It’s 7 a.m. on cold, dreary January morning. You struggle to wake up, but have no choice. Whatever commitments you have are now back in full swing with the dawn of a new year. The good cheer of December is all but a distant memory. As you crawl out of bed to begin your morning routine a nasty surprise awaits you.
In the bathroom you step on the scale.
You are not impressed. The over indulgence of the holiday season has caught up with you. What to do about it?
Join a gym.
That’s the route that many take after eating too much over the holidays. People make it their New Year’s resolution to get active, get fit and shed those extra pounds. Such a positive goal can pump up the miserable month of January with some much needed optimism, but the sad truth is not everybody is going to stick to these goals.
According to Carmen Puyo, Group Fitness Manager at Extreme Fitness Cedarbrae, a lot of the January newcomers drop off around March. While she can expect to see 40 to 50 people in her classes in January and February, this number drops into the 30s by the third month of the year.
“People get all gung-ho after Christmas, they go hard for two months then quit,” Puyo says. “That’s the problem everyone falls into”.
Why are so many people prone to fail so quickly?
Professor Steven Bray at McMaster University studies the motivation to exercise in young people and adults, or lack thereof.
“When people make a resolution or a goal, they form an intention. This intention often involves new behaviour, and people don’t understand all of the aspects of that new behaviour. The goal might be very time consuming, and people don’t understand how full their day is to begin with” says Bray.
He also added that when people aim for goals they can be “high on ambition”, failing to recognize that what they set out to do is unrealistic.
Therein lies the problem: Setting a goal with attractive results, only to discover that achieving those results is harder then you thought. That six pack doesn’t seem so glamorous when you need to swear off all your favourite foods to get it.
Is there any hope?
Is it possible to push past the March threshold and become a regular gym enthusiast with progressive goals? According to Puyo, it most certainly is.
“I’ve met a lot of people who have just been like ‘that’s it, this is the year that I’m gonna get into shape’ and they just do it,” she said.
So what’s the secret to success?
“Make a goal and keep it realistic” says Puyo. “Start small, it needs to be a life style change, not just a phase.”
She plans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa this year, but explained just how much work it took her to get to that point.
“Having large goals is a good thing, but they need to be supplemented with smaller goals and behavioural changes,” says Professor Bray. “These changes take place from week to week and day to day. You need to make appropriate adjustments to the way you live.”
He calls this the “over arching notion of self-regulation”.
One thing that needs serious regulation if you hope to succeed is your diet. Puyo warns that exercising while still eating poorly is not a counter balance, and will slow down your progress quite a bit. This is nothing to go overboard about, it just means eating healthy food more often, and limiting the junk to occasional treats.
The Silver Lining
Even if you know the route to success, you may still be worried about sticking it out and getting there. One thing to remember is that not all of the numbers are against you. In general people are more active than they were over a decade ago.
“More and more people are meeting the standards of being physically active” said Bray. “It all comes down the pipe line as percentages, but these small percentages can translate into a lot of people when you look at the entire population”.
According to Statistics Canada over 5 million people in this country are more active now then they were in 1995.
Extreme Fitness Cedarbrae in Scarborough has been open for Six years, and according to Puyo, membership has gone up every single year. This month alone they are expecting 1,000 new members.
As far as long-term trends are concerned, your chances of fitness success are high, as long as you make it past the first three months. It all comes down to taking baby steps and making reasonable commitments.
Your goal might not be to climb the biggest mountain in Africa, like Carmen Puyo, but according to her “everybody climbs mountains every day, whether it’s stress with life or your job, every challenge is a mountain and you just need to overcome it.”