How to make your fitness resolutions stick

Graphic with Happy New Year and "How to make your New Year's resolutions last past January"Physical activity goals are often one the top resolutions made every year.  Some of the goals people commit to revolve around weight loss, being more active, running a 10k and more.  But for one of the most common resolutions, it’s often one of the hardest to maintain.

Here are a few tips for making and sticking to a New Year’s Resolution that relates to your physical activity habits.

1. Be Specific and Realistic

A common mistake in goal setting is being too broad. Say the goal is weight loss or being more active – how much weight are you going to lose, or how active are you hoping to be?  It’s important not to get too caught up in numbers, especially on the scale, and I have other tips to help to address that.  However, it is important to set some boundaries so you have something to work with and goal posts to strive for.  If you want to take the pressure off the scale and weight loss,  focus on upping your activity – sign up for a 5k, aim for three days a week of 30 minutes of moderate activity, or take a group fitness class once a week.  Picking something with a date will help you get specific and be realistic about what you can do in that timeframe.  With being specific, being realistic is also important.  Weight loss can be a great goal with the right plan, but looking for weight loss to be immediate doesn’t help to set you up for success.  Likewise, upping your exercise is great, but starting out at one hour five days a week is going to feel unsurmountable. Tips #2 and #5 can help with this.

2. Start Small

Starting small can be related to being realistic. If your new goal is to run a 10k and you currently don’t run at all, starting a five day a week training plan is generally not going to be a good idea.  You’ll likely be overly sore and put yourself at higher risk of injury.  Setting smaller, manageable goals is a great way to start, and if you are currently inactive, starting at two days a week with 15 minutes of activity is already a big jump.  You’ll also progress faster by starting smaller.  You can add more time or more days of activity as it’s starting to feel easier.  Tip #5 addresses this as well – there is a benefit to every single time you exercise, so think of each bout and what it does for you, not just the end goal.

3. Try Something New and Find What You Enjoy

If you’ve always wanted to take a spin class, try a spin class. If you love to dance, take lessons or do a Zumba class.  If you feel like yoga is the best at helping you to relax, take the yoga class.  Don’t do the form of exercise you think, or others think, you need to do, do the exercise you want to do and will continue to do.  There is no benefit from exercise if you don’t do it.  Sometimes we’re limited by what we think we can do, before knowing what we can actually do.  So try the new class or form of exercise that you’ve always wanted to do (starting small) , or do the exercises you already know you enjoy.

4. Bring a Friend

Having a family member or friend involved in your goal can help on multiple fronts. It helps to hold you accountable, it’s improving two people’s health, and you get to spend more time with someone you enjoy the company of (which can be hard to come by, especially now).  Whether it is doing every workout together, once a week, or just checking in with each other, it all counts.  Having a partner to workout with can help to motivate you and push a little harder than you might working out on your own.  Plus, you can do all the previous tips with a friend.

5. Think Short Term Over Long Term

This relates backs to being specific and realistic – many people don’t start the goal or keep up with the goal of fitness because it feels too daunting and it will take too long. If the goal is 20 pounds of weight loss, it could realistically take four to five months, and if you’re not celebrating the increased activity, how you feel, and more, it can feel like the small changes and habits aren’t adding up.  This also brings us back to the point of the benefit of every single time you exercise.  Yes, there is a cumulative effect to all the work you do (that only happens if you accumulate the habit and stick to it), but there are changes that occur during and after every bout of exercise.  You feel better, stronger, and each day puts you closer to your goal. Exercise has many immediate scientific benefits, even if it is just making you feel happier. So enjoy each time you exercise and realize it all adds up.

The year 2020 was challenging for us all, and if you’re feeling a little defeated that last year’s resolutions didn’t go as planned, that’s okay.  There’s no need to beat yourself up.  If you’re looking to 2021 and ways to keep up with your fitness goals, remember you can do this! Start small, keep at it, and big things will come.


Kimberly Burke is the director of the Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University, an outreach program through the Department of Health and Exercise Science. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members, while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more see the Adult Fitness website.