Setting Your Goals on Fitness

From the WebMD Archives

Your friends tell you. Web sites, magazines and television remind you. Your doctor warns you. Your body screams at you. You know perfectly well you should do it. But if you're like three-quarters of Americans, you don't get the exercise you need.

It's not that you don't want to. That rowing machine looked great in the store. The gym membership seemed like a bargain, and so convenient to work. It's just that with all the pressures of work, friends and family, it's hard to find the time -- and the willpower.

But what if you didn't have to go out of your way? What if you could improve your health while commuting to work or pruning your camellias? That's the hopeful news from health researchers. Many forms of moderate daily activity can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and many other chronic diseases.

Not just any activity will do, though, so it's important to take some time and figure out how you can make exercise a part of your normal routine. Once you start putting your new plan into action, it will gradually become habit. That takes a month or two and requires some dedication, so set goals that will keep you motivated throughout this crucial beginning period.

Write your goals down and keep an activity log to make sure your health-and-wellness program stays on track. Remember that you should always consult with a doctor before starting any new fitness program. The American College of Sports Medicine has established the following guidelines for a safe and productive weekly program:

Cardiovascular Goals

For general-health improvement, adults should engage in a half hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week. The 30 minutes can be broken up into smaller segments throughout the day.

For fitness-training improvements, do three to five continuous cardiovascular training workouts per week at an intensity of 60 percent to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate. To calculate your estimated heart-rate maximum, simply subtract your age from 220. Beginning exercisers should multiply this number by 60 percent to 70 percent. Advanced exercisers should multiply this number by 70 percent to 90 percent.

Strength Training and Flexibility

Train each major muscle group two to three times per week, a minimum of one set of eight to 12 repetitions.

Lightly stretch the muscle groups used during your activity for eight to 12 seconds prior to exercise, and all major muscle groups for 20 seconds or longer post-exercise. The best way to rate one's ideal range is to take a stretch to the point of slight discomfort and hold the position, while avoiding any sensation of pain.

Charting Your Progress

Once you have decided on your overall fitness goal and your weekly workout plan, you need to log it, to make sure that you are sticking to the program. Your fitness chart should also include some reminders of where you started and how far you have come.

For example, if your goal is weight loss, jot down your weekly weight or measurements. If you're trying to improve your muscle tone, take some pictures or make notes to size up what is happening over the designated training period.

Don't be discouraged if you miss an intended workout or have a bad week. Instead, work harder the following week. And keep in mind that staying fit is a lifelong process that takes place in small, daily steps.

Tips for Forming an Exercise Habit

  • Mix functional exercise with traditional training: Use a walk to the mailbox, or outdoor activity with the kids as your workout on one day and then go back to your step or sculpt class on the next.
  • Find a friend to work out with; you will help keep each other motivated.
  • Keep fitness and healthy-eating articles, magazines and books around for down-time reading.
  • Plan your trip to the gym or jog route around other chores you have to do in the area, like grocery shopping or dropping the kids off at school or sports activities.
  • Keep a tight pair of jeans around to gage your ideal weight; put them on when you get the urge to skip a workout.
  • Have at least one option for exercise inside your home to use when the weather or your schedule does not permit you to get outside for a workout.
  • Try working out at different times of the day. Write down how you feel emotionally and physically before the activity, immediately after and several hours after. Compare your findings and decide what time during the day is your "on" time for exercise.
  • When you are stressed or depressed, walk around the block before you reach for other vices.
  • When you are in a real time crunch, try combining your housework with lively music and nonstop movement: shuffle, jog, squat and dance your way around the house as you pick up and put away. You will burn twice as many calories and clean up in half the time.
  • Put exercise at the top of your to-do list.