How to succeed at fitness: Think Small

It’s tempting to think of fitness resolutions as the beginning of a whole new you, but that vision alone won’t carry you very far. Old habits don’t succumb to moments of resolve, and willpower tends to be unreliable.

Setting goals and thinking long-term are important, to be sure. But overreaching is setting yourself up for failure. Because even if you start strong with a new regimen of healthy eating and regular exercise, sweeping lifestyle makeovers are devilishly hard to sustain. And it’s not smart to jump into a strenuous exercise routine your body may not be ready for. That’s risking an injury that could sideline you for weeks or months.

If you truly want to become more fit, embrace the Japanese principle of kaizen—the pursuit of small, continuous improvements. As a foundational first step, start building the exercise habit. Ease into it with a program of regular walking and stretching, even if it’s  just a few minutes at a time. Keep at it, working up to five or six days a week, and you’ll be amazed how much better you look and feel in just a few weeks.

Or maybe your goal is to build strength, improve mobility, or work on balance. No matter what your aims, you’ll be more likely to accomplish them if you start from where you are and focus on the next step, adding exercise time or intensity in small increments. That way your interim goals will be attainable and each one will pave the way for the next.

Six tips for success

Make your goals concrete and measurable. Instead of saying “I’m going to exercise more,” say “I’m going to walk 30 minutes a day, three times a week and do two strength-training sessions.” Another kind of goal might be to do one proper push-up. Start by doing one or two from a kneeling position and go from there.

Harness the power of habit. Write your exercise sessions down on your calendar as appointments with yourself. Sign up for a Pilates, yoga, or circuit-training class, or make a regular date to work out with a buddy. Remember, consistency is key to any fitness program.

Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. Don’t let your body type or your physical issues hold you back. Anyone who’s mobile can still become more fit. Just keep putting your best effort toward the next small increment of progress.

Keep it simple. You don’t need to glom onto the latest fitness fad or learn complicated exercises. A few basic movements and some attention to good form are all you really need.

Allow for setbacks. Don’t let a bad cold or a family emergency derail you. Simply pick up where you left off, scaling back a bit if need be, and keep going. You’ll quickly make up for lost time.

Make it fun. I like the energy I get from working out in a gym, but that’s not for everyone. Maybe you’d prefer the camaraderie of a group class or being active outdoors. Get adventurous and explore some new options! The more you can discover ways of moving that you enjoy, the greater your chances of reaching your goals.

Making the shift to a healthier, more active lifestyle isn’t quick or easy. It requires genuine commitment and some ongoing effort. But it doesn’t have to be daunting, either—not if you take a realistic approach, one manageable step at a time.

By |2019-02-15T20:18:36+00:00February 15th, 2019|Fitness Over 50, Just Move!, Mind-set|Comments Off on How to succeed at fitness: Think Small

Tap the Power of the Last 5% to Boost Workout Results

“Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well,” the aphorism tells us.

I have my own version: Any exercise worth doing is worth doing completely…with a little added push at the end.

The reason why gets back to the scientific principle of progressive overload. While helping soldiers rehabilitate after World War II, U.S. Army physician Dr. Thomas L. DeLorme observed that they became stronger and more functional when he gradually increased the physical demands of their training. The  realization that we make physical gains by asking our bodies to do just a little bit more than they could before is the basis of resistance training.

Think about what this means: your best opportunities to gain strength and endurance are right at the edge of your comfort zone, and a little beyond.  If you can capitalize on this idea in your strength workouts, you will get more payoff from your efforts and advance at a faster pace.

Gradually pushing your limits

Here are some ways you can tap the power of the last 5%:

  • Extend each repetition through a full range of motion. That way you’ll be engaging small muscles and the tapered areas of larger muscles that might otherwise stay unchallenged. If you want a better sense of what full range feels like, start by doing one or two reps with little or no weight. Exhale with the movement, letting your breath carry you through.
  • Be relentless about holding your form through the entire movement. For example, keep your chest held high as you do a squat or a lunge—don’t let it waver a fraction of an inch as you approach the lowest point. Your movement may not extend quite so far, but you’ll be creating more muscular tension than you would by dropping your chest to get lower.
  • Consciously squeeze your muscles as you push or lift, and give them an extra squeeze as you complete the rep.
  • Rather than counting repetitions, keep doing them until you begin feeling muscle fatigue—and then try to do one more with good form. (If you feel your form breaking down, consider that set done.)
  • If you can repeat an exercise 10 to 15 times with full range and excellent form, then—and only then—you may want to add a small increment of weight. Do one or two test reps to make sure you’re not straining.

