You start so well, vowing Jan. 1 to exercise regularly and watch your diet. You join a gym or your local Y. You get the instructions on how to use the treadmill and weight machines, and you used them — for a little while. Then the novelty wears off, but the pounds don’t; your schedule gets full; and the promise you made for the New Year now seems conditional. By exercising regularly, you mean when you can get to it and, well, you’re busy.
Sound familiar? After the bounty of Christmas foods and celebration of New Year’s Eve, an exercise regimen started deep in winter that could improve health and looks sounds so sensible, so possible. But before long it will be February, when it’s hard to even think about another 30 minutes on that awful treadmill or stationary bicycle.
Don’t give up. The hardest part about any exercise program is not the workout itself but getting to the gym or out the door for a hike or jog, and the hardest time to do that is right after the first excitement of the program has gone away, when the habit hasn’t become ingrained and the results of your efforts aren’t apparent to everyone else yet. It gets easier. The trick is to get from that original well-intentioned pledge to a lifelong exercise routine.
One idea offers technique and, perhaps, hope. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report in 2012 that showed more doctors are prescribing exercise. And many doctors aren’t just urging their patients to get more exercise but are prescribing specific exercises, describing to patients which trails they should hike and supplying trail maps. Doctors who are specialists in obesity have been using this type of support for years, but it is reportedly new to general practitioners.
“Trends over the past 10 years suggest that the medical community is increasing its efforts to recommend participation in exercise and other physical activity that research has shown to be associated with substantial health benefits. Still, the prevalence of receiving this advice remains well below one-half of U.S. adults,” the report states.
When they prescribe, they’ll do well to be specific. As a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found, custom-made exercise prescriptions are far more effective than just saying, “You need to exercise more.” In the study, physicians gave more than 2,200 inactive adults tailored exercise prescriptions. To compare, they didn’t give prescriptions to 2,070 other sedentary adults. Six months later, the patients who had gotten exercise prescriptions reported more physical activity.
Is there a lesson in this for those of us who don’t have a doctor at hand writing exercise prescriptions? How about self-medicating — writing out not just when the next trip to the gym or hiking trails is scheduled but what specifically will get done, which exercise machines or which trail, at what time of day and for how long? It might add motivation and it certainly couldn’t hurt.