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Tried & True Fitness Tips to Kick off Your New Year!

Dr. Ginger Garner Fitness Tips

It’s a New Year. A season chocked full of pumpkin pie, apple strudel, cinnamon rolls, turkey and mashed potatoes…has given way to January. While I love good food and good company (a lot!) as much as anyone, I also know I need to balance it with movement and activity, or else those New Year’s resolutions may pile up and look a little daunting to accomplish. So if you are looking to get fit, here are a few of top tips for setting realistic fitness and wellness goals for the New Year.

Start Small 

Take baby steps with your exercise plan. The surest way to failure is to set extravagant goals. If you must set goals, set a small, reachable one or, instead, set an intention. For example, instead of saying ‘I am going to log 30 miles of walking a week,’ you might say, ‘I am going to get fresh air by taking a stroll during lunch today.’ You might be surprised by how much further you’ll go if you don’t set strict rules.

Reverse Engineer Your Day. When that Fails, Play the Mind Game.

When it comes to forming new habits, reverse engineer your thought process. For example, I tend to overbook myself (I know, shocker). I love my work to pieces so in the past it was hard to say no to some projects. To get a grip on my schedule, which has to be planned a year or more in advance for me, I looked at my goal setting from the back end. I asked myself a simple question: Do I value being healthy? Of course! So I had to make changes and stop overcommitting. 

To make the change I completed the classic IF/THEN statement. 

IF I value fitness & wellness (and I do, it’s my professional life and dictates my personal quality of life!), then my schedule needs to reflect that. After all, our schedule directly reflects what we value. 

So wellness is the first thing scheduled into my day after the morning school rush and commute. It’s permanently inked into my virtual calendar (I use Google) and reads SELF-PRESERVATION-NON-NEGOTIABLE-DO NOT DELETE. And because I value family time and dinners together, when I ran for public office, I set boundaries again, but I also had to play the MIND GAME. 

The goal was to balance personal and public life – so the mind game for me, was to project and nurture success by scheduling family dinner nights. On my calendar they also read, FAMILY TIME NON-NEGOTIABLE. However, I had plenty of 18-hour days that were also non-negotiable, so I played the MIND GAME. The MIND GAME is essentially this: I pretended that I had nothing else to do the whole day except what I was doing at the moment. What happened? My stress levels instantly dropped, and I found I enjoyment in my work like never before. I was present, in the moment, and not worried about the future. I had no dread about that late night campaign event or high stakes speech, or an event I was to sing for, or a meeting at a low energy time of day. I even felt more prepared and at ease. So I encourage you to reverse engineer your schedule AND when your schedule is non-negotiable and full to spilling over, play the MIND GAME. It’s a clever meditation I’ve found reliable for over a decade now. 

Get Zen. 

Research well supports that mindfulness-based exercise is superior to regular exercise. It isn’t just meditating that counts as mindfulness. You can take a walk, swim, or stair climb with a mindful presence, which can transform any old mundane activity into a power-punching anti-aging workout! And you don’t need long either – a simple 2-5’ meditation is enough to kick start your day or redirect your focus toward gratitude and calm. There are plenty of free apps out there too to help you learn to meditate. Calm.com is a popular one to try. 

Time Chunk. 

You do not have to dedicate an hour to exercise every day. I don’t, and honestly haven’t been able to since I had children, over 13 years ago now. My schedule is simply too full of responsibilities. As a mother of three with a company to run, I have to be more clever with my time management. I had no time to waste. 

I encourage you to try breaking up the time you can dedicate to exercise in a day. Let’s say you have 30’ to give on a daily basis to working out. First, remember that any activity, from parking farther away at the grocery story to taking the stairs instead of the elevator, counts as activity. But in addition to your regular “functional” daily activity, try dedicating three 10’ segments of your day to exercise. It may be a 10’ stair climb during a break at work, or doing 5 yoga sun salutations instead of taking that water cooler chat break. 

When I was recovering during postpartum with my children, I literally had no time for myself. And that time diminished with each child. I was forced to reinvent my exercise routine, to be more creative, innovative, and more patient with myself. And as a PT, it was doubly important for me to practice what I preached to my patients and students. 

