New Year's Resolution: Get Fit

Resolved to exercise and get in shape? Here's how to actually do it.

By Dulce Zamora
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

You needed neither that second serving nor the extra round of drinks. Yet you indulged. Aren't the holidays about good times with loved ones, great food, and merrymaking? Anyway, beginning Jan. 1, you will eat healthier and work out. Starting then, you will get fit. This will be your New Year's resolution. Life will be better after December.

Sound familiar? It should if you're one of the millions of people who find themselves unsatisfied with their excess body weight or sluggish physical condition at the turn of the calendar.

In fact, about a third of New Year's resolvers make weight loss their primary goal, and about 15% aim to begin an exercise program, suggests a small study John C. Norcross, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Scranton, Pa.

If you're nodding your head and thinking, "Yup, I'm one of those people," take heart. Your objective is a noble one, and, if accomplished, will surely do wonders for your health.

Take note, however, that your dream of a leaner, fitter body may take time, especially if you've stuffed yourself one too many times or if you haven't been physically active in a while.

Yet exercise does not have to be an all-consuming and excruciating endeavor either. "There's a connection between exercise and pain, discomfort, and soreness. We watch Gatorade commercials and we see athletes whose eyeballs are sweating because they're working out so hard. People think that's what exercise is supposed to be," says Jonathan Ross, ACE, NSCA, a personal trainer in Bowie, Md. He says such high-intensity workouts are done only by a very small percentage of the population.

For the average person, a good fitness program consists of exercises that work out the whole body. A cardio workout improves the function and health of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Weight-bearing exercises enhance the function and health of the bones, muscles, joints, and connective tissues.

For the average person, a good fitness program consists of exercises that work out the whole body. A cardio work improves the function and health of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Weight-bearing exercises enhance the function and health of the bones, muscles, joints, and connective tissues.

Because bodies are living, breathing matter, they need to be stimulated in order to become more fit. This means exercise is ideally done just outside your comfort zone. "You're taking your body a little outside where it is, because it needs that challenge -- that stimulus -- to be able to improve," says Ross.

If that is basically what exercise is, then you as an average Joe or Jane should be able to "just do it," and be on your way to a healthy, well-toned body, right? Perhaps. But as many people know all too well, it's not that easy to start a fitness routine, particularly for the out-of-shape and the inconsistent. There's the workout to begin, and the diet to plan, too.

To avoid overwhelming yourself, set realistic expectations, says Marilyn Tanner, RD, co-creator of the Head to Toe program at the St. Louis Children's Hospital and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

"Assess where you are now, and then break it into achievable goals," says Tanner, noting how important it is to limit the number of resolutions. Stick to one small physical activity goal and to one small nutrition goal, and keep a reserve list of objectives, she says. Once you have accomplished your primary goals, move on to the next set.

How does one go about choosing an appropriate fitness program? Different things work for different people. Fortunately, there are more than enough options.

Starting to Make Healthy Choices

When fitness clients ask, "Which machine is the best for cardiovascular training?" Ross usually answers, "The one that you hate the least."

Exercise does not have to be dull. Yet as people grow up, they lose the connection between fun and movement, says Ross. He suggests thinking about the kind of person you are and what you like to do. Some people may love going to the gym while others prefer to play team sports. Still others favor jogging or walking around the neighborhood.

"It really doesn't matter what you do, if it's running up and down the stairs in your house, if it's sitting up and down in a chair 20 times, or running around the yard, or running around the treadmill, all (cardiovascular) exercise has to be is something that increases the demand for oxygen," says Ross. "If you are asking your body to use oxygen more rapidly, that is by very definition, cardiovascular training."

Exercise does not need to be a formal activity, either. It does not require a big chunk of time carved out of your day. Decades ago, people stayed fit by doing ordinary things like doing housework, taking the stairs, and playing with their kids, says Pauline Wallin, PhD, a clinical psychologist in private practice, and a personal life coach in Camp Hill, Pa.


"Get maximum benefits, focus on working out the larger muscle groups."