Motivation to Stay Fit: Part III

Keep track of your progress, and reward yourself.
If you have already started an exercise program and are having trouble keeping it up (especially if you’ve previously been one of those 50 percent of people who drop out within the first six months), there are a few things that you can do to keep yourself motivated. Set realistic exercise goals or milestones to keep track of your hard work, and set up rewards for yourself when you meet them. Who says that stickers and treats are just for kids? If it works for you, use a sticker chart or some other visible record of physical activities that you accomplish each day and then give yourself frequent reinforcement with “tokens” or “treats” (preferably noncaloric ones) when you meet your goals. Maybe you can promise yourself an outing to somewhere special, the purchase of a coveted item, or anything else that is reasonable and effectively motivates you to exercise. Helpful recommendations for physical activities, activity logs, and other motivational tools are also widely available.

Keep it simple, make it fun, and mix it up.
Once exercise becomes an integrated part of your lifestyle, you’re much more likely to maintain it permanently. To increase your long-term compliance, your exercise plan should be as uncomplicated as possible, geared toward your unique health needs, beliefs, and goals, and enjoyable. People commonly complain about exercise being boring. While many adults may force themselves to exercise solely for the health benefits (honestly, most of them may not really like to exercise that much), no one is saying that it couldn’t or shouldn’t be enjoyable. In reality, most adults need exercise to be fun, too, or they lose their motivation to do it over time. To prevent boredom with your exercise program, try varying your exercise frequently–both what you do and how hard or long you do it. Knowing that you don’t have to do the same workout day after day is very motivating. Also, try to at least occasionally pick activities that you truly enjoy, such as dancing or golf (as long as you walk and carry your own clubs). Realistically, would you actually adhere to an exercise program that reminds you of the one depicted in Gary Larson’s cartoon “Aerobics in Hell” (Okay! Five million leg lifts, right leg first! Ready, set!)? Have fun with your exercise to more easily make it a permanent and integral part of your diabetes management.

Distract yourself during workouts.
Along the same lines, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using every means at your disposal to distract yourself while you exercise to make the time go by more quickly and less painfully. On days you can’t exercise with someone else or get outside, walk in place while you read a book or magazine (this also works on your balance) or watch a movie or your favorite TV program (or better yet, tape your shows first and then fast forward through all the boring commercials). If you prefer audio distractions, listen to music, your favorite radio show, or books on tape during your workouts, or use your exercise time to catch up on your long phone calls. If you’re like most people, just having someone to talk with during your activities can make them pass much more quickly–which is another reason to recruit an exercise buddy (or two).

Don’t make your workouts too hard.
Another point to remember is that the opposite of fun is agony. Don’t start out exercising too intensely, or it will be too hard and unenjoyable (particularly if it ends up making you really sore for a few days afterward). In such a case, human nature will prevail, and you will find excuses not to do it again. Additionally, you are more likely to injure yourself if your exercise intensity is too high to start. Use the Talk Test as your guide: if you can’t comfortably carry on a conversation with someone else while you are exercising, then you are working harder than necessary to achieve your fitness and health goals. Simply slow down and focus instead on exercising a little bit longer instead of burning out your desire to be active.

If you fall off the wagon, get back on.
There will undoubtedly be days when you want to forget you have diabetes or prediabetes and chuck all your lifestyle changes out the window–believe me, we all have days like that. Part of being more fit is learning how to conquer your resistance to change and finding your way back to a healthier way of living if you do get off track. Always keep the memory of how much better you felt when you made the changes to use as motivation when you need to. If you find yourself falling off the exercise “wagon” in either minor or major ways, forgive yourself for your lapse and get back on. A short break from your normal routine–such as for vacations, illness or injuries, or other changes in your normal schedule–does not mean that you can’t start scheduling your physical activity back in again. During any break, be it short or long, try to keep up all of your extra movement during the day even if you can’t manage to do anything else; at least that way you will be less likely to lose any fitness gains that you have made so far, which will make it easier to get back into doing more as quickly as possible.

Start the wagon up slowly.
When you begin exercising, or if you’re starting back after a lapse, remember that you may need to begin at a lower intensity (i.e., lighter weights, less resistance, or a slower walking speed) to avoid burnout, muscle soreness, or even injury. Even doing only 5 to 10 minutes at a time (instead of 30 or more minutes) is fine. If you really don’t want to exercise, make a deal with yourself that you will only do it for 5 or 10 minutes to get yourself started (which is often the hardest part); once you are actually up and moving, you may actually start to feel good enough to go past the time you tricked yourself into doing. The key is to just begin anew using any means possible.

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