So keep the last 5% in mind whenever you work out. That mindset will not only boost your results, but also increase your focus—and that can only be a good thing.

Image: Masterfile

By |2018-07-19T20:05:05+00:00July 19th, 2018|Fitness Over 50, Just Move!, Mind-set|Comments Off on Tap the Power of the Last 5% to Boost Workout Results

When Motivation Flags: 7 Tips for Sticking with Your Program Anyway

How you handle times when you don’t feel like working out can mean the difference between meeting your fitness goals and giving up. Know that when it comes to staying motivated, the heavy lifting is mental.

  1. Rely on habit, not willpower, which is less reliable. Keep an exercise calendar so sessions are “appointments with yourself.”
  2. Chain habits you’re building to an established routine. For instance, decide to stretch every day right after your morning shower, or reserve the slot just before lunch for your walks.
  3. Adopt a mindset of success. No matter what your starting point, you can get fit if you stick with it and have realistic expectations. Target small, steady advances that add up to big changes over time, and don’t worry about weaknesses. Work on things you can control, and adapt to the rest.
  4. Reinforce helpful character traits. No need to scold yourself or dwell on “shoulds.” Instead, remind yourself of who you are and aspire to be—someone of action, strength and resolve.
  5. Use the power of visualization. Picture yourself becoming a stronger, more limber version of yourself. Or imagine tapping into the mojo of a figure who inspires you—an Olympic athlete, the Rock, or Wonder Woman.
  6. Do something rather than nothing. When tempted to skip your workout, give yourself permission to do something else physically active, or scale back your routine. Once you get moving, chances are you’ll feel ready for more.
  7. Boost the fun factor. If solo workouts feel like a chore, get energized by a fitness class or small-group sessions with
    a trainer. Do something outdoors, or try something new: Pilates, kayaking, dance class, water aerobics… you name it. Motivation isn’t problem if your exercise is an activity you want to do.


Photos: (top) Mircea.Netea/Fotofolia/Adobe Stock, (bottom) karelnoppe/Fotofolia/Adobe Stock

By |2018-04-13T19:40:55+00:00January 24th, 2018|Mind-set|Comments Off on When Motivation Flags: 7 Tips for Sticking with Your Program Anyway

The Upside of Aging

There’s no telling exactly when it will happen. But sooner or later, the day comes when you start up a staircase or bend down to reach for something and it suddenly hits you: I’m not young anymore. You look in the mirror and wonder, Can that really be me?

The ageism in ourselves

We can’t help but be aware of what is lost with the passing years – not just youthful energy and good looks, but also that exuberant sense of all the paths still open to us. Society’s conceptions of aging, plus our own, conspire with the calendar to shut down our sense of possibility.

But what if we started thinking more about the ways that age enables us, rather than limiting us—even when it comes to our bodies? I’m convinced age can actually be an advantage in the pursuit of fitness. You can more deeply appreciate your body’s innate wisdom, its miraculous capacity for self-healing, and all the things it can still do after decades of uninterrupted service. Every time I work out, I’m grateful to be here at 77, and still kickin’ it.

Acceptance is another capacity that may grow with age. Surprising as it may seem, studies show that both men and women feel best about their bodies around the age of 75. As the years roll by, it’s easier to let go of vanity and focus on more important and practical goals, like staying mobile and pain-free. We also become less prone to bravado, and more careful to avoid injuries that could sideline us.

Then, too, with peak career and family demands behind us, we may have more time to devote to health and well-being. We may also find greater motivation. Science has discovered that being active helps us lower the risks of a life-threatening disease, feel younger, preserve brain health, and be more resilient in the event of an illness, among other benefits.

Making the mental shift 

Evolutionary biologists tell us humans are wired to be far more aware of the threats and obstacles around us than of our assets and opportunities. Negativity comes easily, but finding the positive takes a conscious effort. That’s especially true if you feel age as a constant burden.

You can be free of that negative baggage if you think of the arc of your life as your own creation. Where you go from here is up to you. So let’s make 2018 a year to stop fixating on things we can’t do, and start celebrating all the things we still can do to make the most of our lives.

Photos: top, Galina Barskaya/Fotolia/Adobe Stock; bottom, Masterfile

By |2018-04-13T19:39:30+00:00January 11th, 2018|Mind-set|Comments Off on The Upside of Aging