You’ll actually be able to stick to this year’s health and walking-related resolutions by setting measurable, challenging goals that fit your life and your motivation for walking. It’s no secret that most fitness resolutions fail (on average by January 17th, according to USA Today!). If you set the right goals and come up with a plan to achieve them, however, you can buck the trend and build a walking habit.
Remember your reason or “why” for fitness
You’ll have more success at sticking with your fitness goals if you remember the reason why you’re trying to get fit in the first place. It turns out that internal, so-called “intrinsic motivation” is more powerful than external motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from inside ourselves based on things we find internally fun and enjoyable – not based on rewards or validation from others.
Why do you want to get fit?
Most people with a fitness resolution want to get more fit and active for a specific reason. Even if you’re targeting 10,000 steps per day, that’s usually to achieve some fitness goal rather than walking for walking’s sake. It could be because you want to burn calories and lose some stubborn belly fat, or it could be that you want the stamina to finish all of your daily errands without tiring yourself out. Your “why” could be to keep up with your kids or grandkids, or even just to chase around your dog during walks. Try to come up with a personal “why” for walking that will make you feel great inside.
What will you do when you hit your goal?
Think of what you’ll do or how you’ll feel when you hit your fitness goal. Try to come up with internal motivation – how you’ll feel rather than what other people may think or say about you. Maybe hitting 10,000 steps per day and being able to walk long distances means that you’ll be able to spend an afternoon walking through your favorite park. If your goal is to lose weight, focus on the health benefits you’ll achieve from walking and how great you’ll feel. If your motivation to hit your goals starts to drop, remember what’s at stake and you’ll be more likely to keep going.
Set challenging but achievable goals
Setting goals that are both achievable and challenging is an important factor with sticking to fitness goals, according to Bustle.com. Entrepreneur.com recommends setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Realistic, and have a Timeframe). The goals that you set go a long way towards whether you’ll keep pursuing them or give up early.
Your goal should be challenging
Setting a difficult, inspiring goal can be a great way to motivate yourself to walk more. A fun, “out there” goal can also serve to focus your motivation on a specific task at hand. You’ll be more exciting working towards walking a 5k race than you will be by adding an extra 100 steps a day. Challenging fitness goals are usually more rewarding when you do achieve them. If you’re currently walking 5,000 steps per day, getting up to 10,000 steps will almost certainly ensure that you hit the 300 minutes of weekly walking recommended for the greatest health benefits. What’s challenging for one person may not be challenging for another, so make sure your goals are calibrated for your personal experience level and fitness ability.
Your goal should be achievable
Your goal should be tough, but also realistic (the “R” in SMART goals) so that you can maintain your motivation. Setting a goal that you can’t realistically achieve can lead to discouragement when you realize that it’s so far out of reach. A great way to evaluate how realistic and achievable your goal may be is to figure out what you’d need to do to actually reach it. Then decide if that is work that you’re able (and willing) to do.
If your goal is 10,000 steps in a day, try to work out how much time and how many miles walked that would entail. You can do this by estimating your steps per mile, walking speed, and time available. Take into account where you’re at the beginning as well. 2,000 steps per day to 10,000 is a huge jump and requires a ton of work. You’ll also have to factor in injuries and health conditions. Some people just physically cannot walk as many steps as others, but that’s ok! For other goals, like walking an extra hour a day, you can actually figure out what it would take to free up that time.
Set measurable milestones
Goals that are measurable (the “M” in SMART goals) are more likely to be achieved because you can actually view your progress over time. You’ll know exactly how you’re doing, what you’re aiming for, and how far you have to go. If you can’t measure your goal, you’ll also have no way to know if you’ve actually completed it!
Track your progress over time
Setting milestones on the way to your main goal helps you keep motivated and earn small wins by making progress over time. If you’re going for 10,000 steps per day, try increasing your steps by 1,000 to 2,000 step increments and check how you’re doing every so often. If you’re targeting 30 minutes of walking per day, considering increasing your walking time by 1 minute every week or two. Taking a challenging goal and breaking it down into easy to reach steps gives you something to aim for in the short run as you’re hitting your goal in the long run.
Adjust your goals and strategy along the way
Just because you set a goal for your resolution in January doesn’t mean that it can never change! Use your milestone progress to adjust your final goal when necessary. If you’re on pace to hit your step goals early, you can always increase your final goal and adjust your monthly milestones. Likewise, if you find that progress is slower than normal it’s fine to adjust your milestones downward. Your goal should be steady progress over time. Keep in mind that fitness plateaus are normal. You may find that you just can’t get past 7,000 steps until you hit a certain fitness level or figure out a new creative walking strategy and suddenly your steps per day may jump past that number.
Account for your life circumstances
Every walker is different, which means that your friend or coworker’s fitness goals may be completely different than yours. Your health, fitness, and steps aren’t a competition (if you do like to compete in Pacer challenges). You’re really competing against yourself to get as healthy as you can be.
Set the right goal for YOU
Your health, life circumstances, and age all factor into to how much walking you can get every day. If you have a newborn baby, for instance, you simply may not have the time and ability to put in a ton of walking. You can look into alternative ways to get your steps, like getting a treadmill or doing at-home cardio, but it may turn out that at least temporarily you’ll have to lower your step goals.
If you have a permanent injury or health condition, or if you’re a senior, you may simply not be able to get as many steps as you once could. While this can be frustrating, it’s important to be realistic and get as active as YOU safely can rather than comparing yourself to others. Even small increases in your step count can make a big difference in health (and can even reduce your risk of death)! The important thing is that you keep walking and stick with your habit, and being realistic about your goals allows you to do that.
Remember that it’s not a competition
Remember that fitness is ultimately a challenge against yourself. It’s not like a boxing match, where one person has to lose for another to win, or a tennis tournament where winning just sets up a match with a tougher individual. Walking and getting healthy is a competition against yourself where the only way you can “lose” is to stop walking altogether.
Even better, walking can be a team exercise where you and your friends can work together to motivate each other to get healthier! Get a friend into walking and you’ll have a walking buddy who will motivate you to get even healthier yourself.
Finally, even if you don’t hit your initial goal focus on all the progress you’re making along the way. If you started at 5,000 steps with a 10,000 step goal and you ended up at 8,000 steps, that’s still amazing progress!
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