Friday, December 28, 2012

Be S.M.A.R.T.

Here we are once again at the start of a New Year, and with that comes the tradition of the exciting yet dreaded New Year's Resolution. Across the globe we unite, committing pen to paper, feverishly scratching out master to-do lists for the upcoming year. We resolve to do things differently, to cast off the mistakes and failures of the year before and to start fresh. For a brief moment we can see our future selves doing anything, being anyone. But by the time the ball has dropped, many of us have given up before we've even started, and by March most of those who remain have finally had enough touting, "There's always next year.” But why are so many of us failing year after year? The answer lies in the details (or lack thereof) of the goals we are setting.

A typical fitness related resolution for the New Year might be “to lose weight” or to “get in shape.” These are good general concepts, but as goals they are sloppy and a little lazy. How will you know when you get there? How much weight do you want to lose?  How will you determine if you are in better shape? Be SPECIFIC. A specific and meaningful goal will remind you why you are putting forth effort and motivate you to continue. With that in mind, the previous goals “to lose weight” and to “get in shape” might be changed to “I would like lose 30 lbs so I can fit into my wedding dress when my husband and I renew our vows,” and “I would like to improve my cardiovascular endurance so I am able to run a 5k with my daughter this year.” These goals state what we expect to achieve and also present us with motivation to keep us on track.

Now that you have set a specific goal, you are going to need to know if you are on the right course to get there, and the only way to do that is to measure you progress at points along the way. Setting a MEASURABLE goal provides you with a way to see your progress and know when you’ve reached your goal. A goal “to lose 30 lbs” is a measurable goal. You can see how close you are getting to this goal simply by stepping on a scale and tracking your weight.

Outcomes and the rates at which we achieve those outcomes are variable, and while it’s ok to set an outcome as a goal, it is important for our goals to be ACTION-BASED as well. For example, our previous goal, “to lose 30 lbs” is an outcome, a byproduct of something we are doing, or an action. An action-based goal might be “to do cardiovascular exercise 5 days a week for 30 minutes. A more complete goal might include your desired outcome as well, and don’t forget to include why this goal is so important for you to reach. “I will do cardiovascular exercise 5 days a week for 30 minutes” now becomes “I will lose 30 lb. by doing cardiovascular exercise 5 days a week for 30 minutes so I am able to fit into my wedding dress when my husband and I renew our vows.”

One of the biggest reasons we fail to reach our goals is simple because our goals are oftentimes unrealistic. We set ridiculously high standards for ourselves, and then beat ourselves up when we cannot live up to them. We are setting ourselves up for failure. By setting REALISTIC goals, we set ourselves up for success! Losing 30 lbs in 2 months or committing to working out 7 days a week might sound good—at first, but neither goal is realistic. When you are setting a goal, say it out loud and visualize the process that will get you there. Does it sound ridiculous or impossible to achieve? Then it probably is. Now, I’m not saying not to challenge yourself, but don’t create a goal so far out of reach, that you can’t even see yourself getting there. If you’re not sure what is realistic for you at your current level of fitness, check with a fitness professional. He or she can help you draft a list of long-term and short-term goals that will help you get to where you want to be.

The last point to consider when setting goals is the deadline by which we will complete that goal. Without a deadline, a goal is more or less just a loose guideline, something that we are trying to follow but aren’t really all that serious about. A TIME-BOUND goal creates a sense of urgency and pushes us forward. Taking that into consideration, it is important to set both short-term and long-term goals. Each serves a purpose in your overall plan. Short-term goals act as stepping stones by which we are able to reach our long-term goals and give us something to celebrate along the way. Based on our previous example, a complete goal might be: “I will lose 30 lbs by doing cardiovascular exercise 5 days a week for 30 minutes so I am able to fit into my wedding dress when my husband and I renew our vows in the fall.” This goal meets all of our requirements for a S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Action-Based, Realistic and Time-Bound) goal.

Be S.M.A.R.T. this year when drafting those New Year’s Resolutions and next year at this time you will be looking back on a year that was filled with success!

