Exercising diligence

The new year wakes up a desire for change. On Jan. 1, resolutions come piling in, especially related to health. Everyone says this is the year they’ll get abs, lose weight, or bench 200 lbs. The first week of the year, gyms are packed with active hopefuls pushing towards their fitness goals. But as school and life pick up again, and the cold weather keeps people indoors, the motivation fueling these daily workouts quickly runs dry. 

“Research suggests the average New Year’s resolution only lasts about 10 days,” psychology teacher Claire Fries said. “For many New Year’s resolutions, people just say something that they want to accomplish, like ‘I want to drink more water,’ but they don’t make good, clean goals to make it happen.”

In addition to empty wishes, unrealistic expectations also cause disillusionment that curbs success. 

“Many fitness goals, like losing weight, take time to accomplish, but people want immediate results,” Health and Wellness and Lifelong Fitness teacher Matthew Schurman said. “Working out and eating healthy doesn’t give immediate results. It takes time to see the results of exercise and a good diet.” 

So how can people set effective goals they’ll actually accomplish? The first step is clearly identifying what they’ll do. Fries suggests writing SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) goals as one effective method. 

“You have to say ‘I want to do this,’ and write it down,” Fries said. “Put it on your phone, put it on your bedroom wall, but you need to write it down. The research suggests that you are 20% more likely to achieve a goal if you take it out of your head and make it into something physical  and visible.”

With a clear picture of their intentions, goal-setters can determine how to take action.

“Then you need to make a path or plan to achieve that goal,” Fries said. “For example, dedicating a certain amount of time each day towards your physical health, whether it is going for a walk, going to the gym, etc.”

By breaking down big goals into smaller baby steps, they become easier to achieve, track, and schedule. This keeps people conscious of their progress.

“It’s hard for us, as humans, to think about a big goal all the time,” Fries said. “When we have external reminders in the form of small things to help us get there, that’s what helps us stay accountable and manage things. For example, our brain has a much easier time saying, ‘I can lift 10 pounds,’ and then when that gets lighter, you go up to 15, and so on and so forth, instead of just setting one big goal of 100 lbs. Your brain gets very overwhelmed by that, because the first thing you think is, ‘I can’t do that right now.’ You shut yourself down. By creating these baby steps, your brain has much more confidence of ‘I can do that. I can build towards it,’ and that feeling grows as you go on with your goal.”

But often, the problem is not setting the goal or steps, but following through. Missing one workout leads to another, and soon even the most optimistic exercisers end up back where they started, feeling like failures. That’s where being flexible and forgiving keeps motivation steady. 

“Making time to exercise is really about prioritizing and creating a balanced schedule, but you don’t want to wear yourself too thin, either,” World History teacher and JV boys basketball coach Alex Karapas said. “Take the necessary rest days, and try to make the things that you enjoy a priority also.” 

There’s a difference between excuses and leniency. If outside factors keep interfering with plans, it’s time to reevaluate priorities and action steps. However, there will be days when things don’t go as planned, and as Fries explains, that’s part of the journey.

“You’re going to mess up, you’re not going to be perfect,” Fries said. “What makes these long-term goals stick is by you being resilient through it. So acknowledge that it’s okay to mess up and have an off day. Just don’t let that one day set you off for the future.”

Strong motivation helps in pulling through downfalls. Thinking about the reason, the “why” behind a goal, can help find that motivation. According to the Harvard Business Review, identifying a “why” blocks out distractions and gives deeper meaning to goals, making prioritizing easier when tough choices surface. Sometimes, a past shortcoming can even be the greatest motivation. Sophomore Jack Roberts focuses on his desire to improve in football to keep himself going.

“I just want to play more and get better,” Roberts said. “I feel like sometimes others talk bad about me, and it doesn’t make me happy. Having that chip on my shoulder keeps me motivated to exercise and improve.”

For many DHS staff and students, including Karapas, caring for their mental health is another exercising “why”. 

“I know I won’t do well in other aspects of my life if I’m not taking care of myself first,” Karapas said. “Getting in the gym, getting in the weight room, running and things like that are good for my physical and mental health. If I don’t do those things, then I’m not going to be the best teacher or the best dad that I can be. So making it a priority to get those things down is important.”

Rewarding successes and having a workout partner for support also maintain excitement and accountability. And exercising will reward participants back. Physically, working out gives energy and keeps the body strong and sickness-free. Its benefits also include reduced stress and better mood. As work gets busier, this relief is even more beneficial to students and teachers alike.

“When I exercise, whatever’s bothering me, it’s gone afterwards,” Roberts said. “Stress from school, life, a long day. It’s just better after.”

There are many ways to reap the benefits of exercise in the winter. Going for walks and doing sports like skiing and snowboarding are great ways to get out when it’s cold. If the weather’s too harsh, chores, volunteering, and the gym are other ways of staying active. With virtual workouts, it’s even possible to get a good sweat in at home.

In the end, the best way to be active is by doing what is personally most enjoyable. Listening to music and exercising with friends are all ways to make working out fun, and as a result, more sustainable.                                              

“I always say, ‘If you hate running, don’t do it. It’s gonna make you miserable,’” Fries said. “If you love to do yoga, do yoga, if you love to swim, swim. Find the exercise that you love. Any movement is good movement.”

And when being healthy is something fun, exercise soon becomes an easily continuable celebration.

“There’s too many negative things in our world today,” Karapas said. “And a lot of outside noise that tears us down. The last thing that we need is to tear ourselves down, so it’s important to be your own cheerleader. Be proud of who you are, be proud of what you have, and use that as that motivation.”

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Elisa Costeux

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