Your step-by-step, no-fail system for getting fit and healthy in 2021
2020 was a heck of a year. Our world as we knew it changed and we were stuck at home. It’s no wonder many of us were stress-eating snacks and not getting as much exercise.
We’ve been through a lot. Does a traditional New Year’s resolution list even apply this year? Do we really need to add that kind of pressure, on top of everything else? I say no thanks.
But what I’m hearing from people is that they do want to lose the extra “Quarantine 15” pounds they’ve been carrying, or to start working out again because it will help them feel better. More than anything, people really want to get back to feeling like their old self and having some sense of normalcy and control over their situation.
We can’t control what’s going on around us, but we can take charge of our own health and fitness. And while a few strategies might need to change for the current times, you can still accomplish your goals.
What better time than a brand new year to turn a page for a fresh start! And for that, let’s take a fresh approach for 2021.
The following seven steps will work for any goal. But for the purposes of this article, let’s say your goal is to exercise regularly.
Step 1: Define your purpose
You’re probably busy and don’t have extra time and energy to engage in something that isn’t important to you. So let’s make the case for pursuing your goal to exercise. What is your “why?”
What would be your personal benefit to being fit? Why do you want to exercise — to feel less stiff and sore? To have more energy? To head off the hypertension that runs in your family? To be able to play with the kids? To have more confidence? To be able to take that dream vacation to Italy and walk all day long?
Envision yourself having reached your goal. How would your life be different?
A visual representation can also be helpful. Some people create a vision board — you could post pictures or words that represent things, personal qualities, accomplishments and experiences you would like to have in your life. Another idea is to write a personal mission statement. Or, you could simply make a bullet list of what matters to you. Post your visual somewhere where you can regularly see it as a reminder of your true motivation.
Step 2: Choose ONE thing to focus on for the year
Ditch the long resolution list, and instead pare it down. Way down. When you choose just one thing to focus on rather than several, you’ll be able to give it the dedication needed to accomplish.
Be specific about what it is you will do. Instead of saying something vague like “I’m going to get in shape this year,” say “I’m going to get up a half-hour earlier every day to exercise before work.”
Step 3: Decide HOW you will do it
There are practically unlimited ways to exercise. Find something that you like to do, and do it. You’re more likely to stick with something you enjoy. Keep it simple.
Even if you aren’t able to go to a gym, you can still get in great shape. You could join an online or outdoor class, hire a trainer, take up running, work out at home, or start a walking program, to name just a few.
READ: How to exercise at home with limited space and budget
If you know that you tend to struggle on your own, enlist the help of a qualified professional. A certified personal trainer, certified health coach, and a registered dietitian can help you reach your goals with a customized plan. Why go it alone, when you don’t have to? The support and accountability you will get is invaluable.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina offers health coaching with certain plans. Log on to Blue Connect to find out if your plan offers health coaching. Access nutrition counseling or mental health care services by calling the number on the back of your member ID card.
Step 4: Create a schedule
Carve out the time in your day to exercise. This is a must. If you only exercise whenever you “feel like it,” chances are it won’t get done.
Most people are busy, and regular exercisers are no different. Remember, it’s not about having time. It’s about making time. This might mean getting up earlier, using part of your lunch break, or exercising right after work.
Set a specific time to exercise, and be consistent with it. Schedule it in your calendar, like it’s an important meeting. It needs to have that kind of priority in your day, so that you will get it done.
If you are new to exercising, start with a small amount each day. The important thing is to establish it as a daily habit. Then, gradually build up to more over time.
I started with 15 minutes a day in the morning, and that worked great for me because it was doable.
Step 5: Keep a log of your activity and progress
Keep a workout log and calendar, and put reminders to yourself in a visible place or an alert on your phone to help you remember.
Also keep a record of your body measurements and exercise progression over time. Remember, the scale isn’t the only measure of progress! I recommend to track your measurements monthly and weight weekly.
If you are focusing on healthier eating and losing weight, track your nutrition, calories and meals in an app or journal.
Step 6: Manage your expectations
Ignore the magazine covers and ads that falsely claim you can lose a large amount of pounds in a short time.
In real life it can take a while — perhaps longer than you might like — to change long-held habits, to build muscle, to burn fat, or to lose weight.
That’s a good reason not to focus on body weight alone as an outcome. Doing so can make you feel frustrated and unsuccessful if you don’t meet that goal quickly. That’s why it’s important to track and celebrate non-scale victories.
Step 7: Keep on
As someone who went from couch potato to enjoying exercise, and lost 60 pounds along the way, I can confirm that success in this area generally isn’t linear. You will have plateaus or setbacks from time to time. That doesn’t mean failure.
When you get off track — and you will, everyone does sometimes — simply get right back on. Understand this is a normal part of the process.
Perfection isn’t required for success, but consistency and dedication are. Let yesterday go, and focus on right now. Take it one day at a time.
And always, keep coming back to your purpose. Don’t give up. Think about where you’ll be this time next year if you’ll just keep moving forward a little bit each day.
Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy 2021!