'How to make, and keep, wellness resolutions that are right for you'

Originally published in the WALMART LIVE BETTER New Year 2014 issue.

Fitness experts share their advice.
Jan 20, 2014 by Lisa Mesbur

Losing weight and getting fit are among the most common new year's resolutions. It's also one of the toughest to keep – maybe because we tend to have unrealistic expectations. While some of us have the time and energy to train for 10-kilometre runs, most would be happy to take a flight of stairs without feeling winded, or fitting into a beloved dress that seems to have mysteriously shrunk over the holidays. So pick a sensible goal (or two – they'll help you stay motivated), then follow our experts' advice on adding moderate activity to your life in ways you can stick with – no matter where you're starting from.

Begin your fitness routine

Great news for the workout-wary: You don't need to commit to an hour a day at a gym to get fitter. "It's about baby steps," says personal trainer Kathleen Trotter. "It's better to move for 20 minutes every day than for one hour once a day — then not want to move for two weeks." Sender Deutsch, chiropractor and co-founder of shapetoronto.com, agrees that gradual improvement is key to beginning a new exercise routine. "Start with maybe 15 to 20 minutes and slowly progress," he recommends. "Then you won't hate it, you won't feel sore, and that will increase the likelihood that you'll stay consistent."

An added benefit to starting slowly? You'll support those New Year's weight loss goals. "Research shows that if you overdo the exercise, you also overestimate how much you think you can eat [without gaining weight]," says Deutsch. "Exercising only 30 minutes a day, plus cutting calories just by a little, will actually increase your likelihood of losing weight versus doing an hour of exercise and then overeating."

Build activity into your everyday routine

Ready to get moving? Trotter suggests downloading a free pedometer app or purchasing an inexpensive one to benchmark your current state of fitness and track progress. "Put the step counter on, and see how many steps you take – but don't try to do more than usual because it will give you an inaccurate reading," she suggests. Most people will find they take between 2,000 and 4,000 steps in a day. Whatever your number, make note of it, and aim to ramp it up slowly. "Make dates with your co-workers at lunch to walk, park a bit further from work, take the stairs!" urges Trotter. "All of those little things accumulate your steps."

There are ample exercise opportunities at home, too. "If you walk up 10 stairs, that's 10 one-legged squats," points out Jennifer Howey, physiotherapist and director of InsideOut Physiotherapy & Wellness Group in Toronto. Adding weight – like a full laundry basket, or wearing your child in a baby carrier, intensifies your on-the-fly workout. Howey also recommends starting the day with a regular 10-minute exercise routine; maybe it's a quick spin on a stationary bike before the kids wake up. "If it's only 10 minutes, you'll do it!"

Don't forget to challenge yourself

For a challenge, increase the intensity of your workout with interval training. "People think of interval training as something that's for really advanced people," says Trotter, "but interval training is just high and low variations in intensity. Go for a half-hour walk in your neighbourhood and say, 'Oh, I see a tree ahead – I'm going to walk faster to the tree.'" Or if you have a few minutes to work up a serious sweat and it's appropriate for your fitness level, try a high-intensity workout alternating 20-second bursts of exercise, such as jumping jacks, with 10 seconds of rest; you should fit eight sets into just four minutes. "You don't need any equipment – and it's so time-effective."

Get moving as a family

Trying to squeeze a workout into a jam-packed day with kids can feel overwhelming – but active play with your little ones is an ideal way to combine family time with fitness. "Snowshoeing is great exercise, or just walking in the snow," says Deutsch. "If you're taking your kids tobogganing, running up the hill and sliding down will be a great workout. Even a snowball fight is a way to be active!"

At home, get some heavy-duty cuddling in – and some heavy lifting. "Your kids can become your weights," Howey notes. "There's 15 pounds, 25 pounds right there for some moms."

Follow safe exercise dos and modified moves

If you're starting from zero, Trotter cautions, "Working out is great for you, but it is stress on your body." To help prevent soreness and injury, she suggests finding the program you want to do, then scaling the duration and intensity back by 20 percent.

For those of us who have a pre-existing injury or impairment, exercise can be therapeutic. "There's more and more research on the connections [between] our body, our hands, our feet and the brain, that shows that the more we use them in activity, the more we're going to stimulate our nervous system and hopefully increase our mobility, movement and stability."

For people with limited mobility, Howey recommends sets of sit-to-stands (getting up from seated without using the hands), and exercising while holding on to a counter for support. "Do squats with two hands on a counter, or use one hand for balance and bring one leg out to the side, then back in again," she suggests. Backwards walking is great, too, she says: "It puts less pressure on the knee joints, activates more muscles, and 'turns on' the butt, which helps with back pain."

Don't lose motivation

If you fall off the exercise wagon because life got busy, or you caught a bad cold, that doesn't mean you've failed. When setbacks happen, the experts agree: Don't give up! Trotter puts it this way: "Think of it like the stock market. You'll go up and down a little bit, but overall, as long as next week, next month, you have slightly healthier habits than you did this month, then you're on the right track."