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What Happened to Your New Year's Resolution to Exercise?

Exercising is the most common but frequently abandoned New Year's resolution.

Key points

  • When New Year's exercise resolutions are unrealistic, failure is likely.
  • Instead of feeling guilty, you can plan "exercise snacks" that fit your lifestyle.
  • Start by recognizing that new habits, especially when they are effortful, take time to develop.

If you made a New Year’s resolution to exercise, joined a gym, an aerobic dance class, or just resolved to do it on your own, what happened? Are you still doing it, or have you given up? Maybe you found it unpleasant, didn’t have the time, or it found it too boring.

Perhaps you hated to sweat, felt self-conscious at a gym, lacked athletic skill, or had difficulty learning the dance moves. So now you might ask, why would I want to strain my muscles, get out of breath, or feel wiped out just because of something I said on January 1st?

There are many reasons for giving up, but how do you feel after dropping out? Discouraged? Guilty? Disappointed in yourself? Think you’re just too lazy? Instead of this negative thinking, you can forget resolutions but examine the cause of your downfall. Then you can develop a strategy for including exercise in your daily routine.

Start by recognizing that new habits, especially when they are effortful, take time to develop. Drop the nasty thoughts you’ve had about your resolution to get active. Just because it’s January 1st, you can’t flip a switch and have an instantaneous transformation. It’s much more likely that you’ll have several false starts and then many repetitions before exercise becomes a habit.

Next, review what happened to your resolution. Did you try jogging or playing a sport and find that you just didn’t enjoy it? Did you find it hard to fit exercise into your daily schedule? Perhaps your goals were unrealistic. If you’ve been inactive and joined a gym, the workout routine your trainer suggested might have been too strenuous. Once you’ve identified the reason you gave up, you’ll be able to build a routine that you can maintain.

Here are a few suggestions for overcoming some of the barriers to developing a comfortable exercise habit:

  • If fitting exercise into your busy schedule is an issue, think of “exercise snacks,” little breaks in your routine that can be short bouts of activity. Remember, chores like raking leaves, mopping floors, etc., can count. Just do it vigorously.

If your previous attempt was too difficult, too tiring, leaving you out-of-breath, or just painful, simply scale back the intensity or try something else. What activity did you like when you were younger? Riding a bike? Dancing? Can you develop an exercise routine using that activity?

  • Feeling self-conscious about workout clothes drawing attention to your body or feeling foolish because you lack coordination or skill? The difficulty isn’t with the activity; it’s with how you think about the activity.

You don’t need New Year’s Resolutions to make healthy changes. With a little planning and realistic expectations, you can develop a healthy exercise habit.

Edward Abramson, PhD
Gyms get crowded the first week in January
Source: Edward Abramson, PhD
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