"By mid-February, you see a real drop-off," Maki says.
However, people don't necessarily have to follow that trend if they set reasonable goals, pick enjoyable activities, and receive proper instruction. And by establishing a system of accountability, that New Year's resolution may stick -- even past February and possibly far beyond it.
Find an Exercise Buddy
One of the most effective forms of accountability is the kind that involves other people, Maki says. He calls this the buddy system. People make workout dates with each other so that they stay on track. Backing out requires a phone call or standing someone up.
"The conscientious part of your brain takes over. You made a promise. You show up," he explains.
Sharing workout goals with friends and family is another easy way to set up accountability. "They'll ask you whether you worked out or not," Maki says.
Another Type of Buddy: A Personal Trainer
An increasingly popular form of the buddy system is the hiring of personal trainers. These trainers charge from between $40 and $100 an hour, offering clients individualized exercise programs and the incentive many of them need to show up for workouts.
"The fact that you have to pay is your motivation to go," explains regular exerciser Sara Strom of Houston, TX. "I used to use every excuse in the book not to go to the health club, but, if you know you are paying someone and they are waiting for you, you go. I haven't missed more than one or two days in a year and a half."
Strom meets with her trainer three times a week for a one-on-one session of strength and flexibility training. She says she appreciates the personalized attention, not to mention the results she gets -- she's slimmed down by two dress sizes.
Pen and Paper
Maki says progress is the best motivator. Keeping an ongoing exercise log is the best way for a person to see that they are getting more physically fit, he explains. In a journal or notebook, he recommends that people write down what exercise they did, for how long, and how they felt afterward. They should review their entries on a regular basis, looking for signs of burnout and sources of pride, such as increasingly longer and more enjoyable workouts.
College student Claudia Acosta of Chino, CA, has found that keeping a written list of her workout goals has helped her stay consistent. In addition, she prints out a weekly exercise schedule and posts it on her refrigerator.
"I check off the days that I exercise," she explains. "It makes me feel like I have to do it," she adds. And, when she isn't able to check off a workout, she is all the more driven to exercise.
People can now take advantage of the advances in computers and other electronics to become more conscientious. The popular heart monitor, for example, alerts its owner when it hasn't been used for three days.
Judging by the variety of virtual training, which keeps tabs on people via email, it may be the wave of the future. Some web sites offer individualized training programs for a monthly fee that entitle the customer to benefit from workout planning and motivational phone calls from a trainer. These programs also offer email updates to the program based on the client's progress. Other sites sell fitness products and offer free assessments based on data entered by the user. Health indices such as the client's body mass index and waist-to-hip ratios are calculated, and nutritional and activity goals are recommended based on that data.
Whatever the technique, making a lifestyle change takes time, Maki says. But once people get into a routine, he adds, "the greatest motivation will be seeing the results."