Starting an exercise program — and sticking with it — is all about knowing yourself.
Especially with beach season upon us, plenty of people are thinking about picking up yet another shape-up routine.
Others don't need to start exercising, because they've never stopped moving, but you probably don't hear from them so much. Why? They consider their exercise routine as daily hygiene, almost like you would brush your teeth or take a shower. Sure, they might miss a session every now and then. They are not perfect, but they're not trying to be perfect either. They're focusing on a good average, not a perfect score.
Plus, consistent exercisers aren't all about the short-term goal. They intend to be active today, tomorrow and forever.
Who are they? Maybe the lone runner or walker you seem to pass every day. Or the person who's at the gym whenever you are there, too. Or maybe it's the tennis player you regularly see at your neighborhood courts.
What do these people have that others don't? Nothing that anyone can't acquire. Here are a few ideas to help you adopt — permanently — the attitudes and behaviors of consistent exercisers:
• Choose activities you like. Recognize that you can change your mind whenever you like. You can do the same thing every day until you're tired of it, or you can do something different every day of the week. It's up to you. Just keep moving. Understand that over a lifetime, you'll go through changes that will require you to switch things up. Maybe you suffer an injury, you get ill, or you're just tired of the same old, same old. Be ready to roll with what life brings you.
• Train your brain to think realistically. There's no room for perfectionistic thinking if your goal is to be active, long-term. Strive for a good average rather than a perfect score. For example, your average improves when you decide to do part of your workout if you're strapped for time instead of skipping exercise altogether.
• Develop the art of not giving up. Imagine yourself staying active throughout your life. Knowing that life has its challenges, you can decide that you will always work at figuring out any problems rather than giving up. Keep the mind flexible and it will be a good problem solver.
• Provide incentives that make sense. A lifetime of healthful exercise requires both short- and long-term goals, not short-term goals alone. Starting to exercise in order to train for a race is good, but if that's your only goal, it's more likely there won't be an incentive strong enough to keep you moving after the race. Try a meaningful long-term goal such as, "I want to stay active so that I can stay independent in my older years." Then add to that many short-term goals, such as "I want to learn to dance salsa," "I want to run a 10K," or "I want to increase my walking pace." The combination of long- and short-term goals keeps the brain focused on wanting to move.
• Don't make losing weight the primary goal. This is the most common reason people use for starting an exercise program but it just doesn't work long-term. Include weight management on your list of reasons to exercise but don't put it at the top of the list. Put health and happiness at the top of your list. Perhaps daily exercise helps you reduce your stress level or helps control your diabetes. It may keep you limber so that you can continue your passion to garden into your old age. These kinds of priorities are far more likely to keep you moving.
Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached at (813) 240-9557 or firstname.lastname@example.org.