5 ways to make your exercise plan stick

    Little changes in behavior can make a big difference

    Published: January 02, 2015 08:00 AM

    With a new year upon us it's time for the inevitable flurry of health-based resolutions—the promise to lose those extra 10 pounds, eat better, or hit the gym more regularly. Unfortunately, no matter how much enthusiasm you start out with, new habits can be hard to establish—especially when it comes to exercise. In fact, research has shown that half of all people who begin a new exercise program end up quitting within six months.

    The good news is that research into a concept called Behavior Change Theory has shed light on how and why our behaviors are what they are, and what it might take to transform negative habits into more positive ones. A workout plan based on this approach is more likely to lead to lasting lifestyle changes than one based simply on joining a gym or buying an expensive piece of exercise equipment. These five strategies can help you stay motivated and committed to an exercise plan.

    Recognize the health benefits. Sounds simple, but the idea is that people who understand the role poor diet and inactivity play in potentially serious health problems may be more motivated to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including better diet and increased activity. Take a few minutes to focus on how exercise can improve your health and well-being, instead of thinking about how hard it will be. You don't have to be a super athlete to get the health payoff from being more active. Plenty of studies have shown that people who do moderate exercise reduce their risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. It can also improve joint pain and stiffness, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and boost energy levels.

    Understand your mindset. Change happens in five stages, and it's  important to identify where you are in the process so you can use the right strategies.

    • Precontemplation: No intention to act.
    • Contemplation: Considering change within the next 6 months.
    • Preparation: Having a plan and the intention to change within 30 days.
    • Action: Actively practicing new behavior.
    • Maintenance: Actively maintaining new behaviors for 6 months or more and working to prevent back sliding.

    It's important to identify your current stage so that you can use the right strategies. In the contemplation stage, you need to explore and understand the feelings and emotions behind your behavior. What is it that stops you from exercising now? How do you feel about exercise? Perhaps you'd start with simply standing up when you're on the phone, parking farther  away from the store so you have to walk across the parking lot, or making a regular walking date with a friend.

    Fake it ‘til you make it. The Theory of Planned Behavior suggests that merely stating your intention to engage in a behavior results in you actually engaging in it—a self-fulfilling prophecy, you might say. One helpful trick is to think back on positive past experiences you've had with exercise. Maybe you were a high school athlete and had success on the field. Or you once enjoyed hiking or playing tennis. Or you were a regular runner or gym goer and there was a time where activity fit easily into your life—and you felt better for it. Ultimately, though choose an activity you will enjoy. No matter how "effective" you've heard any particular activity is, if you hate doing it, you'll find every reason not to.

    Set realistic goals. Setting your sights on a preferred outcome will help direct energy toward desired behavior, leading to progressively more healthy behavior. It doesn't matter how small the goals are in the beginning, provided they get expand over time. For example, maybe you can start by committing to walk 1.5 miles in under 30 minutes three times a week and replace your lunch-time soda with water. Once you meet that challenge, try to walk 2 miles in 30 minutes and completely eliminate soda from your diet, before graduating to a 3-mile jog.

    Create a support system. Behaviors are shaped by interpersonal relationships and our surrounding environment. Simply put: if your goal is to be more physically active, you need to hang out with more active people. Find a walking partner or join a running club. It's also important to make it easy on yourself. Don't join a gym that's out of your way, even if it has the best membership fee—chances are you won't go it. Buy yourself some workout clothes that make you feel comfortable. Ask your family and friends to support your exercise efforts—and maybe even workout with you.

    Nike +SportWatch GPS

    Best exercise gear in Consumer Reports' tests

    Consumer Reports tests treadmills, ellipticals, rowing machines, and stationary bikes. Here are the best from our tests. Exercise equipment can be expensive and takes up a lot of space so before committing, make sure you'll use it as intended and not as an over-priced clothes hanger.

    Non-folding treadmill: Landice L7 Cardio Trainer, $3,800
    Folding treadmill: ProForm Pro 2000, $1,250
    Budget treadmill: NordicTrack C970 Pro, $1,000
    Elliptical with heart-rate program: Diamondback 1260 Ef, $2,200
    Elliptical without heart-rate program: Landice E7 Pro Sport, $3,600
    Rowing machine: Concept2 Model D, $900
    Spin bike: Diamondback 510ic, $800
    Step-count pedometer: Mio TRACE ACC-TEK, $30
    GPS watch pedometer: Nike +SportWatch GPS, $200

    —Peter Anzalone, Senior Project Leader, Fitness

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