How To Make Activity A Habit—Stay Active And Change Your Life

Congratulations on your interest in starting or maintaining an active lifestyle. Nearly every day more research is released showing the tremendous benefits of regular exercise. Unfortunately, millions of people worldwide die prematurely each year of causes related to inactivity. This article will give you helpful tips on how to stay active so you can feel healthy and change your life.

Helping you get and stay active is what IDEA is all about. As the source for quality, credible health and fitness information, our mission is help people live longer, healthier and happier lives through regular activity and healthy lifestyle habits.

Since our founding in 1982, we have helped hundreds of thousands of fitness professionals stay on top of the latest research and techniques in the field. Now, we bring you the very best information we’ve gathered over the years on how you can stay active and stick with a solid exercise program—plus proven ways to bust through the inevitable roadblocks we all face from time to time.

There’s No Time Like the Present To Stay Active

Some people assume they are too old, or too frail, or too out of shape to begin exercising. Not true! In fact, research shows you will derive benefits from a fitness program whether you’re nine or 90. It really doesn’t matter what kind of activity you do to start with. When you are just beginning, anything is better than nothing!

What is important is choosing activities you enjoy—walking, dancing, yoga, working out to exercise videos, tennis, cycling . . . the list is endless. The ideal staying active program should include a combination of aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility (stretching) routines. However, you may not be able to add all of that at once. To begin making active living a habit, your emphasis should be on thinking about and planning your activity, making sure it fits you, enjoying it and rewarding yourself for meeting your goals.

Definitions of Fitness Terms

Aerobic Training. This occurs when you achieve and maintain a heart rate of 65-85% of your maximum for at least 20 minutes or more. Also known as cardiovascular training. Examples: walking, cycling, group fitness classes, swimming, cross-country skiing.

Strength Training. This occurs when you apply force or resistance to a muscle or set of muscles. The resistance can be in the form of gravity (using weights), bands or tubing, or machines that employ weights attached to cables. Examples: bench press, biceps curl, sit-ups.

Flexibility Training. Otherwise known as stretching, flexibility training prevents strains and pulls and helps you stay loose and limber. Examples: toe touches, neck rotations, hurdler’s stretch (now considered unsafe by the fitness industry).

Tips on Starting—and Sticking With—Your Fitness Program

You already know that regular exercise is good for you. How much is enough and how can you find time in your busy schedule for fitting fitness in?

The good news is, experts recommend that you accumulate as little as 30 minutes of activity a day most days of the week in order to achieve health benefits such as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. These can be split up into two or even three separate sessions—a 15-minute walk to and from the bus station or subway is as good as 30 minutes of continuous exercise! Of course, you can increase the health benefits by working out for a longer time, at a higher intensity, or both.

As for time, it has been estimated that the average American spends four hours watching television every day. Substitute just 30 minutes of activity such as walking for TV watching four times a week, and you’ll see positive benefits. Good habits take time and effort to form, but by following the steps below, you will be on your way to an active lifestyle in no time.

STEP 1 To Stay Active— Plan Exercise Into Your Day
Once you plan fitness into your day and make it a priority, you will have a much easier time sticking with it. Find a day planner or calendar that lists the hours of the day, make appointments to exercise, and keep those appointments religiously.

STEP 2 To Stay Active—Establish a Support Network
You’ll be much more likely to stick with exercise if you have support from two different groups: people who will work out with you regularly or from time to time, and people who will support you even though they don’t exercise with you. Those who exercise regularly will probably be happy to help you get started. Those who don’t can help you through roadblocks.

STEP 3 To Stay Active—Set Your Goals
Are you trying to lose weight? Get stronger? Improve your quality of life? By writing down specific, measurable goals, you will be able to identify which direction to go in and chart your progress. Create both short-term and long-term goals, and make sure they are realistic. Do not expect to lose 30 pounds in 30 days!

