional change the following week. For example, start by planning to drink enough water everyday for one week. The following week make your goal to drink enough water as well as to eat three to five servings of vegetables per day.
5. Get an exercise buddy. Working out with a friend will make the activity more enjoyable and will help keep you accountable.
6. Whenever possible, pick exercise activities you enjoy. You are much less likely to skip the workout if you actually find it fun. Try joining a sports team or taking adult dance lessons.
This old-timey favorite is fun for kids and adults alike, and can burn 100 calories in just 30 minutes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/machineisorganic/6740536715/" target="_hplink">Machine is Organic</a></em>
You don't have to be Michael Phelps to get a water workout. Even some leisurely splashing around can shave off 200 calories, and it's a great way to stay cool in the heat, too! <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeshlabotnik/311692139/" target="_hplink">Joe Shlabotnik</a></em>
Instead of just lounging on the sand working on your tan, get up and move around if you're at the beach this weekend. Bonus: Digging in the sand can be a surprisingly <a href="http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/great-summer-workouts?page=3" target="_hplink">good workout for abs and obliques</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donhomer/7200149722/" target="_hplink">Michael Bentley</a></em>
You're not chained to that park bench! If you're already enjoying the outdoors, why not throw around a Frisbee or a football, pass a volleyball or kick a soccer ball? It doesn't have to be strenuous -- you don't even have to be any good! -- but it will get you up and moving. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/perspective/458811240/" target="_hplink">Elvert Barnes</a></em>
If you've got a date night planned this weekend, skip dinner and a movie in favor of something that gets you off your rears. It doesn't have to be a trip to the gym or a jog -- it can be anything active you like doing together. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/78428166@N00/7283892652/" target="_hplink">Tobyotter</a></em>
Many local parks, rivers and lakes have row boats, canoes or kayaks available for rent. No matter your vessel of choice, it's a fun, seasonal way to burn some serious calories. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/inner-eye-photo/6849944748/" target="_hplink">Josh Hawley</a></em>
During the busy week, you sometimes might just let your pet out in the backyard to dig up his own trouble. This weekend, spend a little extra time moving with him. Play fetch, give him that much-needed belly rub or take him on an extra-long walk. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/footloosiety/4255290603/" target="_hplink">footloosiety</a></em>
If you've made plans to meet a friend for coffee, take your catch up session to-go instead and gab on a walk. Even strolling at a snail's pace will burn 85 calories in 30 minutes!
Let the music move you when you're out on Saturday night. A little boogying can burn 150 calories in just 30 minutes.
If dancing's not your thing, you can still do better than sitting. Belly up to the bar instead of ordering drinks at a table or booth, or grab dinner at a high table with bar stools. <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20534367_4,00.html" target="_hplink">Leaning against a high stool</a> is a step up from sitting, but can be more comfy than standing all night, <em>Health</em> magazine reported.
Put down the drink for some foosball or pool if you're at a bar this weekend that offers it. Thirty minutes of pool can shave off 85 calories, not to mention you may save yourself a few if your hands aren't wrapped tightly around that pint glass. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/15216811@N06/5842783313/" target="_hplink">Nicola since 1972</a></em>
Head for the hills! Depending on where you live, a hike can be a weekend expedition or a quick afternoon adventure. It's a change of scenery and a great way to spend some time outdoors. If you're feeling sporty enough to tackle some hills, you can burn almost 250 calories in just 30 minutes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/4104101152/" target="_hplink">mikebaird</a></em>
If you typically find yourself hailing a taxi on the weekends, try hoofing it instead. If your destination is too far to make it on foot, try public transportation -- and leave the seat for someone else. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tmab2003/3180940701/" target="_hplink">TMAB2003</a></em>
If you have plans to barbecue this weekend, break out the lawn games to get you out of your seat. Try <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/27/lawn-games-calorie-counts-memorial-day-_n_1546462.html" target="_hplink">croquet</a> or badminton, which can burn more than 150 calories in 30 minutes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jessabc/5835828281/" target="_hplink">Jessa B.C.</a></em>
Those people who do their exercise walking around the mall are onto something. Whether or not you plan to buy anything, browsing around your favorite shopping center gets you moving -- especially if you decide to wiggle in and out of a few things in the dressing room. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimmyharris/2774384836/" target="_hplink">jimmyharris</a></em>
Spend some time strolling through the halls and galleries of your favorite museum. You'll give your brain a workout while you're at it!
Pick your favorite nearby joint and walk to pick up your meal.
Sure, it might take a little longer than sitting through the drive-thru, but you get the pleasure of working those muscles a little bit.
Instead of sitting at a restaurant waiting to be served, why not whip something up at home? You'll be on your feet slicing, chopping, mixing and more, not to mention cleaning up after yourself. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/janicecullivan/4262146921/" target="_hplink">mamaloco</a></em>
A number of <a href="http://www.lsuagcenter.com/en/lawn_garden/home_gardening/vegetables/Variety+Of+Vegetables+Can+Be+Planted+In+Late+Summer.htm" target="_hplink">fall veggies</a> are ready for planting now. Spending an hour digging, crouching, weeding and planting in your garden <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/24/memorial-day-chores-calories_n_1543691.html#slide=1018494" target="_hplink">can burn more than 300 calories</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/7682623@N02/7343305940/" target="_hplink">auntjojo</a></em>
You don't have be imitate the Tour de France! Even the most casual rides can burn 200 calories an hour. Don't own a bike? Many cities now have <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/2011-05-08-bike-sharing-programs_n.htm" target="_hplink">bike share programs</a> that allow you to take a short spin for a small fee, and some parks have bikes available for rent, too. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chinny_chin_chin00/6137088467/" target="_hplink">machernucha</a></em>
Go old-school, and grab a group of friends to head to the nearest <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/30/make-fitness-fun_n_1465840.html#slide=921050" target="_hplink">laser tag</a> arena. You'll run, jump, squat, crawl -- all in the name of fun and (healthy) competition. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/shawnzlea/324447996/" target="_hplink">shawnzrossi</a></em>
With the increase in <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/03/sports/the-sport-of-bouldering-climbs-in-popularity.html?pagewanted=all" target="_hplink">popularity of bouldering</a>, you no longer need a load of gear (and experience!) to reap the fitness benefits of rock climbing. Try it out at a local gym -- you'll burn calories and seriously work those arm muscles. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/toolmantim/6728078909/" target="_hplink">toolmantim</a></em>
It's not just for dads in bowling shirts! Grab a pair of nerdy-chic shoes and aim straight. You may even wiggle a little arm workout out of it! <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/junklab/68904368/" target="_hplink">junklab</a></em>
Dreaming of a couch-potato weekend? Turn that screen time into something more productive by challenging a roommate, spouse or kid to a Wii Fit boxing or tennis match. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sashawolff/3190273060/" target="_hplink">SashaW</a></em>
Follow Kathleen Trotter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KTrotterFitness