As we pause to look back on 2011 through the lens of hundreds of top 10 lists, many of us are looking forward to starting 2012 the right way with a New Year’s resolution.
Switching out the year on the calendar provides what some might have lacked during the year — a logical starting point for a journey of self-improvement that might have been stopped, put on hold or never started in the first place.
According to usa.gov, some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions include saving money, getting a better job, helping others and such fitness-related goals as getting fit, eating healthy food and, of course, losing weight.
Those fitness goals speak to a deeper issue facing Americans today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 33.8 percent of adults and approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents in the United States are obese. In 2010, not a single state had an obesity rate of less than 20 percent. Rates haven’t always been so high. As recently as 1997, not a single state had an obesity rate of more than 20 percent.
Such high rates, along with their relatively rapid growth, are why obesity in the United States is often called an epidemic. No wonder some of the most popular resolutions are to lose weight and get in shape.
It seems simple enough to put on the old gym shorts, lace up a pair of sneakers and hit the trail running, but that’s easier said than done in the dead of winter with no prior preparation. Plus, for someone who truly needs to lose weight or get in shape, an independent jogging routine might not cut it.
For people who are serious about their resolutions, a local gym is the place to go. For gyms, a new year means a corresponding flood of new membership and attendance. Facilities and staff have to be ready to handle the rush while helping customers achieve their goals.
“I would say participation probably increases 50 percent for eight weeks,” said Dan Tourtellotte, LJCC sports and fitness director. “We beef up our sales force because we get a lot of people coming in. We may schedule more people on the floor.” Personal fitness goals also means personal training to some, particularly those who feel that their goals require more than just a stint on the Stairmaster. “We usually hire a personal trainer to take on the influx of personal training.”
For the YMCA, it’s not just an influx of new customers, but a return of the old. “It’s both a combination of members who are coming back as well as new people who are joining,” said Lisa Jones, senior vice president of the YMCA of Greater Birmingham. The YMCA also offers a program called Pathways, an incentives-based program which, according to Kelly Kidd, the healthy lifestyle and sport director at Hoover YMCA, is designed to help with the psychological aspect of fitness while providing rewards for hard work.
Achieving one’s resolution isn’t always as simple as just showing up to the gym. In fact, one study suggests that many New Year’s resolutions will almost certainly fail. In a 2007 experiment conducted by Robert Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, the New Year’s resolutions of 3000 participants were tracked over the course of one year. In all, 52 percent of participants were confident that they would succeed. One year later, only 12 percent were actually successful.
“It’s frustrating this time of year,” Kidd said. “We see people come in, and then they just leave and things go back to normal.” According to the majority of gyms, attendance spike at the beginning of January, then slowly goes back to normal levels.
“Three months into the new year, it’s back to normal,”said Tabitha Dudley, an employee at Sportplex. The ebb and flow of failure and success at New Year’s resolutions is likely to continue into the foreseeable future, but there must be a way to succeed at one’s fitness goals.
According to Wiseman’s study, the strategies that are the best for you will usually depend on your gender. For men, it’s important to make your goals specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based. So don’t resolve to just lose weight. Resolve to go to the gym on specific days at specific times. “The thing that I need to tell people is you need to schedule your workouts, just as if it was an appointment at work,” Tourtellotte said. “You’ve got to have dedicated times where you come to the gym.” It’s also important for men to keep the results of the goals in mind when trying to achieve them. For men, measure your progress by trees, but keep your eyes on the forest.
For women, it’s helpful to go public with goals. Tell friends and family about your resolution and trying to stay accountable to more people than just yourself. “We encourage people to get into group exercise classes to start,” Tourtellotte said. “People are more likely to come and continue to come if they have a group rather than just exercising alone.”
Most importantly – and this last strategy is important for anyone with a resolution – don’t give up. “A lot of people start and then a month down the road, if they don’t see any change, they give up,” Dudley said. “I would say it’s the motivation they have and the goals that they set. Don’t give up. That’s something that I’m doing right now. I’ve been [exercising] three months continuously. Don’t give up.”