How to stick to your exercise goals

January 26, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Every year, many of us tell ourselves we're going to lose weight and exercise more. But things start to slide. Heatherose Peluso, spokesperson for the American Heart Association and health coach at Kaiser Permanente, has some helpful ideas on how we can stick to our exercise goals.


1. Use a calendar to schedule your exercise plans. The things we schedule get done, the things we try to "fit in" don't. Whenever my clients tell me they don't have time for exercise, I ask them if they are using their calendar to schedule their workouts. 9 times out of 10 they're not. Imagine if you didn't schedule your doctor appointments or important meetings. The time would be used up by everything else you have to do and we'd never get those things done.

2. There's this old motivation analogy of the "carrot or the stick". We can be motivated by the carrot (the reward) out in front of us or by the stick (the risk or punishment) threatening us from behind. It's easier to get in action if we have fully formed pictures of what both the rewards of being fit will be and of what the risks of being unfit are is very helpful.

3. Take it 'one day at a time'. There's a reason why that phrase is so used so often in behavior change groups. If a person believes that they have to be perfect every day forever, then if they miss a day, they'll tend to think they failed entirely and give up. Every day you exercise you're succeeding. When you keep giving yourself a blank slate, every day is a new opportunity to succeed.

Avoid pitfalls: There are three common pitfalls that I see:

1. Setting vague goals. Saying "I'll exercise 4 times per week" but not scheduling WHICH 4x at actual times that are available (plus travel and changing time). Suddenly you find it's Friday and you can't make it happen.

2. Using vague motivations like, "I need to lose weight" or "I need to be healthier". "Losing weight" in and of itself is not an end goal. Being able to dance at your children or grandchildren's weddings is. Being "healthier" is not a goal. Being able to walk up a few flights of stairs without huffing and puffing is.

3. Setting unreasonable goals. Look at your real life and time and see what you can really do right now. It may only be 10 minutes a day, three days a week right now. You can always increase your goals later but if you set an unachievable goal to start with you create daily opportunities to experience failure. When you set achievable goals you have those successes to feel good about and to use as motivation for tomorrow.

How do cardiovascular exercise and strength training fit in and how should people make choices about where to devote their time?

· Cardiovascular exercise is needed to build and keep the heart strong and healthy. It's how we avoid heart attacks and strokes and how we improve our endurance for our life activities.

· Cardiovascular exercise also burns calories and helps us maintain and lose weight.

· Strength training is extremely important to weight management. When we build muscle mass we increase our metabolic rate so that our bodies are burning more calories all the time (even when we're not moving).

About: Heatherose Peluso, a volunteer spokesperson for the American Heart Association and a physical therapist, personal trainer and health coach at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco.

Bernard Tyson, a top Kaiser Permanente executive and Volunteer Chair of the most recent American Heart Association Greater Bay Area Start! Heart Walks. Bernard is Executive Vice President, Health Plan and Hospital Operations for Kaiser Permanente. The 6 heart walks in the Bay Area include thousands of Bay Area participants and raise awareness as well as millions of dollars for research and education about heart disease and stroke.

Lisa Harrison, a nominee for the American Heart Association's Lifestyle Change Award. She has made some amazing changes for her health.

These Bay Area folks have been recognized for their success by the American Heart Association's Start! program. That's a free workplace-based program that encourages all adults to take action to reduce our risk of heart disease and stroke, America's number 1 and number 3 killers.

More information at

Lifestyle Change Award nominations are a big part of every Start! Heart Walk. Most heart disease is preventable and the folks who have taken big steps to reduce their risk and improve their health can provide inspiration and motivation to everyone.