Happy New Year and Best Wishes for 2013!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Fall

Now that fall is here, it is tempting to go home after work and veg in front of the TV until bedtime. Football season is now in full swing and many of our favorite TV shows have returned. Add to this the cooler evening temperatures and the allure of a hot pot of soup cooking on the stove, and it’s not hard to see why many of us abandon our healthy lifestyles this time of year. Holidays only compound this problem as temptation lurks behind every corner in the form of goodies and treats waiting to be sampled. Maybe that is why we call this fateful season fall; everyone is falling--off of the fitness wagon.
What can we do to stay on track? First of all we need to not be so strict with ourselves. Embracing the fit life is, like I’ve said before, all about embracing life. And life should be enjoyed. There’s a healthy balance between ducking behind the corner every time the hors d'oeuvres tray comes by and loading your plate down with a full serving of everything offered. By this point in our lives most of us have been educated in what comprises a good food choice and the importance of portion control. We know that practicing moderation with some not so ideal choices every once in awhile is not the end of the world. Why then do we still insist on holding ourselves to impossible standards? We are only setting ourselves up for a huge fall when we do this. The vow not to eat that cookie or piece of cake does nothing but make us focus on that cookie or cake, wanting it even more, and once we’ve given in and broken that oath, that’s it, we’ve failed. We left ourselves no room for error, and with nothing but failure and regret looming over us, we do something incredibly irrational—we throw all the “rules” out the window and suddenly the evening is a free-for-all. After all, we can always start fresh tomorrow. It’s this defeatist “all or none” thinking we must stop, and the only way we can do that is by being more forgiving with ourselves to start with. It all comes down to flexibility. Commitment and dedication are crucial and admirable, but without flexibility, we will more than likely fail. We need to not only make room in our lives for fitness, but also make room in our fitness plans for our lives. They need to mesh together into a lifestyle that we can make work every day. This will help us avoid the fall that happens to so many of us this time of year.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Be Flexible

It’s happened to us all. You’ve been working out, following the same routine for weeks, maybe even months now. You’ve worked hard to get where you are now, following your workout plan to the letter, but it’s been getting harder and harder, the same routine week in and week out. Finally one day you wake up and just can’t find the motivation to lace up your shoes, let alone face another hum-drum workout.  What happened? You used to enjoy doing this, but somewhere along the way it became a chore. While unwavering dedication to a strict workout regimen is commendable, changing things up every once in a while is good, if not necessary, for your body as well as your mind. Just because you are scheduled for a long run today doesn’t mean that you can’t do sprints instead. Likewise, if an upper body resistance workout is what’s on the agenda, nothing says you can’t work your legs or your core if they’re well rested or even do something a little more unstructured. Maybe you just feel like going for a bike ride, or perhaps a swim seems like it might be fun.  Are the kids playing in the backyard? Feel like joining them for a game of tag instead? Go for it. We all know that we are supposed to listen to our bodies, but we need be cognizant of where we are mentally as well. If there is something else you feel like you would be able to put more effort towards or enjoy more, do that instead; it’s better than just going through the motions of your planned workout or worse yet, not doing anything at all. When the day comes that you don’t feel like you can handle your workout, yet you make the choice to do something else that is active, you have succeeded. Unless you are a dedicated athlete or training for a specific sport or event, having a little flexibility in your routine will help make fitness a part of your life and not just something you are trying to fit into your life.  And that is what embracing the fit life is all about.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Time. If there is one thing that we seem to never have enough of, it is this. Not having enough time is often used as grounds for not being able to do a given activity or attend a certain event.  We even let this reasoning keep us from spending what time we do have with those we care most about. And as far as fitness goes, that gets pushed aside as well. But is it true? Do we really not have enough time in our “busy” days to make room for our well-being? We don’t wake up every day in such a crazed hurry that we decide not to shower or bathe. And we almost always make time to eat at least one meal each day. If someone told us that they had just been too busy over the last week that they simply didn’t have time to brush their teeth we would think them crazy. We carefully carve time out of each day to devote to these tasks without even thinking about it. So why is taking care of the insides of our bodies so different?

