Expert: How to Make Fitness Goals a Reality

A registered dietitian and certified personal trainer at Des Peres Hospital talks about how to set and reach exercise goals.

When the weather turns nicer and bathing suit season threatens, I always have good intentions to get more exercise. But I don't always keep the commitment to myself. So, I turned to Abby Herrick, registered dietitian and certified personal trainer on staff at MyNewSelf Surgical Weight Loss Program, for some suggestions on how to make my fitness goals a reality.

"Regular exercise can help you live longer and healthier, feel better and boost your energy level," Herrick said. "Incorporating physical activity into your schedule also can help you manage your weight and sleep better."

But she cautioned that some people may need to check with their doctor first. People over the age of 35 who have been inactive for several years should probably consult a physician. So should people with other conditions such as high blood pressure, heart problems, frequent dizzy spells, arthritis and severe muscular, ligament or tendon problems.

"In the long run, exercise presents far fewer health risks than a lifetime of inactivity and obesity," she said.

Herrick noted that the starting line of a fitness plan involves setting goals. Do you want to walk a mile without stopping or do you want to run a marathon? Either way, you need to choose a realistic goal that you want and can achieve, not one that you think other people want for you. Challenge yourself to work hard but not so hard that you would get discouraged and not be able to reach your objective.

Choosing a goal that is specific and one that can be measured in both the short- and long-term is also important. Recording how often you work out or the amount of time you spend doing a certain activity can help you decide if you are doing enough – or not enough – to reach your ultimate fitness goal. If you want to run a 5K race, you would first need to decide how many days a week you can jog and how far you can go each time. Eventually you can build from a short, slow walk to a 5K jog. But because changes don’t happen all at once, don’t get discouraged. Accomplishing short-term goals can help you stay motivated and keep your eye on the finish line.

"Don’t let hurdles get in the way of achieving your goal," Herrick said. "Brainstorm all the factors that might interfere with your training plans. If you find that you don’t like exercising after work, try getting up earlier to train in the morning. Replace shoes if they pinch your feet and wear comfortable clothing so you will enjoy your exercises more. Schedule time in your day so physical fitness becomes part of your regular routine."

Herrick suggests that once you have planned what you want to accomplish, write it down and then let other people know.

"Having a support system of family and friends can help encourage you and developing a written record of what you have and will achieve can show you how far you have come," she said.

Then, after you’ve reached your goal, set another. Who knows? You may be ready to run that marathon sooner than you think.

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