More staying active tips:

  • Exercise with a friend
  • Wear a portable stereo
  • Put your gym bag by the front door
  • Try a variety of programs
  • Don’t push yourself too hard
  • Keep a log of your workouts

The IDEA “Six Week Jump Start” Program

Congratulations on committing to active living for the next six weeks! Experts say this is plenty of time to form a new habit, and the form below is a proven way to help make it happen. While you will achieve health benefits in these first six weeks, the most important changes you will experience will likely be the positive new way you will feel about yourself and your life.

You can consult an IDEA member to help you design a six-week program. Or you can begin by designing a simple activity plan for yourself—for example, walking the dog three times a week and yoga once a week, or meeting with your personal trainer twice a week and biking once a week, and so on.

Remember that your program should fit you! Note that you should plan healthy eating habits and stress management tools into your six-week program. All of these healthy behaviors work together. Keep in mind that moderate changes will be the ones that make the biggest overall difference because you will be able to stick with them.

(Print as many of these forms as you need and fill them out on a weekly basis.)

MY SIX-WEEK JUMP START PROGRAM

MY OVERALL GOALS FOR BECOMING MORE ACTIVE AND HEALTHY:


WHO IS SUPPORTING MY PLANS?


HOW I WILL REWARD MYSELF AFTER SIX WEEKS:


TYPES OF ACTIVITY I WILL DO THIS WEEK:


MY SPECIAL HEALTH AND FITNESS GOALS THIS WEEK

(based on scheduling challenges, stressful situations
anticipated, etc.):


HOW I WILL MAKE EXERCISE ENJOYABLE THIS WEEK:


HOW I WILL REWARD MYSELF IN A HEALTHFUL WAY THIS WEEK:


SMALL, HEALTHY EATING CHANGES I WILL MAKE THIS WEEK:


RELAXATION/STRESS MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES I WILL USE THIS WEEK:


OBSTACLES I MAY MEET AND HOW I PLAN TO OVERCOME THEM:


POSITIVE THOUGHT/AFFIRMATION I WILL THINK ABOUT DURING MY WORKOUT
(i.e., “I am a strong person and getting stronger,” “I enjoy being healthy and active”)


HOW I FEEL AFTER EXERCISING THIS WEEK
(specific statements about your feelings, i.e., “I’m proud of myself,” “I’m excited about being more healthy,” “I’m tired but happy”)


Busting Through the Roadblocks

Let’s face it. Whether it is at work or working out, we all run into roadblocks from time to time. Here’s how to bust through them to stay on track, courtesy of sports psychologist Eric Goldstein, Ph.D:

BLOCK BUSTER #1 — Get Started. It sounds simple, but making a commitment to regular exercise is key. Make a list of why you want to exercise and refer to it often.

BLOCK BUSTER #2 – Plan to Exercise. By making a commitment, either to your schedule or to another person, you are more likely to keep your appointment. Be specific with times, locations and activities.

BLOCK BUSTER #3 – Determine Your Exercise Personality. Exercise has many components—social (high to low), competition (high to low), mood state, location preference and optimum time of day. By determining what’s best for you, you will choose the activities that suit you best.

BLOCK BUSTER #4 – Set the Right Goals. Many people focus on outcomes—say, losing 30 pounds—instead of process, such as exercising 30 minutes a day four days a week. The problem with an outcome goal is that if you do not meet it, you’ll feel like a failure. If your process goals are realistic, the outcome goals will take care of themselves.

BLOCK BUSTER #5 – Hold Mental Rehearsals. By frequently picturing events, you can program your mind, body and emotions to perform the way you want them to. Visualize the activity you want to perform and the outcome you seek.

BLOCK BUSTER #6 – Reward Yourself. Rewards are a great way to keep you going. After you have reached a milestone, treat yourself to a massage, a gourmet dinner out, a new CD. In time, the benefits of exercising will become their own reward and the exercise habit will reinforce itself.

A Final Note

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” Confucius said. The same applies to fitness. Get started, set your goals, track your progress, be consistent, and in no time you will discover you joined the millions of others who’ve embraced an active lifestyle! We hope this will motivate you to get and stay active . . . for life.

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