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Don't Fall Back into Bad Habits

How to keep a good thing going

Making Better Choices continued...

Another type of healthy choice involves the "power of place," says behaviorist Peggy Vincent of The Methodist Hospital in Houston.

"Where you are has a lot to do with what you do," says Vincent. "Stay away from places that have been problematic for you in the past, and spend more time in places where healthy behaviors are the norm."

Don't sit in your favorite Mexican restaurant and wonder why you can't resist the chips, or spend an evening on the sofa watching TV and hoping not to snack, Vincent says. Instead, spend more time in the gym, take an evening class to get out of the house, or try a restaurant with healthy menu selections.

Keep Moving

Sticking with an exercise program can be at least as challenging as maintaining a healthy eating plan.

"At least 50% of people who start an exercise program drop out after six months," says Ken Turley, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology and director of the Wellness Center at Harding University in Searcy, Ark.

According to Richard Ray, PhD, chairman of kinesiology and coordinator of the athletic training program at Hope College in Holland, Mich., most people quit their workout programs because they fail to make a true lifestyle change when they begin exercising.

"In some cases, they are exercising to try to achieve a particular goal, and once their goal is achieved, they modify their behavior -- which usually includes decreasing their exercise frequency and intensity," he says.

To avoid slacking off on your exercise program, Turley and Ray offer the following tips:

  • Set measurable goals -- like number of minutes walked or number of weight-lifting reps. Be specific, but realistic.
  • Find an "accountability partner" who can exercise with you.
  • Tell close friends and family your intentions and goals to help keep you on track.
  • Decide in advance how much time each day or each week you can devote to a fitness program. "Make sure it is realistic," says Ray. "Schedule it like you would a meeting or other things throughout your day."
  • Use reminders -- Post-it notes, computer memos, whatever works for you.
  • Track and celebrate your progress.
  • Create a reward system for yourself.

Motivation is ultimately the key when keeping up any lifestyle change, says Lou Manza, PhD, associate professor of psychology and department chairman at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa.

When you begin to feel discouraged and want to fall back into old habits, Manza recommends getting away from your workout program for a week or two. Don't be inactive during your break; just do another form of exercise that is less taxing on your body and mind.

And don't use a temporary setback as an excuse to give up on your workout.

"Don't let a setback completely derail your lifestyle change," Ray adds. "If you miss a day or even a week, don't give into the temptation to quit altogether."

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