Every year, as the frigid temperatures of winter gave way to the warmth of spring, Sharon Weidenfeld would pick up her fitness routine in preparation for the upcoming summer pool season. Weidenfeld, a private investigator based in Annapolis, Maryland, would start walking for a half-hour every day in March and try to eat better. In early June, she’d start hitting her neighbourhood outdoor pool, where she’d tread water for an hour to 75 minutes a day. Weidenfeld, 55, would be in better shape by the end of the summer. Then fall would arrive, the pool would close, days would get shorter and Weidenfeld wouldn’t feel as motivated to exercise. By the end of the year, she’d lose her fitness gains.
Lots of people get motivated to get in shape, and they accomplish their goals – initially. But many find it hard to stay motivated when winter rolls around and outdoor exercise options become limited, particularly in cold-weather regions. That’s when lots of people backslide from their fitness routine. “One of the hardest phases of change is the maintenance phase,” says Taylor Merritt, a fitness trainer at TITLE Boxing Club San Diego. “You work so hard to get your body looking the way you want, yet most people tend to fall off track and lose everything they worked so hard to achieve. Plenty of people find it hard to stay motivated and maintain their weight and fitness level.”
In 2016, Weidenfeld combined her fondness for the pool and her love of animals and figured out a way to stay committed to her fitness regimen. The private eye went through her usual spring routine of eating healthier and walking more, and as usual hit the pool in the summer. But when her community pool closed after Labour Day, instead of hibernating from her fitness routine, she joined a YMCA that has a year-round pool that’s enclosed and remains open during the cold months. To motivate herself to keep exercising, Weidenfeld thought about how she’d become a vegetarian 35 years earlier because she loves animals. “I realized if I could stick with being a vegetarian all these years, I have the strength to stay with my exercise routine and good eating habits,” Weidenfeld says. By the fall, she’d lost 53 pounds and felt in better shape than she had in years. Weidenfeld is optimistic she can keep up her fitness regimen.
Staying motivated to stick with a fitness program for the long run is challenging, whether your goal is to avoid becoming obese, cut down your odds of suffering from diabetes or a heart attack, or to put less pressure on your knees and joints. To find reasons that work for you to stay with a healthy routine, experts recommend these strategies:
Know your catalyst. It’s important to identify what inspires you to get fitter, whether it’s a desire to maintain a healthy weight, minimize your chances of contracting a chronic disease or maximizing your physical abilities. “You have to understand what motivates you,” says Christopher Cousins, a physical therapist in the District of Columbia. ”Some people want to improve their health to avoid obesity, getting diabetes or needing to take insulin. Others want to run marathons or play tennis competitively for their age group. Some people are motivated by fear. There are positive motivators, like wanting to continue to look fit or to run or swim or hit [on the tennis court] at a certain level. Once you identify those underlying factors, you can find a plan that works for you.”
People seeking to get fit can turn to a raft of resources, such as personal trainers, health care professionals and online physical training programs. “Some do well with online resources and videos; some people need a more structured regimen,” Cousins says.
Start small, and don’t overwhelm yourself. Be prepared and willing to work for incremental progress, says Christian Koshaba, the owner of Three60fit, a fitness club in Arlington Heights, Illinois. “Don’t take on the mountain all at once,” he says. “One step at a time. People try to change everything at once, and they skip from step one all the way to step four. Be patient with change and growth – each individual stage can last anywhere from a moment to a lifetime.”
As soon as you reach one milestone, aim for another. Think of your efforts to become fitter as a journey, not a destination. It’s fine to note and celebrate fitness achievements, but keep in mind you need to keep moving forward. “The trick is to keep setting new goals,” says Phillip Hagspiel, head of research and development for Freeletics, which is based in Munich, Germany, and produces a fitness app. “If you stop as soon as you reach the first one it will all have been worth nothing. Never see any goal as ‘the end.’ See it as the beginning of a new goal. For example, once you’ve met your goal of running 3 miles in 30 minutes, your new goal can be to run 3 miles in 27 minutes or 3 miles at an incline. Continuing to set new, achievable goals will feel like big wins and will keep you motivated.”
Reward yourself. Keeping your training wardrobe fresh is one way to stay motivated to stick to your exercise regimen, whether it involves running or playing pickup hoops or training at the gym. Trying out new sneakers or workout clothes can be fun and exciting. “New gear is a great way to motivate you and keep you excited for your workouts. Whether you are an avid fitness buff or new to the scene, adding some new gear to your wardrobe can give you that extra push you need to keep you moving,” says Jenny Harkins, a certified group fitness instructor and owner of Treadfit, a fitness facility in Chicago. “At least twice a year, purchase new shoes. Get fitted. Hit a specialty store and have them fit your properly. Maybe go trendy. Grab a pair of colorful trendy new kicks! If your shoes are worn and run down, your workout will feel that way. Dress for the seasons! Treat yourself to a new tank, capris and shorts. If you feel good in what you are wearing, your energy and enthusiasm for your workout will follow. Show off those hard-earned muscles.”
Don’t ditch your healthy regimen over a slip. Avoid becoming discouraged if you have an off day and miss your usual workout or indulge in an unhealthy meal or two. Keep in mind that such slips happen, but they don’t mean your fitness goals are out of reach and are no reason to relapse into unhealthy habits. “It’s important to recognize that being successful requires flexibility. All-or-nothing thinking is one of the most common pitfalls to straying the course, because one little derailment can send you spinning off into the wrong direction,” says Sarah Mattison-Berndt, a registered dietitian for Complete Nutrition and certified personal trainer based in Madison, Wisconsin. “When you miss a workout or ditch your diet, simply make a plan to get back on track right away and move forward. Telling yourself ‘I’ll start over Monday’ is not a long-term strategy. Instead, eat a little lighter at the next meal and spend an extra 15 minutes on your workouts for the remainder of the week.”
Minor slips are normal and no reason to abandon your healthy routine, adds Steven McDaniels, a personal trainer and director of fitness and athletics at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida. “Think of a slip as eating fast food for lunch, and think of a full-blown collapse as eating fast food for five days straight,” he says.