Iowa State experts provide tips to start and maintain fitness program in the New Year

AMES, Iowa -- One of the most popular New Year's resolutions annually -- particularly following the indulgence of the holidays -- is to lose weight and get in shape. Yet many don't stick with their fitness plans, often because they don't know the correct ways to go about them.

For those who are serious about starting and maintaining a fitness program in 2007, two associate professors from Iowa State University's Department of Health and Human Performance offer the following tips:

1. Educate yourself. "Although knowing the health benefits of physical activity is not by itself a sufficient motivator for most people, it can be important if it is combined with other factors," said associate professor Panteleimon "Paddy" Ekkekakis, who has published research papers on exercise involving overweight individuals. "If one reads and understands that sedentary people have more than twice the risk of most debilitating and deadly chronic diseases and realizes that it is not necessary for the activity to be strenuous or exhausting, it is possible that one might at least start to think about making a lifestyle change."

2. Seek advice and reassurance from authoritative sources. "Most doctors do not counsel patients about physical activity but, when they do, this has been shown to be influential," said Ekkekakis. "Bring up the issue with your physician. Ask to make sure that you are in good enough health to exercise safely, but also ask about the benefits that physical activity might bring."

3. Choose to live in an area that provides opportunities for physical activity. "Both actual and perceived convenience or ease of access to exercise or recreational areas is associated with more activity," said Ekkekakis.

4. Shop around. "'Curves for Women' caters to a niche market, but it may not be for you," said Warren Franke, director of ISU's Exercise Clinic. "Find the (fitness) facility that best fits your needs in terms of price, convenience and services (amenities) -- such as the latest exercise equipment, TVs, social interaction, hours, etc."

5. With the help of a health professional, compose a list of the benefits you expect and the sacrifices you think you might have to make (i.e., time, energy, etc). "Most people cannot think beyond weight loss as a benefit," said Ekkekakis. "The health professional will help you realize that there is much more to gain than to lose."

6. Create long-range and short-range goals. "It's great to have weight-loss goals, but make sure you have both long-range and short-range goals. You don't want to confuse the two," said Franke. "You need to realize that it took a while for you to put that weight on, so it's going to take a while to lose it, too. And maybe your short-term goal shouldn't be to lose a certain number of pounds during that week, but rather to say 'I want to lose this week' -- a more realistic goal. You need to keep your eyes on the prize, but you don't want to look too far ahead."

7. Don't set your standards based on others. "Don't buy into the societal image of what's skinny," said Franke. "People lose sight of the fact that if your parents were overweight, you may have a strong disposition to be overweight. Have your own internal standards rather than basing them on the cover of a magazine. And keep a workout log to see how you're doing. If it's in writing, you may realize why you're not meeting your goals."

8. Ease into it -- no pain is simply no pain. "It (exercise) doesn't have to hurt. You want to get in better shape, not die of a heart attack," said Franke.

"Exercise in the beginning can be a challenge. Therefore, do not try to start with high-intensity activities like running or step aerobics," said Ekkekakis. "Remember that if you learn to associate physical activity with pain, displeasure, or discomfort, it is unlikely that you will want to continue doing it. If a particular activity produces pain or discomfort, seek alternatives -- such as non-weight-bearing activities, like stationary cycling or swimming."

9. Seek social support and surround yourself with positive and inspiring role models. "People who are constantly surrounded by images of sedentary or unhealthy living tend to emulate this lifestyle," said Ekkekakis. "Unfortunately, this lifestyle has now become the norm. So, one needs to actively seek alternative social norms, people who understand and appreciate the importance of health. Find an 'exercise buddy.' Educate your family and friends, so that they will be at least supportive of your efforts to change your lifestyle, even if they do not change theirs."

10. Beat boredom by cross-training. "Play on different toys," said Franke. "Recognize that you don't have to do one 30-minute session on the same machine. Maybe you can do three 10-minute activities on different machines for the same effect. Your heart really doesn't care. If you're really out of ideas on how to make the workout more interesting, hire a personal trainer. But if you do, research the trainer's credentials. There are many different trainer certifications. So just being certified doesn't necessarily mean someone is qualified."