ACSM'S Health & Fitness Journal:
DEPARTMENTS: Fitness Focus
Thompson, Dixie L. Ph.D., FACSM
Dixie L. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, is the director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health and professor and department head for the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
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Since 2005, I have been entrusted with writing the Fitness Focus column. It has been a privilege to share some of my thoughts about fitness. My thanks to Editor-in-Chief Ed Howley, Ph.D., FACSM, for his guidance; to Managing Editor Lori Tish for keeping us all on schedule; and to you, the readers, for your support. Several themes have emerged through these columns, so in my last column, I am presenting what I consider some of the most important factors in maintaining good fitness for a lifetime.
Keep it fun. There are many ways to stay fit, so choose those that fit your lifestyle and preferences. Exercise can be and should be enjoyable. Find those activities that make you want to do them. If you enjoy the solitude of a solo run, make sure at least some of your workouts give you that opportunity. If a morning exercise class is just the thing to get you up, moving, and motivated, then find one in your area. There are limitless ways to stay fit, so find what works for you.
Mix it up. To have a well-rounded fitness program, it is important that cardiovascular endurance, musculoskeletal fitness, and flexibility have a place in your routine. Build each of these into your weekly workouts. Commonly, people are more attracted to one particular aspect of their fitness: maybe they like strength training but not aerobic training, or they like to run but hate to stretch. Paying attention to all aspects of your fitness over the course of your lifetime will pay many dividends in terms of your overall health and wellness.
Find support. All of us need encouragement and this can come from many different types of sources. Workout partners, a hiking club, exercise class, or an Internet support group are just a few examples of ways that people can get support for their active lifestyles. Seek out individuals in your life who can give you encouragement when it is difficult for you to pursue a fitness program and who can help celebrate your successes. Your life will be enriched by these relationships.
Remind yourself why you do it. People exercise for all types of reasons: to lose weight, for competition, to fight disease, to relieve stress, or for the sheer enjoyment of it. Keep in mind why you are exercising and link it with your short- and long-term goals. You may choose to keep a journal of your goals and accomplishments. The reasons you exercise will shift over time, and by remaining cognizant of your reasons for exercise, you are more likely to stick with it.
Be persistent. Regardless of who you are, there are times when keeping your focus on fitness becomes difficult. Job changes, family difficulties, and illness are common challenges that can cause us to lose our fitness focus. When those times come, fitness may take a temporary backseat to other priorities, but getting back to your fitness routine can be an important way to deal with these challenges. When challenges come, some people find it daunting to reestablish their active lifestyles, so they slip into a sedentary pattern. If you find yourself facing that challenge, look back to the tips above, remind yourself that no one is perfect (so do not judge yourself too harshly), and recommit yourself to being fit. The multitude of physical, mental, and emotional benefits that come from being active will make you glad that you did.