Tips for Setting Realistic Exercise Goals

Healthy Living

Has your busy life or negative mindset hijacked your exercise routine? Is your exercise plan of choice called "I'll Start Monday?"

Or worse, have you launched gung-ho into a strenuous workout program that resulted in injury, causing you to quit altogether?

Maybe it would help to know you're not alone. For whatever reasons, only 20 percent of Americans heed the Surgeon General's recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.

If you need to know one thing that will ensure your long-term success, it is this:

Setting realistic exercise goals is crucial to attaining them.

Follow these tips as you prepare to get fit:

Start Small

Be realistic about your commitment.

  • If you are doing nothing now, set a goal of one time a week for 15 minutes. Once you have achieved this for four weeks, then either add an extra day or number of minutes.
  • Work in short increments, gradually progressing to that elusive 150 minutes per week.
  • Choose exercise classes that are scheduled to match your biological clock, e.g., only sign up for early-morning classes if you are an early riser.
  • Enter into a contract with a gym only after you've tried it for a few months and are certain of your commitment.

Be realistic about your physical capabilities. For instance:

  • You don't have to run marathons or hang out at a gym to be fit. Choose exercises appropriate to your current physical condition.
  • If you suffer from joint pain or past injuries, don't run or jump. Brisk walking, efficient breathing and swinging your arms will burn just as many calories.
  • If you haven't lifted weights in a while, start your resistance movements without weights. Every few weeks, add a small amount of weight to your lifts.
  • Start doing push-ups on your knees and build up to a full push-up. If your knees aren't in shape for that, do push-ups against a wall in a standing position.
  • Keep your squats shallow at first, and as you become more flexible and build leg strength, make your squats progressively deeper.
  • Equip yourself with gear and clothing appropriate for your age, physical condition and type of exercise. Properly fitted shoes, supportive sports bras and wrist/knee/ankle supports when needed are just a few things that can maximize your performance.

Keep it Positive

Ask anyone who exercises regularly how they do it, and you'll notice they never say the word CAN'T.

You may be older, slower and have more aches and pains associated with exercise, or lack thereof, but you're never too old to make healthy changes.

And convincing yourself you are too busy to exercise is the number one way of sabotaging your health. Make your fitness a priority and you'll find you CAN blend together your work life, home life and a regular exercise regimen.

Adjust your mindset to accept these things:

  • You CAN get fit at any age.
  • You CAN find an activity you enjoy doing and incorporate it into your weekly routine.
  • You CAN incorporate the kids into your activities by taking a family walk, playing Frisbee in the backyard or playing yard games. When you take your children to soccer practice, walk while they practice, instead of sitting in your car.
  • You CAN go to the hotel gym and exercise while traveling. And many hotels partner with nearby fitness centers for a nominal fee.
  • You CAN swim in the hotel pool or take a walking tour of your surroundings.

Find Support

Most people report better success with a support system in place. It's great to have a workout buddy, but when that's not possible, support is at your fingertips.

Popular weight loss programs have adopted a more behavioral approach to weight loss. And many of them offer online, interactive support groups.

In addition, technology can be your best friend if you're looking for encouragement. Check out these options:


Desk Job
My Fitness Pal


Screen Support

My Fitness Coach (wii personal trainer)


Smart Sugar Diet
Wheat Belly

Remember that your doctor is your best source of information when it comes to determining your personal guidelines and any limitations you may have. Check with your doctor before starting any vigorous exercise program.

Need a primary care doctor? Take a quick survey to be matched with the right primary care doctor for you.

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