Starting an exercising program, and sticking with it!

Most everyone is aware that more and more people are making exercise an important part of their lives, but did you know that fewer than one-third of the ones who begin an exercise program are still exercising by the end of the first year?

Surprisingly enough, the people who drop out will most likely start and stop again. I have seen this so many times. I have been lucky enough to meet and work with many in the Verde Valley. Those that quit, sooner or later, return to start working out again.

Those that have not returned and see me on the street treat me as though I'm the pastor of a church that they haven't attended for a while and always say, "I'm coming back to work out soon. I used to feel so much better when I did. I feel so guilty for not coming back!"

Others see me and are embarrassed they haven't come back, so they try to avoid me.

So, if you are one of the above, or one that has thought about working out, and are afraid you might become part of the dropouts ... there's good news.

If you know what to expect and develop some strategies to overcome the stumbling blocks, you can beat these dropout odds and make a successful transition from beginner to a lifelong exerciser.

I believe there are four phases that one has to tackle to become a lifetime exerciser. They are the following:

The Critical Week - Week 1

When you decide to start exercising, the first week is the most "critical" week. This first week has an extremely high dropout rate. Why? Many attempt "Too much, too soon," which always leads to soreness, fatigue and/or injuries. And there are the ones that have never exercised and are not familiar with movements, as well as the exercise equipment, who become embarrassed and frustrated - wanting to throw in the towel.

What can you do to keep yourself on the right track? If you join a gym, make sure you see a certified trainer. The trainer should talk with you about your health history and fine out what your goals are and why you joined the gym. By talking to you and looking at your health history, the trainer should be able to produce an appropriate workout for you.

The trainer should have you begin your workout slowly, starting with a warm up, and then work out at your own pace, gradually increasing the duration and level of difficulty of your workout.

Last, always cool down and stretch to help prevent soreness and injuries. And remember, it's very common and natural to feel awkward at first. Everyone who starts feels the same way, but once you get past the first few weeks, it becomes much easier.

Unrealistic Expectations - Weeks 2, 3 and 4

In the next few weeks, expect some difficulty "sticking to it." Enthusiasm often decreases when pounds don't drop or muscles don't develop over night.

Do not expect immediate dramatic changes in weight loss or body shape. (Doctors recommend losing a maximum of one to two pounds per week.) There will be changes internally in these weeks, but most external benefits will not be visible for a few more weeks.

Add a second activity to your exercise schedule to help prevent boredom and overuse injuries.

A Crisis of Commitment - Week 12 - Month 6

At this stage physical changes become visible. Weight loss, muscle mass increase, increased stamina and endurance, reduced blood pressure and mood elevation are all possible benefits. So, why does one out of two exercisers quit by the end of the sixth month or sooner?

The truth is, sheer mental drive is often enough to get people through the first 12 weeks, but past that time (months 4-6) reality hits. Also, illness, vacation and/or extra h ours at work cause missed sessions, which can further weaken the commitment.

If you feel as though you are forcing yourself to do something you really don't like, you're likely to quit. You should choose an exercise activity you enjoy, one that fits your personality or needs (early morning or evening workouts or individual vs. group activity).

Don't force yourself to lift weight, for instance, if you really don't have fun doing it. Enjoyment itself is a powerful motivator. Focus on the pleasurable happenings of your routine, such as the early morning sun or class buddies.

Also, if you plan to attend classes, choose a class that's right for you. The class should fit your exercise capabilities, as well as your exercise goals. If the class is too hard or too easy, you'll be more inclined to drop out quickly. Make sure the class schedule fits your time frame.

Once you select the class and time, make sure your instructor is a good role model. The instructor should look fit, be fit and knowledgeable and enjoy teaching. You should feel that the instructor is concerned with providing you with the best workout possible.

Finally, concentrate on all benefits your body is receiving, not just appearance but in general health. These rewards can carry you through these months.

The Plateau - Months 6-9

This is the time you normally see the greatest gains (stronger heart, lungs, joints and muscles, better stamina, reduced blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and body fat), but another stumbling block sometimes appears.

As you become more fit, improvements begin to level off. So, further progression requires greater intensity and/or frequency - but be realistic.

Further gains will seem harder to achieve since you'll probably already have achieved your biggest improvements. Try a new sport, machine or class to add variety and interest.

The best way to guarantee that you do not become an exercise dropout is to set goals for yourself. Make these goals reasonable, achievable, realistic, personal and set within a respectable time frame.

The key in goal setting is to make certain that you experience success along the way. Remember, success breeds success.

Now, if you can make it through these four phases to the end of year one, your chances of becoming a lifetime exercise are virtually 100 percent - and the lifelong health benefits of exercise will forever be yours.

My final words on this subject are, there are many "tricks of the trade" to help you stick to an exercise program. The key is to enjoy what you are doing. When you have fun exercising, you continue doing it longer.

Remember, the actual benefits of fitness are never truly received until after three to four months. So, exercise is a long-term commitment, and the payoff is much greater than the cost

Lori Maine is the owner of Everybody's Workout in Cottonwood.

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