Many people want to get in shape and improve their health, but struggle getting started. Others start only to stop a program soon after. These issues are very common and often stem from improper planning or no plan at all. Here are a few things to think about before you start an exercise program.
1. Get a Medical Clearance
Any person wanting to start a wellness plan should get a medical clearance. Although regular exercise is safe for most people, a person who has gone an extended period without exercise should visit their physician. Individuals who already take part in a yearly physical may only need to discuss their ambitions with their physician. Others who have not participated in annual checkups may need further testing to assure there are no underlying concerns that would restrict exercise participation. Either way, a medical consultation is important in designing the right plan.
2. Set a S.M.A.R.T. Goal
Goal setting is a key part of any plan. S.M.A.R.T. goals are a common tool and help increase the likelihood of success by writing out a plan. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for S-Specific, M-Measurable, A-Attainable, R-Relevant, and T-Time Bound. With specific, an individual should think about the what, why, and how related to a goal. An example would be to lose 50 pounds (what) through proper exercise and diet (how) to improve overall health (why). With measurable, a goal should be measured in a way that gives you tangible evidence of success or failure. An example would be to weigh yourself on a scale or annual health assessment. With attainable, a goal must be achievable. If you set a goal to run a marathon under 3 hours but you have never completed a 10k, your goal may be out of reach. With relevant, a goal must be in an area that you are willing to work toward or have the capability to meet. Getting in shape so you can join a local YMCA league would be more relevant than the NBA. With time bound, a goal should have a time constraint. An example would be to lose 50 pounds over a 3-year period.
3. Make it a Habit
Begin with the mind frame that you need to develop habits. Many make the mistake of being results oriented early on. Focus should be on simply making the healthy change part of your everyday life. If you take on too much too soon, you are setting yourself up to fail. Once a habit is set, you can then build upon your schedule in a safe way. Finishing a marathon is the end goal, not the day one goal.
4. Build a Support System
Although a goal is usually an individual’s wants, it is important to involve others in your goals. A great support system enhances your chances to be successful. Tell others about your plans. A co-worker, a spouse, or a friend may want to join. A personal trainer could help you develop and start a safe individualized plan. A physician could give sound medical advice. You know your weaknesses. Build your support system around your weak areas to maximize your results.
Bad habits are not easily broken, so getting started on the right foot increases your chances of making long-lasting behavioral changes. Planning is the foundation for success.
Walter Whitfield is an employee wellness consultant and founder of Lavoro Workplace Wellness where he helps businesses improve their workplace through employee wellness strategies. He has worked with corporations like Chevron, BP, and Seadrill. Walter is a former college athlete for Louisiana’s Ragin Cajuns where he competed in cross country and track, winning Sunbelt conference titles in the 3k Steeplechase and 5k. He is married, has 3 kids, and loves all things New Orleans Saints and Louisiana’s Ragin Cajuns.
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