Dear Heather

Dear Heather:

I want to start an exercise program, to lose a little weight and get healthier. The problem is, in the past every time I have tried to do this, I always got bored, sidetracked, or injured or I just gave up. How do I come up with a program I will stick with?

Andrea, Halifax.

Dear Andrea:

Congratulations on taking the first step: deciding to start exercising. Carrying out your plan will take some self-discipline, but exercising doesn’t have to be unpleasant. There are a lot of things you can do to help ensure that you stick with it!

First, chose an activity (or several activities) that you genuinely enjoy. If you can’t think of one, it may be time to try some new things. There are a lot of ways to do this. One is to talk to your active friends about what forms of exercise they enjoy, and ask if you can join them sometime. Another is to go to a gym as a guest or visitor (many gyms offer 30-day trial memberships for free or very cheap), and try everything they have: aerobics classes, swimming laps, squash lessons, yoga, weight training, etc. You can also check out the bulletin boards at local parks and fitness centres: often teams or leagues are looking for new players of all skill levels. This is a great way to find out about unusual sports in your area: frisbee golf, underwater hockey, and dragon boat racing are all possibilities. If you see something that sounds like fun, call and ask if you can come out and watch (or join in) a game, to see what it’s all about.

If you’re susceptible to boredom, it may be best to have a number of different sports or activities lined up. This way, you can rotate them: you can cycle one day, swim the next, and play floor hockey on Fridays. Or, you can swim during the winter and cycle in the summer. If, however, you are more motivated by reaching specific personal goals in your sport, sticking to one activity will allow you to reach higher levels of achievement in that sport (for example, if you run four times a week, you will likely increase your speed or distance faster than if you only run once a week and do another sport on the other days). Reaching personal milestones quickly might be the best way to stay interested if you’re achievement-driven. Knowing what motivates you will help you decide which approach to take (and for those who can’t decide, there are always multi-sports, like triathlon).

One you’ve chosen your activities, you need to set a firm schedule so that you don’t procrastinate. Decide how much exercise you will do, at what time of day, for how long, and on what days. Start small at first, to avoid becoming discouraged (or worse, injured). As your level of fitness increases, you can set more ambitious goals if you wish.

There are a number of things you can do to help yourself stay on track with your exercise program. First, write your exercise sessions down in your appointment book, and honour them as you would any other appointment. Second, set ambitious but achievable goals (how far you will walk, how much weight you will lift, which rock faces you will climb, etc.) and decide in advance how you will reward yourself for reaching those goals. Keep the reward in mind when you start feeling discouraged.

One piece of advice you often hear is to exercise with a friend. This can certainly make exercising more fun and may encourage you to stick with your program, but it will only do so if your friend is as committed as you are. If she isn’t and she quits after two weeks, you may find yourself using this as an excuse for you to quit, too.

It also may be useful to keep a log: mark the days you exercise with an “?X’ on your calendar (or write down the distance you jogged, or whatever). Looking back at that calendar will make you proud of your accomplishments so far, and you will be reluctant to quit and spoil your “?perfect’ record of, say, swimming every day, or making every volleyball game.

A friend of mine wanted to lose weight, and for over a year she has walked nearly every day, rain or shine. I asked her how she stays on track, and I was impressed with her simple, but effective, strategy: at the very beginning, she made a deal with herself. If she didn’t feel like taking her walk, she had to go to the three-way mirror in her closet and look at her body in the mirror. If she could honestly say she was happy with what she
saw, she didn’t force herself to walk that day. If, however, she wished that the body in the mirror was slimmer, then she had to walk. At first she feared that once she started to lose weight, the strategy would fail: she would be happier with her body and would give herself too many days off. What she has found, however, is that she has started enjoying the walk for its own sake. Although she is now happy with the body in the mirror, she walks every day anyway, just because it feels good.

Getting started is the hardest part. Good luck!


E-mail your questions to Heather at Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. Heather is an AU student offering objective advice to her peers; she is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.