Fitness First: Tips for Setting Healthy Goals

Krista Howell
By Krista Howell September 15, 2015 12:40

set fitness goalsWhen we set fitness goals, they usually target a completion date or measurable result – like running a half marathon, swimming a mile or losing 20 pounds in the next four months.

But achieving and maintaining good health through exercise and nutrition has no such deadline or finish line. It’s a lifetime goal. Yes, it’s daunting – creating a goal without an end and sticking with it. So how do we accomplish this?

When I ask my patients to set lifestyle goals, they usually start with something like, “Well, I used to run track.” Or play tennis, pitch for the baseball team or start at wide receiver. They often refer to athletic achievements in high school or college.

One man told me he used to run five-minute miles and now felt discouraged that he could only walk a mile –  and that it took him 20 minutes. Well, he must take into account that six decades have passed since he ran those blazing miles.

When you set exercise goals, line them up with your age and abilities.  If you’re 60 or 70, you’re not going to play inside linebacker or pole vault 12 feet.

Instead, evaluate your overall health and then focus on what is important to you. Set achievable diet and exercise goals. Raising the bar too high is unrealistic and may increase the chance that you’ll get discouraged and quit.

Regularly review and realign your goals. Life continually changes. We need to be in the moment and recognize where we are on our health journey.

I know from experience – both my patients’ and my own – that it’s easy to get out of a healthy diet and exercise routine. An unexpected change in schedule or health, or even just a week of bad weather, can undo the routine and habits we worked so hard to establish. The challenge is getting back on track.

Don’t set yourself up for failure. Instead, lighten up on your goal or give yourself more time to clear the hurdle and work toward it gradually. Shoot for 80 percent of your long-term goal. If you want to walk a mile every day, for example, start by walking 15 minutes five times a week.

In his best-selling book, Blue Zones, National Geographic writer Dan Buettner looked worldwide at places whose residents lived the longest and found that few of the 80-plus subjects he interviewed indulged in extreme exercise. It just wasn’t part of their cultures.

Yes, they remained active but did so by walking, gardening and doing other comparatively mild physical activities. As sacrilegious as it may sound, this might mean that over the long term, walking daily at a moderate pace may be better than 45 hard minutes at the gym.

Three tips that may help you set attainable exercise goals:

Walk more Walking is a wonderful, inexpensive exercise that’s easy to stick with. It’s a sustained workout that increases the heart rate and builds cardiorespiratory endurance.

Work your muscles Most adults don’t do enough resistance or weight-related exercises to counteract the loss of muscle mass that comes with aging. Frailty, loss of mobility, weak bones, falls and fractures can result. Fifteen minutes twice a week, perhaps with wall pushups or rising from a chair in sets of 10, is enough to keep muscles toned. Or join a strength conditioning class tailored to your needs.

Build balance and agility Start by stretching. Then stand on one foot for 20 seconds, walk heel to toe for several steps and repeat. For agility, walk in a figure eight around two chairs, then reverse direction or try walking backwards. For both strength and balance, lie down on the floor and get up. This is an important ability you don’t want to lose.

Exercise can be repetitious and boring, but it doesn’t have to be. Join an exercise class or find a friend to walk with and work to meet those goals together.

Most importantly, be patient. Live in the moment with your goals and enjoy the journey.

kristaKrista Howell of Sonora works with cardiac patients and teaches senior fitness.

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Krista Howell
By Krista Howell September 15, 2015 12:40
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