The result? I was in better shape than BEFORE children! 3 – 10’ segments of exercise a day turned out to get me in better shape than my dedicated hour-long sessions before. I hypothesized that maybe I was able to get into better shape from Time Chunking because of one the following reasons:

1) Perhaps because I worked out harder because I took a break to recover, or

2) because my metabolism remained higher with bursts of activity throughout the day, or

3) because I worked out longer than just the 10’. Honestly, once you get started, if you can give 10’, what’s an extra 5 minutes or so?

Whatever the reason, I was in the best shape of my life from using Time Chunking, and I still do that today. And it still works. 

Up your Routine Difficulty by 10%

Increase your workout difficulty by no more than 10% weekly. It will give you noticeable results without cramping your lifestyle and schedule. Whether it is adding 10% mileage or weight, just remember the ‘rule of 10.” This is the golden rule for designing a fitness program. If you are a walker or a runner, increase your mileage by no more than 10 percent every seven days. If you lift weights, increase your repetitions or weight by no more than 10 percent weekly. Take baby steps toward fitness and be consistent, which is much better than having a ‘weekend warrior’ attitude.

Ditch the Gym, Go for FUNctionality

No, you don’t have to give up your membership, but let’s get creative with the definition of “working out.” I want your New Year’s Resolutions to be successful, and I think one of the best ways to do that is to be realistic. You don’t have to hit the gym to get fit. In fact, it may surprise you to know I don’t have a gym membership. Gyms can be very dysregulating environments from a hormonal perspective, with their noisy, thump-thump-ooonce-oonce music, and can send the body into a fight-flight mode with all the noise and sensory input. I call gyms “cortisol dysregulators.” If you get overwhelmed by those type of environments, then don’t feel like you have to join a gym at all.  

Work physical activity into your daily routine. This is what I do, in addition to using Time Chunking. Go for a walk in the park with your family, play a pick-up game of soccer with your kids or dog, or spend 20 minutes dancing to Motown music. (My kids LOVE a spontaneous dance party). The point is, think of activity in terms of FUNctionality (notice the word FUN in functionality). Instead of driving to the post office, bike there. Instead of hiring someone to clean your house, save the money and treat it as a yoga-zen-mindfulness practice (yes, I do this. I think it’s important for my children to grow up knowing how to clean their own space and learn responsibility, so we clean the house together and use it as both a workout and a learning moment.) Whatever you choose, you need to enjoy doing it. It’s gotta be fun, relaxing, and playful! Play is actually linked to better hormonal function, so get out there and have some fun! 

Partner Up

Choosing an accountability partner can be the most important tip to sticking to your workout plans and achieving your fitness goals for the New Year, especially if you have a hard time getting a routine started or maintaining it, if you prefer socializing (read: you are an extrovert) when exercising. An accountability partner is someone you will voice your intentions to. This person promises to help you stay on track when you lose sight of your goals. So choose someone you can depend on. Find someone who’s made a similar resolution to get in shape.

Focus on Gaining, Not Sacrificing

Typical resolutions are losing weight, getting rid of bad foods or cutting out certain bad habits that a person loves. But that really puts the emphasis on the negative. Instead, look at what you have to gain — like adding a new healthful food to your diet, spending more time with the family instead of watching TV, having more money in your wallet from not eating fast food or cutting out smoking.

Meditate

Meditation’s benefits are long-supported by research to decrease stress and risk of depression. It also improves mood and overall health. Even if you start with only five minutes a day lying down, it’s a start. Find a quiet spot, sit comfortably and focus on your deep breathing — in and out through the nose. If your mind begins to wander, just re-focus in on your breathing. See above for recommendations on getting started. 

Some days I may only spend a few minutes meditating, but it has been the ultimate NON-NEGOTIABLE part of my day. I typically start my day with a few moments of quiet, and depending on the day’s demands, I may TIME CHUNK several 2-5′ segments to just sit and be, and press the proverbial “reset” button to refocus my day for the better. It never fails me.

Good luck in 2019, I know you can reach all your New Year’s Resolutions and be your fittest and healthiest ever! 

About the Author: 

Ginger has spent 20+ years helping people (mostly moms!) with chronic pain as a physical therapist, athletic trainer, and professional yoga therapist. Ginger is the author of Medical Therapeutic Yoga, now in its 4th foreign translation.