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Staying motivated

by Stephanie d'Orsay / Columnist • November 15, 2012

For many people, it’s much easier to find motivation to stay fit and healthy during the spring and summer months, when getting ready for beach weather is a top priority. But what happens to that motivation when the temperature drops close to — and eventually below — freezing? Although staying snuggled in your room and ordering takeout is often more inviting than bundling up to head to the gym or to get some nutritious groceries, the latter will help you to stay healthy,  energized, and beat those winter blues. Fortunately, keeping yourself at your healthiest doesn’t always have to mean a complete lifestyle overhaul, and it comes down to some very small changes that can lead to big results.

Find a buddy: It can be tempting to skip a workout or scarf down pizza when no one is holding you accountable for your actions. A workout buddy or “wellness” buddy is a great way to keep yourself on track, whether it be in the gym or in the dining hall. As cozy as your room is early in the morning, if you know someone else has braved the cold and is waiting for you at the gym, you might think twice about skipping out on that workout and letting them down. But if exercising in tandem isn’t your style, it can still help to have people in your corner. Pick a few friends, coworkers, or family members, and tell them about your health and fitness goals. Even if they’re not physically in the gym with you, having others who are familiar with your goals and occasionally ask you about them may keep you more committed to working your hardest to reach them.

Set realistic goals: Setting a goal tomorrow of losing 25 pounds by Thanksgiving isn’t realistic, and you’ll only setting yourself up for failure. Likewise, setting a goal to simply “lose weight” isn’t necessarily helpful either, because it’s neither measurable nor specific enough to know when you’ve reached it. Giving yourself goals that you can easily and objectively monitor is the only way to know if you’re on track.  For instance, “I will workout for 45 minutes, 4 times this week,” or “I will be able to run a 5k by December 31st” are both realistic, attainable, and measurable statements that you can keep track of, setting new and specific goals when these have been met.

Stick to a schedule: In this busy world, workouts are often the first thing to go when someone’s schedule gets too hectic.  By adding a 30- or 60-minute time slot to your calendar a few days per week, you may be more inclined to stick to your fitness regimen. Just like a meeting or study group, when a workout is already structured into your day, it’s much easier to fit it in. On that same token, scheduling time for grocery shopping and meal planning may prevent you from overindulging in takeout or straying too far from your diet.

Take baby steps: Trying to do too much too soon is the reason why many people quit on fitness and health goals. Instead of trying to heed every piece of health advice you’ve ever heard, make small changes periodically. At first, for instance, try including a vegetable into two meals per day. Stick with that one change for two weeks, and then add another when that has become just another part of your routine. After two weeks of increasing your vegetable intake, add in 30 minutes of exercise 3 days per week, and so on. According to an article from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, making small lifestyle changes in this fashion has been proven to be more effective in promoting lasting change than trying to alter your entire lifestyle at once. Large life changes — such as saying you’ll “never eat junk food again” — tend to be overwhelming and unrealistic. Achieving success with several small changes can increase one’s confidence that they will be able to successfully complete their larger long term goals.

 Unfortunately, many people tend to let their healthy habits fall to the wayside during the colder months. Although it can be enticing to hibernate in the warmth of your dorm room when the weather outside is miserable, the above tips are a few ways you can combat this temptation and keep your healthy lifestyle on track — or get started with a new routine.  After all, keeping up with your health and fitness plan during the winter months will make it that much easier to fit back into those summer clothes when the sun eventually comes out this spring.