Is this the year that you’re finally going to quit smoking, save more money or lose 10 pounds? If so, you’re not the only one.
Research suggests that nearly half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but nearly 80 percent fail, according to US News & World Report.
Health- and fitness-related resolutions are among the most common, but research also shows that “outside-in solutions” such as dieting or joining gyms aren’t setup for success unless you are committed to the change.
Teri Jacobs, fitness coordinator for Willamalane Park and Recreation District, has a lot of tools and advice to help people be successful on their fitness journey.
“If someone is trying to get started the first thing they need to do is pick something they like, not something they think they should do,” Jacobs says. “Maybe something they did in the past and enjoyed but stopped for a non-injury reason, otherwise it’s not going to be sustainable.”
Another important factor for success is to make the exercise a regular part of your day by scheduling it as you would any other responsibility.
“Put something in a spot on your calendar, even if it’s small like a walk,” Jacobs says. “Tell yourself, ‘This is my exercise time.’”
Even if you only walk for 10 minutes at a time, doing that five to seven days a week counts as exercise. The official recommendation for physical activity for adults is 30 minutes daily or 150 minutes a week. Jacobs says people often misinterpret that as thinking that they have to do that daily 30 minutes all at once.
“That’s not true,” Jacobs says. “Exercise is cumulative so if you do it in 10-minute increments or more it adds up and it still counts. If you do something for five minutes those calories are still burned; they didn’t not count.”
If you try and break down the minutes too far though, they don’t count. Getting up from the couch a time or two doesn’t really count as exercise, because it’s not sustained activity.
“You can consider it designated exercise if you do it for 10 minutes at a time,” she says.
Jacobs also recommends doing a variety of exercise so that your whole body gets the benefits. For example, if you’re working on your cardiovascular fitness, don’t neglect your flexibility and balance training.
“Especially as seniors, flexibility and balance is important,” she says. “They can do a different thing every day to make sure they cover all of those bases. That comes back to motivation and having a bunch of different things you do to stay interested.”
Another tip Jacobs offers is to plan ahead for backup exercises in case your schedule changes, you travel, or your exercise routine is based on being outside in nice weather.
“If I ride my bike for exercise I also add a strength routine or something I can do in a hotel room,” she says. “If you usually do your workout outdoors but you’re derailed by a winter storm, you’re going to lose your motivation if you don’t have a backup plan. So, have this other option ready and then you don’t have to think about it.”
If you normally go for a walk outside, consider having an exercise DVD handy at home for days when it’s too hot or too cold. Have a small set of packable weights for when you travel (some are made of plastic that can be filled with water in a hotel room). Yoga mats that fold into squares rather than roll are a good option for traveling. If you have space at home, a small treadmill or a stationary bike can help you bring your favorite workout indoors.
“Also,” Jacobs says, “don’t forget that some things that don’t look like exercise are actually exercise. Dancing, gardening or painting your house is an amazing amount of exercise so you can include that as your daily exercise if that’s what you’re doing. If you’re doing moderate level cleaning around your house you’re burning the same energy you would on a treadmill on a moderate setting. Sometimes people can get mentally derailed if they feel like they’re missing a day.”
Willamalane is a great option for classes and resources, offering group exercise classes that cover all levels of senior fitness. Jacobs suggests that someone starting at a sedentary, declining level try Gentle Exercise first and then improve their fitness until they are able to attend some of the facility’s more challenging classes.
As of January, Willamalane also offers four Silver Benefits programs, up from two previously. Silver Benefits programs work with a variety of insurance companies to offer fitness class passes at either no cost or a reduced rate for seniors depending upon their insurance plan.
“For example, Health Net provides the Silver & Fit program to their eligible members, usually 65-plus or those with a disability,” Jacobs says. “A Silver & Fit-eligible patron can then check in with us and we issue them a pass for free.”
The passes allow access to Willamalane’s fitness center, group exercise classes, water fitness classes, open exercise time at the pools, use of the spa, lap swims and open gym for basketball, pickleball or tennis.
As of January, Willamalane will offer Silver & Fit, Silver Sneakers, Optum Fitness Advantage and AARP Medicare Supplement programs as its Silver Benefits offerings. AARP Medicare Advantage offers the program for half off the regular price of $35 per month. All the others are free.
Seniors generally qualify for programs like this through their insurance provider, but many insurances don’t advertise that these programs are available, so definitely ask.
The other aspect of keeping a New Year’s resolution is to set specific, achievable goals. Behavioral psychologist Dr. Paul Marciano authored the book “Carrots and Sticks Won’t Work” and specializes in the area of behavior modification and motivation.
Marciano explains that the key is to not tell yourself, “I’m finally going to get in shape,” but to instead set a more specific goal such as doing 10 pushups or walking a certain distance. When you achieve that, set a new goal.
Another key is to track your progress. Start a journal of your efforts and consider joining along with a group of people who are also trying to achieve some goals. Sharing your achievements and struggles with others can help. Make sure your friends and family know your goals, so they can help keep you on track.
Avoid the “all or nothing” thinking by not telling yourself that a “day is ruined” so you might as well give up if you didn’t work out or you ate French fries. The difference between doing something and doing nothing is huge, so don’t sabotage yourself.
Doing these things and finding the activities that you love could be what it takes to move you out of the majority who don’t meet their goals and into the realm of the few who do.
Cutline/photo credit: Courtesy photo