Resolutions: Spread Your Wings and Stay on the Path to Better Health

By Jennifer Allen

“Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness." ~ Edward Stanley

At the beginning of each year we all do it. We see January as a time for new beginnings in our lives and decide to finally do some things we've been putting off for far too long. Maybe it's a goal to quit smoking, drinking, or some other vice we've clung onto for years. Maybe you finally want to save money for retirement. Maybe you simply want to have hopes for a better year than last.

For many of us, our goal is simply this: to finally live a healthier lifestyle through diet and exercise.

How many of you have stuck with it? Statistics show that most people who make this resolution will break it within 90 days. April 1st is the 90-day mark, so those of you who are reading this and still going at it, I congratulate you! You're already past the first threshold. Often if you've made it through those 90 days, you're most likely to commit this new part of your lifestyle to your daily or weekly routine barring any major issues that crop up.

If you couldn't keep up the commitment you set for yourself at the start of the year, don't fret! There's still plenty of time to get back on track. You still have nine more months, right? It's never too late. And for those who didn't make that a personal goal at the beginning of the year, you still can. Just because it's April instead of January makes it no less important.

I actually started my own goal of being more active and healthy back in July of last year. Granted, I didn't just suddenly change my diet and grab a set of weights. I decided to make my transition into the “new me" a gradual one. First, I dropped the amount of soda I was drinking by ½ and replaced it with water. I then started gradually changing my diet by not eating as much fried foods and butter. That was a bit tougher since I love to put butter on so many things. Tried margarine as a substitute many times but just couldn't get into it.

After the diet change came the gradual exercise. I started walking twice a week around a small pond near my home. It's approximately 3/4 of a mile around and I could walk it in about 15-20 minutes. I prefer to walk outside instead of on a treadmill if I can help it. With a treadmill you are staring at the same wall for ages. Outside, you can see so many different things each time you visit. I made it a personal endeavor to take a picture of something new each time I walk that I find interesting. That simple act gave me that little extra bit of motivation to keep doing it.

Finally by September I did something many thought I'd never do. I had surgery to remove and shape some of the more stubborn areas of my torso and upper arms. Trust me when I say that for some people, doing every exercise in the world can only fix so much. My arms were the result of them being very muscular in my teens and early 20's due to playing sports and over time the muscles slimmed down, but my arms did not. My torso is due to genes and just about everyone on my father's side having “barrel bodies.. I don't suggest this method of weight loss unless, like me, you simply can find no other way to better shape certain body areas.

I gave myself three months of healing time after that before hitting the next step. I had tried Tai Chi back in my 20's but sadly couldn't stick with it due to a mixture of reduced finances and time. I decided I was going to get back into it. With martial arts, you don't just exercise your body but your mind as well. You also have the benefit of not exercising alone or isolated in a large room of strangers using a myriad of shiny machines to get the next five pounds off.

Doing exercises within a group or at least with a workout partner is a great way to stay motivated. After a while you feel less embarrassed about how good or bad you're doing and simply enjoy the experience. Just having that extra little bit of positive support from another person or persons can work wonders. One simple “good job" or “you did great" can galvanize your self-esteem to the point that you want to hear it more and therefore keep doing it.

Another good way to keep that workout spark going is to set small goals for yourself. Once you hit that goal, set a new one. You want to start by jogging a half a mile a day, but maybe after a few weeks to increase that to one mile, and so on. My martial arts workout is perfect for that since you work on your mind and body's flexibility and strength over time. While getting the next belt is great, it's more about realize your own limits and eventually surpassing them to reach the next step.

For some, the simple act of exercising can be a form of Zen. I don't mean those who do martial arts like I am doing now, but even just taking a walk or lifting weights for 15 minutes can make you feel centered and peaceful. Wanting to reach this state of being can be quite intoxicating, certainly. The more you do it, the more you can experience it.

Although just like anything else used in excess, too much exercise can lead to negative results. Don't just dive into the process head first and work out 5-7 days a week while eating one salad a day. Doing so can seriously shock your system to the point that you're more inclined to give it up later. What's worse is that often your body will resist what it's used to.

Do what I did and slowly ease your mind and body into it. After nine months I've lost 20 pounds, have more energy, and more mental focus than I did 10 years ago. Pay attention to what your body is telling you so you'll when the time is right to reach that next small goal in your exercise routine. Most of all, stay positive as those good vibes can help your workout buddies to keep at it as well.

Jennifer Allen works at Saathee and is also a Podcaster, Blogger, Photographer & Graphic Artist