What are your reasons for exercising? For many people, exercise is about losing weight. For others it’s about getting in shape, increasing muscle mass, or reducing health risks. Working towards a goal is a wonderful motivator to stick with exercise. Otherwise your workouts start to feel pointless and boring and you give up.
As you consider what you hope to achieve through exercise, it may be difficult to know how to set realistic goals. Maybe you want to lose 30 pounds or reduce your blood sugar to normal levels, but how long will it take and how hard do you have to work? In order to develop a plan to reach your goal, remember the word SMART. Your goal should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
When your goal is vague and unclear, you don’t know what you’re really working towards and your motivation may wane. While the goals to lose weight, improve health, or get stronger are all good and right, you’ll have more success with exercise if you work towards something more specific. For example, you could aim to lose 10 pounds in the next 10 weeks, run a 5K next spring, or decrease your blood pressure by 10 mm Hg.
The next step in setting a goal is to make it measurable. If your goal is to “get healthy,” how are you planning to measure your level of healthiness? If your goal is to lose weight, what reading are you hoping to see on the scale? Being able to track your progress with exercise is a key part of reaching your goals. If you make a specific goal of reducing your cholesterol by 15 points in the next year, you can see your progress at your next doctor’s visit. Stepping on the scale every few days and recording your weight is another way to measure success.
A goal that’s unrealistic will lead to burnout or injury. While you want to challenge yourself, don’t make the mistake of setting an unachievable goal. A plan to run your first marathon with just three months to train or to bench press 200 pounds next week when you’re out of shape are both unreasonable. But a goal to walk 30 minutes five days a week or to increase your bench press by five pounds each week are both doable.
You want to work towards a goal with your whole heart. If you’re trying to lose weight because you feel pressured to live up to someone else’s expectations or if you’ve signed up to run a race because your friend wants you to join her, you’ll lose motivation fast. Whatever goal you decide to work toward, make sure it’s important to you and fits into where you are in life.
Want to lose 50 pounds? It may take months or years to reach such a lofty goal. You’d do better to set a smaller, more attainable goal to work towards with a specific end date in mind to keep you motivated. A healthy short-term goal each week is to lose one to two pounds. Over the course of the year, that adds up to nearly 50 pounds. Weigh in at the end of each week and track your progress. Then recommit to another week and another goal. You can do this!