1. Patience is a virtue. Supposedly, ‘‘Rome wasn’t built in a day,’’ and whatever harm your sedentary habits may have done to your health won’t be undone in a workout or two. Although the benefits of exercise are innumerable, engaging in physical activity on a regular basis does not offer a quick, short-term fix to the ravages imposed by a chronic case of ‘‘spuditis’’ (difficulty getting off the couch).
2. There is no free lunch. To a great extent, you’re going to get as much out of your exercise regimen as you put into it. As with everything in life, the harder you work, the more you’ll accomplish.
3. One size does not fit all. Everyone has his or her unique set of interests, needs, and capabilities. As such, when designing your exercise regimen, you need to identify the program parameters that best satisfy your circumstances. In this instance, the process is part science, part art - scientific with regard to adhering to certain well-documented principles of exercise prescription; art as it pertains to the subjective aspects of being physically active (e.g., exercise modality, place to exercise, etc.).
4. Success is a choice. You should decide what you want to achieve from your exercise program, why you want it, and how you plan to achieve it. As such, you should set appropriate, realistic goals for yourself, and then expend the effort to make them come true.
5. No substitute exists for self-discipline. Arguably, the single most underlying cause of the fact that more than 75% of Americans do not exercise on a regular basis is a lack of willpower. Accordingly, you must control your own actions and behaviors. Focus on what’s important (results not numbers), commit to change, and persevere in your efforts.
6. Exercise is not a contest. The term ‘‘contest’’ connotes a situation where there are winners and losers. When individuals engage in a sound exercise regimen, there are no losers - only winners. Don’t compare how much you can do in the exercise arena with the accomplishments of someone else. Keep your focus on where it belongs - enhancing your own level of fitness and health.
7. Weakness is an opportunity waiting to be addressed. One of the things that many individuals find extremely difficult in the exercise arena is to work on improving their weaknesses, rather than unduly focusing on their strengths. In reality, if you truly are committed to becoming as fit as you can be, you must systematically expend the necessary time and energy targeting all of the basic components of physical fitness (not just the ones you’ve already mastered).
8. ‘‘No pain equals no gain’’ makes no sense. Pain is your body’s way of letting you know that you’re either doing too much or doing something in a way that exposes your body to an undue risk of being injured. The key point is that pain should not be viewed as a natural by-product of the exercise process. As such, you should listen to your body. If you experience pain, stop doing whatever is causing the pain. On the other hand, you should expect to feel a certain degree of discomfort when initiating an exercise regimen until your body adjusts to your new active lifestyle.
9. You can’t outrun your genetics. Truth be known, although the health-related benefits of exercising are almost boundless, limits exist to what can be achieved by being physically active on a regular basis. Not every person can have a reed-thin body of a model or the sculpted musculature of a bodybuilder. If you’re short or stocky or flat-footed, no matter how hard you work out, you’re going to be whatever your DNA mandates you will be.
10. Sticking to your exercise regimen can sometimes be difficult. Going forward, you may reach a point where you find it somewhat difficult to adhere to the exercise program you’ve laid out for yourself. Encountering this situation doesn’t mean you’re weak or faint-hearted; rather, it reflects the fact that you’re human. On occasion, you may encounter troublesome circumstances, where such factors as time pressures, conflicting priorities, and so on, cause you to second guess your decision to exercise. Keep in mind that the difficulties and struggles of today are the price you must pay for the achievements of tomorrow.
James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.
Copyright 2010 by the American College of Sports Medicine.