Our health is the most important thing that we have. We don’t have time NOT to devote to it. And if you think you truly do not have the time, I want you to pay close attention to how you are spending each minute today. Do you have 30 minutes to an hour where you are just sitting there on the couch, maybe staring through the television or playing on the computer or your phone? There is time right there, time that you could use to take care of not only your body, but your mind as well. Maybe you are insanely busy and you don’t have that big of a time block available. Do you have ten minutes here and there throughout your day? Find a few of those times and use them. It all adds up. I suspect that you will discover that you do indeed have time to make fitness a part of your life, and I sincerely hope you use it for such. It will definitely be time well spent.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Missing Link

The time has finally come. After a little contemplation and some encouragement from your loved ones, you have decided to take the plunge into a new, active lifestyle. But what comes next? What's missing? You've already established that you want to ultimately drop 25-30lbs. You've got a list of activities you would like to do, and you've also engineered a pretty good strategy for fitting these workouts into an already tight schedule. It appears as if all you need to do is simply get started. You decide that next Monday will be the day you set sail on your fitness voyage. You eagerly await the day, for with it will come a fresh start, a long overdue push out of the rut that you've made home. Monday finally arrives...and Monday soon departs. Regret. You tell yourself that it's ok. Tomorrow is a new day, brimming with potential. Tuesday arrives. Tuesday departs. More regret. Wednesday only brings with it more of the same. The days march on much as they always have, but now they bring only dread, for you know that each one will end with you regretting what was not started. Days turn into weeks, weeks into months with only a handful of workouts scattered sparingly within. Your dejection is too great. You decide to leave things status quo and shelve the fitness plans for now. You are too busy. There isn't enough time. There is more to consider. You jumped in too fast. The excuses abound. Maybe after the first of the year...

January 1st. The cycle begins again...and it ends--much the same way as it did previously. You repeat this cycle over and over for the next several years, with varying degrees of commitment and never really much success. Week after week you observe coworkers, friends and even strangers living fit and active lives. They seem to find time to hit up the gym before work or fit in a long run on the weekend. What are they doing different? Why are they out there embracing the fit life while you are watching from the sidelines? Do they have more time? No. You've got that free hour between work and supper. Six months ago you had made plans to start walking during that time. Do they want it more? No. You want it. You really do. You just can't seem to translate that desire into action. But what do you want? Do you even remember anymore? Oh yeah--to lose 25-30lbs. Now it's forty. Do the people that you are watching day after day, week after week, the people you see out there cycling on the weekends and taking yoga class on Thursdays do what they are doing so that they can fit into a size 4? For some that might be part of the equation, but there is more--much more. You have to have motive. You have to have drive. And though this drive can come from the setting of specific extrinsic goals, you need to think intrinsically as well. What would you be able to do if you were in better shape? Who would you be able to enjoy that activity with? Most importantly, How would you feel doing it? These are the kinds of questions that you need to ask yourself when setting fitness goals. Identifying these desires is the first step to setting intrinsic goals that will help drive you. Your next workout will have more meaning if you know that the increase in energy you are aquiring will enable you to spend more time playing in the yard with the kids. Each mile put behind you on the treadmill will feel more satisfying knowing you are that much closer to sharing a much missed evening walk with a loved one. Find what things are important to you and ask yourself how getting in better shape will help you accomplish or improve upon those things. Soon enough you will be looking back, not on another year of wasted opportunity, but on one filled with meaning and the promise of many more to come.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Embracing Life

This blog could have been just as aptly titled Embracing Life. Afterall, that is what we are doing when we commit to a life of fitness. We are embracing life. Period. When we choose to nourish our bodies with healthy fuel, we are choosing life. When we say yes to an early morning workout even as our minds and our bodies protest, we are saying yes to life. When we sign up for that fitness class at the urge from a friend, we are attesting to the world that we are willing to do what it takes to make sure that we are around for our loved ones when they need us. Fitness is not an appointment that can be penciled into our day planner or a commodity that can purchased with a gym membership. It is a way of life. It is the way of life; for when we choose to embrace the fit life, we are choosing to embrace life.