Weekly challenge: 5 steps for sticking to your new year’s resolution to exercise

Regular gym members know to expect the flood of new arrivals in January, with longer waits for the cross trainers and overfilled gym classes. But come March, the fitness facility gets quiet again, with most of those newly resolved exercisers having gone back to their old ways.

If you promised to get more active in the New Year—the number one resolution—get a game plan now, while you’re still gung-ho, to help you stay active. Here’s what experts suggest:

1. Be prepared to stumble. As our Get Moving blogger Adam Naylor pointed out in this post, “planning for struggles leads to behaviors that can stick. With a few moments of reflection, most people know the specific times that will lead to ... challenges that will get them out of their exercise routines.”

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

2. Get a buddy. Knowing that you have someone who relies on you to walk, hit the gym, or participate in a dance class will make exercise feel like more of a commitment that you can’t break. (I’d never have completed a marathon without a running partner.) Research suggests that those with fitness buddies are less likely to quit their exercise plan, and a recent study found that when professional rowers rowed in sync they felt more pleasure during their workouts and had a higher tolerance for pain compared with when they rowed alone.

3. Allow yourself time to form a habit. One study found it takes 21 days to form a habit; another 66 days. I’m sure the time varies from person to person, but having the awareness of how tough it is to establish a new routine might help you prepare for the challenges. My teenage daughter told me that she hated running for the first two months, but she stuck with it and now is “addicted” to those feel-good brain chemicals that are released every time she logs those 5 to 10 miles.

4. Think of yourself as a role model. My daughter told me she kept with her running because she figured it must be rewarding if her mom heads out to run several days a week. Oddly, I never pushed her to run. “If you swam, I’d probably have chosen swimming,” she told me recently. Knowing that I’m encouraging others through my actions helps me stick with my fitness routine.

5. Set a long-term goal to work toward. Whether you’re just beginning an exercise program or trying to take it up a notch, having a specific goal can help you feel that each time you exercise, you’re getting closer to that goal. Just don’t make the goal weight loss—to avoid setting yourself up for failure—since the latest research suggests it’s very tough to lose weight via exercise alone.

What does work: My colleague Elizabeth Comeau signed herself up for longer and longer races last year to help her stick with running—eventually completing a half-marathon. I’ve been enjoying the Insanity workouts lately because it’s a two-month program that gets progressively more difficult.

Signing up for a finite series of yoga classes, boot-camp workouts, or dance classes (rather than a year-long gym membership) will make it more likely that you’ll stick with it from beginning to end. The challenge is to keep going after you’ve reached the goal or finished the program, but by then hopefully you’ll have formed an entrenched habit—see tip #3—and will be eager to keep at it or become more advanced.