New year’s resolutions, research has shown time and again, usually always fail. For most of us at any rate. A study published in the journal Science Daily called Failed Your New Year Resolution Again? Join The Club in 2021 found that despite a strong commitment to their most important New Year resolution, two thirds of participants gave up within the first month. More than half of the resolutions focused on either diet or exercise, the researchers observed.
Clearly health and fitness are important objectives to most of us, yet most of us can’t seem to be able to stick to our resolutions despite our best efforts. And that is probably because “resolutions” are often intangible and do not give the person any clarity on how to achieve specific tasks, explains AK Abhinav, coach and founder of Bengaluru-based Namma Crossfit. He suggests that we should start instead by making small changes and forming new habits that are easier to achieve.
The first habit to work on before jumping into your fitness journey is to set your foundations right, says Rajesh Parameswaran, coach and founder, The Den Fitness in Bengaluru. “You need to understand and believe that reaching your goals is well within your control. Second, you need to believe that you deserve the positive habit you are trying to build. Even if you don’t see yourself as a fit person, you deserve to be fit. This is an undeniable fact, believe in it.” Habits take time to form but when they do, they change how you self-identify. “You must give it time, and more importantly, be consistent in your actions.”
Start by working on your posture, thus building the base for your functionality, and working on the basic body weight movements. Delhi-based celebrity trainer and founder of Kosmic Fitness, Gagan Arora’s advice is to do what’s possible today. “Living in the past or in the future or watching someone else and making your goals based on that is one of the most foolish things to do. Everyone is different, has different abilities, and responds differently to training. Stop comparing yourself with others and train yourself the way you are today. Try to be better just by 1% than your last workout,” he says.
To do that you will need discipline, points out Girish Bindra, a Mumbai-based running coach. “Create a daily routine that includes an active lifestyle. Start small. Set practical goals and act with discipline. For example, start with a 30-minute walk for the first three weeks, then progress to a walk-run combination and when you feel comfortable enough attempt running 5km,” adds Bindra. When it comes to the gym too, it’s ok to start small.
The next thing you need is consistency, says Parameswaran. “In fact, consistency is the only workout supplement you need once you start working out. If you consistently perform actions that support your habit, you will get results, period,” he adds. Make your foundational habits exciting and simple; something you look forward to regularly and can do easily. With consistency, these habits will become rewarding. “For example, for the first few weeks aim to go to the gym twice or thrice a week, then add another day. Once that routine has solidified, add one more. All the sudden you’re someone who goes to the gym five days a week.” It takes time to build fitness and endurance, so patience is key.
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Bindra feels focus is important too. “Once you are in the cycle, you need to be focussed and have determination. That helps you to become consistent. Follow your fitness routine in 3-month cycles and your progress will surprise you,” he adds. Adding variety to your exercise routine is also important. “Do some cardio, some strength training, some flexibility and mobility drills, some stretching and some cross training every week,” says Bindra. “This variety will not only stop you from getting bored, but it will also help your overall fitness, move you towards your fitness goals faster and also prevent injuries.”
From the very beginning, make it a point to include warmup and cool down in your fitness routine, say fitness coaches. Such exercises may take a few extra minutes, but both also greatly reduce the stress on your heart and muscles. Warmups and cool-downs are activities performed at a slower tempo and reduced power. It is a vital component of any fitness regimen, whether you are running, jogging, lifting weights, swimming or cycling, says Parameswaran. “If the workout is intense, a good amount of time must be invested in a thorough warm-up and the feeling of ‘I am ready’ should set in before jumping to the main workout. A good warm-up prepares both body and mind for the upcoming workout. On the other hand, cool down and stretches are important to enhance recovery and reducing post-workout soreness by flushing lactic acid out of the working muscles,” says Arora.
If you want to work with weights, don’t be intimidated by what you see on Instagram and YouTube. Weight training can be immensely beneficial and the practice encompasses a huge array of exercises. These range from fundamental movements that mimic daily activities, to advanced power-lifting moves performed by Olympic athletes. Start by learning the right technique for safety, efficacy and form, says Parameswaran. “Get a hold of the body weight movements and exercises before advancing to external weights. Nail down your form. Warm-up well, schedule your workouts, and start slow. Lift the right amount of weight, don't go overboard,” he advises.
If you are serious about becoming healthier and fitter, you would need to pay attention to more than just exercising. You would need to tweak some of your sleep, food and work habits too. Not getting enough quality sleep regularly, raises the risk of many diseases and disorders, from heart diseases to obesity and dementia, warns Parameswaran. Healthy sleep encompasses three major things: sleep duration, sleep quality and sleep schedule. Sleep schedule is the starting point here. Instead of a wake-up alarm, set yourself a sleep alarm, suggests Arora. “Getting up fresh after a good sleep is one of the most fundamental habits one must adapt to train and recover well and think afresh every morning. Make sure you are in bed, for example by 9pm, to wake early. It helps if you plan your morning routine before going to bed so you can get on with your day without wasting any time,” says Arora.
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You also need to pay attention to your stress levels, and mental health in general, in order to be fit and healthy. Bindra stresses the importance of “me time” whether it is in the gym, while on the run or meditating. “Do what you must but get your ‘me time’ to de-stress, declutter the mind and relax. Yoga, breathing exercises or solving puzzles helps doing this. The more relaxed your mind is, the sharper you will be. When your stress levels are low, you sleep better too. Lower stress and better sleep help attain better results and make you fitter,” he says. Stress affects everyone from time to time and not all stress is harmful. However, high levels of stress can negatively affect your mental and physical health. “People experience stress in different ways… headaches, trouble sleeping, anger, stomach aches, sadness. Stress management will help you deal more effectively with the stressors in your life,” adds Parameswaran.
Another key area you would need to focus on is diet. Your diet should be nutritious and contain a good mix of proteins, carbohydrates, fibre and good fats. You need to develop clean eating habits, he says. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is also imperative to longevity and disease risk. “Diets rich in ultra-processed foods are linked to increased mortality and a greater risk of conditions like cancer and heart disease. Food comprising mostly whole, nutrient-dense foods is associated with increased longevity and disease protection,” says Parameswaran. And finally, hydrate well. “Water is one of the key ingredients for a healthy body inside out. A healthy adult must drink 3 litres of water with an additional litre for every 60 minutes of moderate workout,” says Arora.
Despite your best efforts, you will miss workouts from time to time. Try your best not to miss the next one, says Arora. However, he advises against doing more the next day. “If it’s weight training, you can always do a few body parts in combination to cover for the missed workout. If your training intensity is already high, you should not worry much about what’s missed and treat it as a rest day and stick to the plan.”
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.