10 Ways to Make Your Resolutions Stick

10 Ways to Make Your Resolution Stick

If you’re looking to shape up in 2016, you’re in good company. “Losing weight” is the top resolution for the New Year, followed closely by getting healthy, eating better, and exercising more, according to a new Marist poll. Now the bad news: If 2015 is any indication for how most people’s resolutions went, you have a 50 percent chance of yours lasting through the end of February, report researchers from Anthem Health. But you can increase your odds of success by following these 10 simple tips for maintaining your motivation. They come from a handful of the country’s top fitness minds, and they can help you not only stick to your resolutions, but (perhaps for the first time ever) also tackle them.


Don’t aim to run a marathon if you’ve never finished a 5K. “People often set their expectations too high, especially at the start of the year,” says Los Angeles-based trainer Aaron Guy, CPT, adding that he often has to talk clients down a bit. “When they set unrealistic goals and don’t reach them, they get frustrated — and that’s when you start to see people fall off the wagon.” Your move: Think smaller. If you want to commit to working out five days a week, start with three days a week for the first month. You can always make your goal harder if you’re crushing it. “What I always say is: ‘On a scale of 1 to 10, what’s the likelihood that you can do this goal?’” says Guy. “If they say an 8 a 9 or 10, I say ‘go for it.’”

Just as important as setting attainable goals is choosing them for the right reasons. “Sit down and think about why and for whom you want to start working out,” says Karin Weman Josefsson, PhD (c), a lecturer in psychology at Halmstad University in Sweden. In a recent Canadian study, the people who exercised most were those with internally driven motivations, such as valuing the benefits of exercise (more energy, better overall health, and greater strength, power, and stamina), as opposed to external motivations, such as vanity or pressure from friends.


Whether it’s finding time to sweat or shelling out money for new equipment, exercising can be a hassle, and even minor obstacles can be damaging in the early stages of habit forming, says Sandra Aamodt, PhD, a neuroscientist and author of the upcoming book Why Diets Make Us Fat. On the other hand, simple actions that reinforce your commitment and make exercising easier can be hugely motivating. “Keep your workout DVD in your computer or player, keep your gym clothes by the door, and figure out what equipment you actually need,” says Aamodt. Many of the best workout programs require no equipment at all. (Check out Beachbody On Demand for tons of fat torching, no-equipment, do-anywhere workouts that will help kick your resolutions into high gear.)


“Before work is the only time you know for sure you’ll be free, so for many people, that’s the best time to work out,” says Albert Matheny, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., USAW, co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab and ProMix Nutrition. Science agrees: People who aim to exercise before work do so 58 percent more often than those that don’t, according to a study in Journal of Exercise, Movement & Sport. Starting your day with an intense sweat session may also improve your quality of sleep, according to Appalachian State University Researchers, so it’s a win-win proposition.


Working out with a buddy not only boosts motivation (thanks in no small part to the power of accountability), but it can also help you push yourself harder and up to 24 percent longer, according to a study at Michigan State University. But don’t stop there — join a social network such as Fitocracy, Extra Pounds, Traineo, or Daily Mile to share your progress. In a recent paper published in Preventive Medicine Reports, people who did so worked out nearly two more days per week than those who did not. “Social media can even help if you fall off the wagon,” says Daniel Czech, PhD, a professor of sport psychology at Georgia Southern University. Instead of fearing the judgment of others, try tweeting something like: I tried to work out, but I didn’t make it today, any suggestions? “Reaching out to likeminded people in your social network can be very productive for adherence,” says Czech.


Small dietary tweaks — like ordering a burger with salad instead of fries — often lead to better long-term results than sweeping changes, like eliminating burgers entirely. Indeed, in a recent study in the American Journal of Health Promotion, people who made such tweaks dropped 7 pounds in 3 months — and were still losing weight six months later. “If you always forgo your favorite foods for those that seem healthier, you may end up disappointed, which can sabotage your success,” says Matheny. Here’s a powerful swap you can institute right now: Replace one high calorie drink a day with a calorie-free choice like water. That alone can help you drop 2.5 percent of your bodyweight in just 6 months, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Eating more fruit also helps. In a recent Harvard study, people who ate a daily serving of apples or pears lost 1.24 more pounds over four years than those who did not.


People who pair activities they know they should do but avoid (like exercising) with activities they enjoy but aren’t productive (like listening to audiobooks) work out significantly more often than those that don’t, according to a recent paper in the journal Management Science. The technique is called “temptation bundling,” and it can have a powerful effect on willpower, according to the researchers. The key is to pick the right “temptation.” In the study, participants were listening to cliffhangers like The Da Vinci Code, The Bourne Supremacy, and Hunger Games, not War and Peace.


What do you think of when you think of the word “exercise”? It doesn’t have to mean grueling workouts. A few ideas: If you run, consider high-intensity intervals rather than running at a consistent pace. Research from the UK suggests that intense intervals are more enjoyable. If you prefer working out at home, try new dance workout, CIZE. You might also be able to make exercise seem more fun simply by grabbing a cup of Joe. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, people who consumed caffeine before a workout perceived it as more enjoyable, perhaps because caffeine impacts brain chemicals like dopamine.


Simply recalling a positive memory about exercise — tackling a particularly tough workout or achieving a new PR in a 5K, for example — can inspire you to lace up and start sweating, according to a study in the journal Memory. “Paying attention to how great you feel right after a workout can be just as powerful,” says Michelle Segar, PhD, RD, director at the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy. And there’s no better time to focus on the present than immediately after a good sweat session, as vigorous workouts increase circulating levels of several feel-good brain chemicals, according to research published in Psychoneuroendocrinology. In both cases, you’ll benefit from the power of positive reinforcement.


Nothing can derail your progress toward your goals like a bum knee or a sore back. To stay off the sidelines, avoid stressing the same joints and muscle groups the same way every day. “In short, don’t do the same workout every time you sweat — mix things up for optimal results,” says Matheny. In a study published in The Journal of Obesity, people who incorporated more variety into their workouts also spent more time exercising and less time on the disabled list. The reason: Switching things up gives muscles and joints more time to recover. “It also makes exercising less boring, which is key to maintaining motivation,” says Matheny.


The pace of innovation in health and fitness picks up every year, and there’s a benefit to keeping up with the latest developments: “People who are knowledgeable about health and fitness are also more likely to keep pursuing their goals,” says Czech. And if you’re like most people, you have plenty to learn: In a recent survey by Nautilus, people scored an average of 42 percent on a series of questions about fitness. Our suggestion: Add the Beachbody Blog to your favorites list in your web browser.


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