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You've just resolved to eat healthier and exercise more. But how do you stick with your self-improvement plan? You need techniques that will strengthen your resolve. "People believe that through discipline alone, they can create behavioral changes," says Charles Stuart Platkin, author of Breaking the Pattern: The 5 Principles You Need to Remodel Your Life. "But typically, willpower doesn't last very long."
Here are 12 tips to give your eat-right, move-more efforts greater endurance.
1. Eliminate Excuses "Even if you're not a morning person, schedule exercise for first thing in the morning," suggests Martica Heaner, M.A., a New York-based exercise physiologist and author of Cross-Training for Dummies. "The later you wait to exercise, the more reasons you'll have for not doing it." Sally White, Ph.D., dean and professor at the College of Education at Lehigh University, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and an expert on motivation and exercise, agrees. "Keep gym clothes everywhere -- in the car, at work -- so there's never a reason not to go." So what do you need to do? Sleep in your sports bra? Lay your workout clothes out on the bed the night before? Ask a buddy to call and remind you to get moving? Figure out what works -- then do it.
2. Kid Around Of course, finding time to work out was simpler B.C. (Before Children) -- but just because family precedes fitness on your list of priorities doesn't mean there isn't room for both in your life. Get your children involved with you. Take a family hike, go for a group bike ride -- or roll with it. "Scooters and in-line skates are great for kids and can be just as much calorie-burning fun for moms," says Bonne Marano, a certified fitness instructor in New York City. Plus, getting moving with you is good for the little guys, says White: "The children of families who exercise together are more likely to be active later in life."
3. Plan with Your ManA study at Indiana University, in Bloomington, found that 94 percent of spouses who worked out together stuck to their exercise plans, compared with only 57 percent of those who went at it alone. Can't tear him away from the TV long enough for a bike ride? Then try using the word "ball" to entice him, offers Heaner: "If a high-energy kick-boxing class or body-sculpting session isn't his thing, shooting hoops or tossing around a football may be. A little one-on-one on the basketball court burns twice as many calories as walking. Even if you never make a basket, the sprinting and lateral movements will improve your coordination."
4. Get a GadgetInvesting in a simple tool that will measure the progress you're making can be a big motivator. Try something as simple as the New Lifestyles Digi-Walker SW-200 ($26.95, www.thepedometercompany.com), which counts your total steps over the course of a day.
Looking for a fun way to figure out how many M&Ms you burned off during that extra-long elliptical session? Check out BalanceLog ($49 to $69, www.healthetech.com), software for your computer and/or Palm that logs calories in and calories out, then helps you devise a food budget based on how much exercise you get.
5. Write It DownKeep your own food and exercise log: People who are successful at losing and maintaining their weight are good at self-monitoring, according to several studies. "And remember to put positive feelings in print, too, to review on days you need a boost," says Rachna D. Jain, Psy.D., a lifestyle coach and licensed psychologist in Columbia, Maryland. Describing how good you felt after a workout, for instance, could help get you out the door next time.
6. Seek Inspiration Feeling a little less than vibrant? Find a mental mentor to get you moving. That's how Sarah Ferguson, former Duchess of York, keeps revved. Saying negativity drains energy, she counts the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela among her positive-energy role models. Or consider George W. Bush: If the president of the United States can fit regular exercise into his schedule, you probably can, too. Figure out who inspires you -- maybe it's your friend who manages to make time for a morning walk despite having four kids under 10 -- and think of her when you're feeling too tired or busy.
7. Paint Pretty Pictures How will eating better or sticking to an exercise plan make you look and feel in the long term? Create "life preservers," detailed visions of your ideal self, suggests Platkin. Imagine going on a date with your husband in a sexy new dress; picture running into your high-school nemesis looking toned and confident. "The point is to have motivational scenarios you can think about when you're having trouble sticking to your plan," says Platkin. "And remember: Make the visualizations compelling and inspiring -- powerful enough to stand up to that diabolical duo, Ben & Jerry!"
8. Treat Yourself Did you refrain from finishing your daughter's fries today? Did you take a brisk walk on your lunch break? Reward yourself. "Treat yourself to a simple pleasure," suggests Dr. Jain. "Promise yourself thirty minutes of quiet time to read a novel, or buy yourself a new set of luxurious bath gels."
9. Tune In to Tone Up When it comes to exercise, music can move you -- not only because it offers mental stimulation, but also because it may help put you in a better mood. "Music's rhythm also helps exercisers maintain a reasonable intensity level," says Vince Nethery, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at Central Washington University, in Ellensburg, Washington. And listening to music may even help you work out longer and harder. A study at Hampden-Sydney College, in Farmville, Virginia, recently found that college students who exercised to music were able to work out 11 percent longer than those who worked out in silence or a noisy environment.
10. Sweat for a Cause Sign up for a charity walk/run, like Race for the Cure (www.komen.org/race), which benefits breast-cancer research, or the MS Bike Tour (www.nationalmssociety.org), which raises funds for multiple-sclerosis research. You'll help yourself by helping others. Plus, after hitting up friends and family for donations, you'll be motivated to reach your goal.
11. Post Your Progress Find a way to remind yourself how far you've come in your efforts to exercise and eat more healthfully. "Toss a dollar in a jar every time you fit in a workout, then cash out on a non-food splurge," suggests Dr. Jain. "Or make a chart of your progress. I've even had clients who charted their progress on a world map: Every hour of exercise brought them metaphorically closer to new lands."
12. Dress for Success "If you're the kind who exercises in T-shirts and baggy sweats because your body wasn't meant for Lycra, think again," says Heaner. "Shapeless exercise clothes actually make you look worse than fitted ones do. You don't have to wear skimpy bras or butt-high hot pants -- just form-fitted clothing that lets you see your muscles." Check out Reebok's Fit System line (www.reebok.com), which includes workout wear to flatter more rounded bodies.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine.