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.