How do I keep my exercise goals realistic?

If you've never worked out before, jumping into 4, 5 or 6 days of working out is probably not realistic. Being realistic means doing some exercise, but not too much exercise. To set realistic goals, look at what you've done in the past, think about how much time you can devote to exercise and what your goals are for exercising. Jumping in and doing too much leads to dropping out.
Realism starts with making a list of one or two things with this in mind: "what can you do right now in this moment" that makes sense for you; where you are in your life and then asking some questions around those things. For example, you want to go out and run 6 miles this morning. Some questions you might want to ask might include the following: have you been running and if so how long. 6 miles may be realistic for you if you've been consistently running 4 or 5 but is probably not realistic if you have never run, haven't run for many months or years and haven't run more than 1-2 miles. 

Realism is really about being honest with yourself and understanding that if you start off too fast, with too much that you are setting yourself up for failure. Unconsciously people want to experience failure, "you see I can't do this," so they can stop exercising but what happens is that you never give yourself the opportunity to experience the really great benefits of exercise: exercise helps keep you healthy and strong in body, mind and spirit. Exercise also helps diminish and alleviate existing health conditions. Exercise allows people to sleep better. It's effective for depression, anxiety and helps alter moods to positive levels. Physical activity provides biochemical changes in the brain increasing the concentration of positive neurochemicals such as endorphins and serotonin. Exercise is also positively associated with changes in brain wave activity allowing for a more calm mental state. 

Much of this also comes down to values. What do you value? If you value being healthy exercise is a part of being healthy and you have a choice about whether or not you want to exercise and be successful at exercising. 
Keeping your exercise goals realistic is a combination of knowing what you are trying to accomplish and knowing yourself. You should arm yourself with education as it relates to the specific goal you are trying to accomplish because, without it, you will have great difficulty in gauging whether your goals are realistic or not. In the fitness world, most people want results 10 times faster than it takes to accomplish them.  If you know you want to lose 30 pounds and watched an infomercial one night where a lady lost eight pounds in the first week she tried, you may think you can get to your goal in less than one month.  This is an example of an unrealistic goal because safe and healthy weight loss approximates in at one to two pounds per week.

Knowing yourself is vital to keeping goals realistic as well.  If the holidays are coming up and you are a big social eater or drinker, you should know yourself well enough to determine that maintaining a 1200 calorie per day meal plan is a bit unreasonable. Be honest with yourself and what you are willing to do each day in order to accomplish your goals. Once you know what you need to do and if you are willing to do it, you are well on your way to setting goals that are grounded in reality.

The key is setting realistic goals from the start. Most want to jump in headfirst and lose interest because their program is not doable.

The Move It and Lose It Challenge is the ideal platform to get a better understanding of defining your starting point and progressing your exercise program in an efficient way. In Sharecare, you have the ideal tool to help guide you through your journey towards a healthier life. 

Robert S. Kaufmann, MD
Internal Medicine
Your long-term goal is to become healthier which can be difficult to measure. You need to pick a specific goal and a schedule to get there. An example is a half marathon. There is a schedule on how much you should run to get to 13 miles. You should pick a goal and then have an expert help you reach and that will make it realistic.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
By increasing them very gradually. We have people start with a pedometer, and increase the number of steps they take by 250 per day. That means if you start at 4,000 steps per day, go up by 250 steps per day until you hit 10,000 and then add resistance exercise, and then add cardio. It is gradual increase until you ingrain exercise into your life.
Keeping your exercise goals realistic is a very important part of your overall health and wellness. Setting unrealistic goals can be a surefire way to discourage you and can result in abandonment of your exercise program altogether when you don't achieve the goals you have set. A good way to keep your goals realistic is to set smaller, more manageable goals. Let's say you want to lose a large amount of weight. You may find it more realistic to break the goal down into small increments. While you may want to lose 50 pounds in total you will probably find it easier to set a goal of losing 5 or 10 pounds at a time. Each time you reach this smaller goal you can decide how you want to proceed. You will also be able to celebrate the achievement of reaching your smaller goal which can give you a sense of accomplishment and keep you on track. Think about your end goal and then think about how you can break it down into smaller goals and this should help set you on the right path to keeping your goals realistic.

To ensure your fitness goals are realistic don’t underestimate your physical capabilities and overestimate what you are willing to do to reach those goals.

Goals should:

  • be specific
  • be attainable
  • be somewhat enjoyable
  • fit into your daily lifestyle
  • be measureable and recorded

You can’t just say, “I want to be healthy,” show up at the gym, and expect to know what to do. You must have a plan. By being specific (“I want to run the St. Patty’s Day 5K race in March”), you can actually design a program, or have a fitness professional design a program, that will help you reach your goal.

Be realistic, if you are 100 pounds overweight and want to run the 5K in a month, this goal would probably not be attainable. By setting attainable, realistic goals you increase your chances of success. Actually running the 5K race allows you to measure and record reaching your goal. If you would rather eat nails than run, understand that the training required to run a 5K would neither be enjoyable nor fit your daily lifestyle. There are so many great ways to exercise it is unnecessary to choose activities you dislike doing.

First, start by deciding what you want and when you want it. You must have an absolute clarity of vision. Whatever your goal is it needs to be personal, specific and have a timestamp. For example, you could say, "By Memorial Day weekend I will weight XXX lbs."

Next, decide how it will be done. Take some time educating yourself, and look for multiple solutions to meet your goal. Decide if the goal and the time allotted for it are realistic. If so, form a strategy for success and proceed. If not, reevaluate the goal, the time allotment, and your strategy for success.

"Victory, more often than not is achieved by a series of small actions." Joseph Marshall

Always remember, this goal will take patience and time. Start small and make a steady progression towards victory. People who do too much at the onset usually fail from exhaustion; overeating, or frustration with the results versus the time commitment.

Aristotle once said, "Well begun is half done." If you don't start off right, you will fail.

Then once you have come up with a realistic but exciting goal, a reasonable but ambitious timeframe to achieve it you can get to work eating healthy, lifting weights and doing your cardio.

Make sure you take periodic weight and circumference measurements of how successful you are. You have to expect some occasional setbacks, so be prepared. Use the occasional setback as motivation to redouble your efforts and recommit to your goal. Peter Drucker coined the phrase, "What get's measured, get's done." So do not fear the scale or tape measure, they are instruments that will keep you focused on being successful.

If you need help, you are never alone, we are here at Sharecare to help you.

Remember a goal, a clear vision is very motivating. It is that goal that will get you to take action. Just keep in mind, start smart, start small, measure progress, work through setbacks and keep engaging in your small actions that lead to your ultimate victory.

"Each victory is only a prelude to another. No bounds can be set to rational hope."      -Dr. Carl Sagan




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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.