There’s a wonderful wave of hope that comes with welcoming a new year, eliciting feelings of “what if?” For many, sticking to healthier habits earns an annual top spot on the wish list. But so often, these goals are abandoned come February because they are lofty, unrealistic, or unimportant once post-holiday life resumes.
So how do we make healthy living a priority each day? It’s common to concentrate our New Year’s resolutions on popular picks such as losing weight, or finally lacing up your old running shoes again. But if we can refocus our ambitions on something more motivating, such as having a better quality of life, perhaps we will finally stick to our resolutions — for good.
Functional fitness is the foundation for achieving a better quality of life. It means you can safely and successfully engage in all your activities of daily living with ease, freedom, and fewer frustrating aches. Twisting open a jar takes just a simple rotation of the wrist because your hands are strong and dexterous. Climbing a set of stairs is a cinch when your balance is secure. You can better manage the physical strain of lifting and carrying heavy loads like groceries or children, as your lower body and core muscles are powerful.
But to achieve this stronger state, you need a workout that goes beyond standard gym cardio or weight training. You want to incorporate movement patterns, such as bending, rotating, and balancing – as with single-leg exercises – to help meet your daily demands.
For the month of January, our plan focuses on mastering the key elements of functional fitness. Each week, we will outline one of the four functional fitness factors necessary for developing these vital skills. Categories will be balance, endurance, flexibility, and load-bearing.
To equip you for your new exercise journey, we’ll start step one, and week one, of your New Year’s fitness resolution with some goal-setting.
Here’s how it works:
Be realistic. For many, the biggest obstacle to success is knowing how to establish realistic, attainable, well-defined objectives. Extreme statements like wanting to lose 50 pounds in a month, never eating sugar again, or working out every single day are not only impractical and unhealthy, but they also set you up for feeling defeated when you inevitably fall short.
A more effective approach starts with one overarching goal: a better quality of life.
Think about not only the outward, physical changes from adding functional fitness to your routine but also the inner, life-enhancing benefits that are not as obvious. Keep in mind that as you begin, change may come slowly, but don’t be discouraged. As you continue to honor your commitment to your health, lasting changes will unfold, such as:
After one day: With increased blood and oxygen flowing to your brain, your overall mood will be better. You may be a little sore but this will subside.
After one week: Exercise will become easier and you will have increased energy, better sleep and, with an increased metabolism, your body will burn more fat even while you rest. Unhealthy cravings may even subside, replaced with a desire for healthier food. You will gradually feel more agile and flexible in your movement.
After one month: Depending on your diet – don’t make the mistake of thinking you can eat more if you exercise! – fat loss will make leaner, stronger muscles more visible. Previously tight, sore joints will now be less painful; climbing that flight of stairs will be less challenging. Motivation and confidence will soar and you will be well on your way to a fabulous year.
Be specific. Losing weight, running more, practicing mindfulness — these vague goals need to be supported by a structure regarding where to start, how to accomplish the goal, and when you’ll be doing it. Because being healthy takes daily dedication for results, you must have a written plan and purpose that help prioritize your goals, just like you would with any other project.
Consider starting with smaller goals, such as exercising for 20 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the first week. By cutting up your goals into smaller fitness fragments, you are more likely to achieve them.
Then open your phone’s calendar or purchase a paper calendar and review your current commitments and preferences. If you aren’t a morning person, or have to be at work very early, it would be unrealistic to schedule your workouts at the crack of dawn. By recognizing schedule conflicts early on, you can ensure you’ll never miss a workout due to a lack of time.
Be organized. Fitness is more fun when you feel comfortable in your exercise environment. Before you embark on a new routine, take time to consider where you plan to work out, and what you will need. No one likes a cramped workout space, or finding out halfway through a circuit that you’re missing a crucial piece of equipment.
For our month-long functional fitness series, you’ll need a small area, such as a corner of your basement or bedroom. A set of free weights is a worthy investment, but you also can substitute with filled water bottles or cans, or fill a backpack with books. By organizing your workout area now, you can effortlessly float into your fitness circuit without any hassle.
Add rest. Your body needs time to rest and restore. Aim for six to eight hours of sleep a night. Don’t work the same muscle group two days in a row. Take at least one day a week for rest — maybe schedule just a stretching session or a gentle walk. Your mind will be clearer and your body will operate more efficiently throughout this series if you are well-rested and aren’t overtaxing your body and mind.
Remember that it is not selfish to focus on you. You will be more effective at helping and caring for others once you begin with your self-care. Let this be the year you finally reap the reward of your New Year’s fitness resolution.
Ashley Blake Greenblatt is a certified personal trainer and wellness coach in South Jersey. Learn more about her virtual training program at ashleyblakefitness.com. Yvonne Ferguson Hardin (Fergie) is the owner of Fergie’s Instructional Training in Germantown, where she specializes in educational movement programs for exercisers aged 55 and older. For more information, go to TransformURlifetoday.com.