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BRION O’CONNOR | ON THE MOVE

How to keep your New Year’s exercise resolutions

The best remedy for the winter blues, says Hull’s Adam Naylor, a sport psychology coach and consultant with Telos SPC, is exercise.
Darron Cummings/Associated Press/File
The best remedy for the winter blues, says Hull’s Adam Naylor, a sport psychology coach and consultant with Telos SPC, is exercise.

Here’s what I want to know: Who decided that New Year’s was a good time to commit to life-changing resolutions? I understand that Jan. 1 marks the first day of the year, and that’s a natural time for new beginnings. But really? Talk about putting yourself behind the 8-ball.

New Year’s Day is one of the shortest days of the year, so we’re already dealing with a serious lack of natural sunlight. Now add bone-chilling cold to the mix. For many, including me, that’s not an ideal recipe for long-term success. But the way Hull’s Adam Naylor, a sport psychology coach and consultant with Telos SPC, sees it, adhering to resolutions is always difficult, regardless of the season.

“The percentage of Americans who are sedentary hovers around 70 percent year in and year out,’’ he said, “so it’s tough to say winter obstacles are the motivation killer.”

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According to Naylor, New Year’s Day remains a popular touchstone for resolutions because it’s a “celebration of optimism for things ahead. It provides a symbolic ‘starting line,’ so to speak.

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“Sure, winter has long dark days and not a lot great weather to get outdoors . . . ,” he said. “The paradox of it all might be the best remedy for the ‘winter blues’ is exercise.”

Likewise, Whitney Ladd Otto, a leadership development consultant with Valor Performance in Cambridge, said resolutions are an admirable way to combat winter’s desultory nature.

“The dark of winter is when we most need the hope that resolutions signify . . . ,” said Otto. “This time of year can signal to us that it’s time to plan our own renewal into new habits and new patterns.”

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
Rows of treadmills at the Life Time Center in Chestnut Hill awaiting clients.

So how do we make resolutions stick? The first thing, said Naylor, is to differentiate between a light-hearted resolution and a serious commitment to change.

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“The biggest challenge is that making a New Year’s resolution is not the same as reflective and effective goal-setting,” he said. “Oftentimes, it’s at best little more than well-intentioned fantasizing.”

For starters, be specific when stating your fitness goals, said Otto.

“It’s not unusual for people to make general resolutions, like ‘Live life to the fullest,’ or ‘Get in shape,’ ” she said. “If you want to ‘get fit,’ decide what that mean in terms of your behaviors. Does it mean you will bike to work every day, join a soccer league on Tuesday evenings, et cetera? Whatever your goal is, make sure you identify the ‘what, when, and how’ of the actual behaviors it will require to achieve.”

In addition, Naylor said successful fitness resolutions typically have the following four traits:

 Reflective preparation. “Jumping in without taking a decent look at the future is like sailing into the middle of the Atlantic without charts, GPS, or a radio.”

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 Choose enjoyable activities. “There are so many ways to improve fitness – exercise classes, running, athletic events, strength training, and more. Engage in something appealing. Excessive exertion early on leads to bad feelings, which leads to second-guessing if the activity is a bright idea.”

 Anticipate having your commitment tested. “Come up with a solution for sticking with exercise during the inevitable snowstorm that shuts down the gym for a few days or a frivolous trip to Vegas.”

 Make it social. “Whether it’s the infectious positive energy of others or the workout buddy that holds you accountable, don’t discount the ‘power of the pack.’ The more we can engage positive emotions and social connections around exercise, the more we thrive and the better we commit.”

Similar to “having your commitment tested,” Otto said she recommends that people with resolutions should expect to falter occasionally, but shouldn’t feel like those missteps are the end of the world.

“Life is busy and unpredictable, and nothing will go perfectly,” she said. “Have a plan for what to do if you stumble. If you have a work project and don’t get to the gym, walk the stairs at work for 20 minutes, schedule an extra workout with a friend for the weekend, or do a fitness video in your home.”

Both Naylor and Otto also emphasized that anyone with a New Year’s resolution needs perspective.

“Show it bit of self-compassion,” said Naylor. Occasional stumbles, he said, “are growth spots, not fatal flaws.”

In other words, be kind to yourself, said Otto. Be firm in your convictions, but understanding when a hiccup occurs. Those moments shouldn’t derail your resolutions. Keep your eyes on the prize, and keep moving forward.

Gittta/Fotolia
Get thee to the gym, or better yet, outside.

Ski clinic Free your heels and attend a Novice/Intermediate Telemark Ski Clinic Saturday, Jan. 6, at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Princeton, hosted by the Boston Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club. The clinic is open to anyone with prior experience in alpine or cross-country skiing. Novices will learn telemark turns on easy grades, while intermediate free-heelers will attempt steeper terrain. Metal-edged telemark skis and boots are required, and rentals will be available. A fee is charged. For details, visit amcboston.org, or e-mail amc.tele.clinic@gmail.com. Address questions to clinic coordinator Mustafa Varoglu.

If you have an idea for the Globe’s “On the Move” column, contact correspondent Brion O’Connor at brionoc@verizon.net. Please allow at least a month’s advance notice.