Health & Wellness

December 13, 2012
 

Why Jan. 1 May Be Worst Day to Start Getting Fit

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Guilt, crowds and the weather conspire to thwart your resolutions, but these expert tips can set you up for success

By Debra Witt | December 10, 2012

There’s never a bad time to start getting fit — well, except maybe for New Year’s Day, which just happens to be the most popular date for launching new exercise regimens.

Why Resolutions Fail

“In many ways, I think Jan. 1 is the worst possible time to start exercising,” says sports psychologist Jack Raglin, a professor at Indiana University’s School of Public Health. Our intentions are good, but too often a resolution to get in shape is based on our guilt that we have not exercised as much as we know we should have.

“Those guilty feelings don’t help individuals change bad past behavior,” Raglin says. “In fact, research shows that guilt often sabotages good intentions. Adults get linked into the negative emotions behind the behavior — I’m such a slouch, and Kathy has kids and runs marathons — rather than focusing on the behavior itself.”

(MORE: The Fiftysomething Workout: Our Five Biggest Mistakes)

Beyond the psychological issues, says Raglin, there’s a practical reason why January fitness campaigns fail — the weather. In many parts of the country, “this time of year is awful in terms of exercise options,” he says. Establishing and building up one’s cardiovascular routine is crucial to improving fitness, but for people who prefer to bike or run outside, frigid temperatures and slick roads make it difficult to exercise consistently.

And for those of us who prefer to do our workouts in the gym, January brings throngs of other “newbies” crowding our favorite machines. “There’s an inconvenience factor in that there are all these extra bodies around when you’re trying to get your workout in,” Raglin says.

Finally, too many people set fitness goals that are too vague. They look at the scale on Jan. 1, after a week of holiday parties, and immediately resolve that this will be the year. But in the heat of the moment, they don’t set realistic targets or formulate any particular plan to achieve them. “The people who are most successful at reaching their goals are the ones who’ve put a lot of thought into what it is they want to accomplish and how they’re going to get there,” Raglin says.

5 Ways You Can Make It Work

Despite these potential pitfalls, as many as 45 percent of American adults make a New Year’s resolution — and, for 40 percent of them, getting fit is the No.1 pledge, according to a University of Scranton study. The study also found that fewer than half of people who make resolutions stick to them longer than six months; more disturbingly, only 14 percent of people over 50 achieve their resolutions. Some do reach their goals, though — about 19 percent claim to have successfully stuck to a resolution for at least two years.

If you’re committed to making fitness your 2013 resolution, here’s some expert advice to set yourself up for success:

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