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As this article is being written, it is the middle of August, 230 days after New Year's Day. If you made a resolution to stick to a workout routine in the new year, have you stuck to your program? Or are New Year's resolutions just a dim memory?

Understanding the Problems of Motivation for Exercise

The hardest things about exercise are starting and sticking with it. Even celebrities who can afford celebrity trainers and personal chefs and have million-dollar gyms installed in their homes have trouble starting an exercise program and continuing year after year. They go from flabby to muscle-bound and muscle-bound to flabby, fat to skinny to fat again, over and over again, never achieving the balance of mind and body needed to long-term transformation.

1. Make sure you plan time for sleep

Research has found that getting between six and eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night is optimal for muscle gain and weight loss. Getting less than six hours of sleep every night does not give the brain a chance to produce growth hormone and to respond to appetite regulation hormones, and getting more than eight hours of sleep every night interferes with the brain's production of melatonin in ways that cause depression. Exception to the rule: When you get less than six hours sleep at night, you will need more than one hour "make-up sleep" for every hour you missed.

2. Don't believe your scales

You can work out, diet, and gain weight, especially if you are eating foods that cause inflammation (cured meats, wheat, potatoes, and oats in most people) or if you are constipated. Your bathroom scales can't measure fat, lean muscle mass, and water weight (or at least cannot measure them very accurately). Constipation can lead to higher numbers showing on the scales. Either consult a specialist to get accurate fat mass, muscle mass, and water weight readings, or rely on how you look and how you feel, not what you weigh.

3. Turn off your TV, or at least skip the commercials

Sitting in front of the TV is not a very good way to burn calories, but it is a great way to be bombarded with fast food and buffet restaurant ads. During the three hours of last year's (American football) Superbowl, for example, I counted 24 food ads, including:

  • Budweiser beer (7 ads)
  • Coke (2 ads)
  • Denny’s restaurants (3 ads)
  • Doritos chips (4 ads)
  • Dr Pepper Cherry cola
  • Emerald nuts & popcorn
  • Michelob beer
  • Papa John's pizza
  • Select 55 beer
  • Snickers chocolate bar
  • Taco Bell restaurants

Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Denny's grand slams, Doritos, Michelob's, Papa John's pizza, Select 55, Snickers bars, and Taco Bell are not going to help anyone get fit. So why expose yourself to constant temptation?

4. Be happy with 80% compliance with your plan

There are health goals that require 100% compliance to the program. Kicking heroin addiction, for example, won't work if you just do drugs once a week. But if you follow your workout goals all but maybe one day a week or one day every two weeks, then you will make progress. Don't beat yourself up about the one day a week or one week a year you just can't control. Usually you won't lose any gains you have made by working out until you have missed your routines for two continuous weeks.

5. Speak and think in positive terms

Focus on what you can do and what you have accomplished, rather than on what you can't do and you haven't done yet. Most of us just have enough to do shaking off negativity imposed on us by others. Don't add to the problem with negativity of your own.

6. Be your own scorekeeper of objective goals

The simple fact is that we all "forget" to write down food we ate and our memories of how exercise we do tend to be inflated. It's really difficult to be honest, even with ourselves, about what we ate and how much we worked out. However, we can all note "fudge-proof" goals, such as how much we weigh, our waist or chest or hip measurements, how much we can lift, and so on.

Don't rely on somebody else to keep track of those improvements. Keep a record for yourself, and keep it where you can review your improvement any time you need a motivational boost. The record of success you keep for yourself becomes your best motivator for continuing improvement in fitness.

  • Webber KH, Tate DF, Ward DS, Bowling JM. Motivation and its relationship to adherence to self-monitoring and weight loss in a 16-week Internet behavioral weight loss intervention. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2010 May-Jun, 42(3):161-7.
  • Photo courtesy of Perfecto Insecto on Flickr: