January 10, 2020

Dr. Steve Martin '98 '08, an associate professor in the Department of Health and Kinesiology, examines the common mistakes people make when creating New Year's fitness resolutions and offers a few tips for success.

As the magic of the holiday season fades into the midst of January, thoughts of all the eggnog, pecan pie and Christmas cookies consumed in the month before often prompt people to make resolutions revolving around diet and exercise. But by February, the post-holiday guilt recedes and most fitness-related resolutions find themselves tucked into the attic with all the other holiday décor, waiting to make their reappearance around the same time next year. 

With practical goals and a little diligence, however, this does not have to be the case. Dr. Steven Martin ’98 ’08, clinical associate professor of applied exercise physiology in the Department of Health and Kinesiology and faculty affiliate of the Sydney & J.L. Huffines Institute for Sports Medicine & Human Performance at Texas A&M University, offers a few tips for making fitness resolutions you can keep up all year long rather than just a season.

“The key to keeping up with health resolutions is focusing on creating a lifestyle change that can be carried out long-term rather than jumping on a fad diet or exercise program,” Martin said. “You have to change your daily routine if you want to make a lasting improvement to your health.”


1. Find the Right Motivation

While motives for making fitness-based resolutions frequently spring from holiday guilt or the desire to drop a pant size, focusing on the overall health benefits of exercise can strengthen an individual’s commitment to getting in shape.    

“Exercise has an amazing impact on cardiovascular health,” said Martin, whose research focuses on cardiovascular disease risk factor identification and subsequent modification. “It can greatly reduce the various risk factors for heart disease. Even if you aren’t noticing changes in your physical appearance, you are improving several other aspects of your health when you exercise.”

In addition to lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, regular exercise improves brain health while strengthening bones, muscles and joints. Holistically, increased physical activity reduces stress and enhances quality of life. “Exercise is one of the best and cheapest therapies to address these factors,” Martin said. “Your reasons behind your resolutions will play a large role in how you carry them out.”


2. Start Small

When it comes to implementing resolutions, starting with small, attainable goals that eventually lead to a change in lifestyle is vital to maintain these new habits throughout the year. “You have to remember that a lifestyle change needs to be sustainable,” Martin said. “That’s why people who try fad diets or jump into intense exercise routines often quit by the end of January. You have to start with something reasonable.”

According to Dr. Martin, setting small attainable goals throughout the year makes your fitness resolution more sustainable.

Rather than enforcing a strict diet, a person’s focus should be on simply changing how they eat. “You can still eat carbs, but you should keep track of how much you eat,” Martin said. “When you choose healthier options and record what you eat, you become more aware of what you put in your body. What you eat will really make or break your health goals.”

To make exercise a habit, Martin says a good pair of tennis shoes and a little creativity can go further than purchasing a new gym membership. “Exercise is really about finding something you like to do and making the time to do it,” he said. “Start with taking a walk during your lunch break or playing a sport you enjoy. If you can create a habit of exercising for 20 minutes or so each day, you can build upon your routine and make progress from there.”

In addition to eating well and exercising, increasing sleep quality is another factor to overall fitness that is often overshadowed by diets and workout routines. “Getting good, quality sleep helps decrease stress and helps you reap the benefits of healthy eating and working out,” Martin said.

A common mistake Martin notices when people start exercising is overtraining. “It is so important to know your body and what you can do,” Martin said. “If you do too much too soon, you’ll burn yourself out and eventually lose the desire to keep working toward your goals. Listen to your body and know that implementing healthy lifestyle changes is a gradual process.”


3. Track Your Progress

Another common reason for giving up on fitness resolutions comes from the lack of seeing results. Noticing results, however, depends on the means of measurement. The number on a scale rarely reflects all the benefits of consistent exercise, but blood pressure and cholesterol levels can demonstrate the unseen results of health improvement when consistently tested.

“To take ownership of the various aspects of your health, you need to know your numbers and get an annual physical,” Martin said. “Sometimes when you’re not seeing any results, an underlying medical condition could be the cause. If that’s the case, you need to talk to a physician about your situation.”

Wearable technology is another way to keep a record of health data. “There are a lot of products out there to help monitor your health,” Martin said. “Fitness apps and sport watches, for example, can help you record the calories you consume and burn while also keeping tabs on your heart rate.”

One of the best ways a person can check the results of their new fitness routine, according to Martin, is by paying attention to how their clothes are fitting. “The goal overall is to improve your body composition,” Martin said. “We want to lose fat and build muscle, which isn’t necessarily demonstrated by the number on a scale but is definitely noticeable when your jeans are a little looser.”

With practical goals and determination, forgetting fitness resolutions can become a thing of the past. “You have to plan and make an effort,” Martin said, “but turning your fitness resolution into a sustainable lifestyle change is possible. You just have to make the decision to become more active and go for it.”

To support the Sydney & J.L. Huffines Institute for Sports Medicine & Human Performance in the College of Education & Human Development, contact Jody Ford ’99 at jford@txamfoundation.com or (979) 845-8655.