Tips for Making Exercise a Habit

We all know that exercise is an important aspect of our health, especially since one in four Americans sit for more than eight hours a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But finding the time and the motivation to work out can be an exercise of will in and of itself. If you would like to exercise more but have found it difficult to stick with a plan, we understand. We reached out to a few Texas Health Resources experts to find out how to make exercise a habit for good.

Jessica Hamilton, the fitness center manager at Texas Health Neighborhood Care & Wellness in Burleson, a department of Texas Health Fort Worth, says people should ask themselves two questions when thinking about their exercise goals.

“First, ask yourself if you set reasonable goals and then, ask what you have done to hold yourself accountable to these goals,” she suggests. “Oftentimes, individuals are so extremely eager to get in shape that they set unreasonable goals and expectations. When starting a fitness plan, it’s best to start with a minimalistic approach and build on it, such as making it a goal to work out or hit the gym three days per week. It’s best you start with what you know, and then add variety as you feel more comfortable and confident.

“Remember, if you miss a day, it’s okay. You don’t have to be so hard on yourself, but start up again. You don’t always need to start on a Monday, or a new week or a new year. If you are having a hard time making it work, reach out to a fitness professional for help setting measurable goals or team up with a friend to add fun and accountability to your routine.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 53.1 percent of American adults over age 18 meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic physical activity, while only 23.5 percent meet guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity. In a CDC report comparing exercise data among the states between 2010 and 2015, Texas comes in right at the average of 23.5 percent. However, compliance varies by gender, with 28.1 percent of Texan men ages 18-64 meeting guidelines and only 19 percent of women making the grade.

Many people struggle with a lack of energy or feeling like there’s not enough time in the day to exercise. Hamilton says we may need to toss out our preconceived notions about what healthy activity really is.

David Candelario, D.O., a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Plano and Texas Health Family Care, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, recommends using the “power of habit.”

“Start out small and schedule an appointment with the gym or whatever exercise you are doing such as tennis, golf, walking, softball, etc.,” he says. “Begin with three days a week and block out an hour. That gives you time to get to the gym, exercise for 30 minutes and leave.

“Also, be sure you have a very clear goal and reason as to why you are exercising and be specific. Wanting to ‘get in shape’ is way too general. Saying, ‘I want to be able to do 25 pushups, run/walk 1.5 miles in 12 minutes and do three pull-ups,’ is more specific and focused. Add a timeframe such as ‘in one year’ and you’ve got a pretty solid goal that you can start working toward.”

Candelario says we have to be real with ourselves about how we spend our time and make smart nutritional choices.

“Exercise has a way of making you feel more energetic by the endorphins that get released as you exercise and you also tend to sleep better and get more restful sleep,” he explains. “I used to be very active in martial arts, so in my personal experience, I always found when I’m serious about my training, my diet cleaned up and I started doing all the little things that I knew to do. You are not going to feel energetic eating fast food for lunch three days a week and I doubt you’ll see many actual athletes eating fast food regularly.

“Treat yourself like a champion — get good rest, scheduling time in your life to take care of yourself by exercising on a regular basis and eating healthy meals. Do NOT lie to yourself … drowning a salad in dressing is not healthy and we know that. We all have 24 hours, so take the time to just keep a journal of how much time you spend watching TV, on your iPhone on social media, etc. You’d likely be surprised at how much time you really have … it’s all a matter of making your health a priority.”

Many people struggle with a lack of energy or feeling like there’s not enough time in the day to exercise. Hamilton says we may need to toss out our preconceived notions about the nature of healthy activity.

“Avoid thinking you need to set aside a whole hour to receive the benefits of exercise,” she explains. “You can sneak it in throughout your day with 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there. Plus, studies have shown that this method can be even more beneficial as it improves the after-burn effect, improves mood and thought processes — and believe it or not, it will boost your energy, too.”

While finding time to exercise may be a challenge, there are ways to increase your daily movement. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute provides practical ideas to help people move more and increase physical activity.

So what does Hamilton recommend people do to make exercise a habit?

“First, find something you enjoy doing, whether it’s classes, swimming, hiking, lifting weights or a variety of all them to break up boredom,” she recommends. “Second, look for something that will hold you accountable and make it fun, such as a friend to work out with or a personal trainer. Teaming up can be the most successful way to make it a habit.

“Also, think about carving time out in the morning because as we all know, we can come up with any sort of excuses throughout the day to skip our evening workouts. Lastly, keep it simple and fresh with new classes, fusion workouts or streamable routines … anything that will keep you coming back for more.”

Candelario says he recognizes the draw of fast food and a busy lifestyle, but that we have to start looking at how our choices now will affect us in the long run.

“In my practice, I have found that most health problems could have been avoided by a reasonable diet and moderate amounts of exercise,” he explains. “If we add eliminating bad habits to that mix, most people would remain healthy into their golden years. Unfortunately, with the ease of access to tasty but poor food choices and the ready availability of seated entertainment, we are not helping ourselves.

David Candelario, D.O., Family Medicine

“As a physician, I’ve seen the devastating results of diet and inactivity and I struggle myself with time and food choices. It’s all a matter of how you want your life to look as you get older. You don’t have to achieve this overnight but choose one thing a month you want to change. After that’s a well-established habit, which usually takes 30 days, pick another thing. Do the small things and they add up. You can do this!”

Whether you gave up on your resolutions by the end of the first week of January or you’re still going strong, Hamilton says she and her colleagues are available to help people come up with a new plan for success or just fine-tune an already-functioning exercise plan.

“If you get stuck in a rut, set up an appointment with a personal trainer. The first session is always free at Texas Health Burleson, and it gives you an opportunity to discuss a new plan with your goals and safety in mind. Oftentimes it comes down to switching up your routine and/or making small changes to your diet. This short meeting with a pro can make all the difference in setting you up for long-term success and changes.”

At a Texas Health fitness center, you don’t need a perfect body, and you don’t need fancy attire. All you need is the determination to feel and look your best. To learn more about the fitness programs at our hospital-based centers, visit TexasHealth.org/Fitness.

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