New Year's Eve brings out the best intentions in many folks.
Each new year, they vow that this will be the year they exercise, get fit and lose weight. But that resolve often wanes in the first month or two and then remains a nagging reminder of failure through the rest of the year.
The key to a successful resolution is to seek motivation from friends or co-workers, longtime exercisers say.
Several years ago, Celeste Leonardi, 57, Lawrence, started running with some friends she met through aerobics classes.
"I think it's very important to enlist other people to keep you going," she said. "It just makes exercising a lot easier when you have some accountability."
Janet Roth, 61, agrees. She has two walking groups she joins on different days of the week at Kansas University.
"You've got to get up early and you have to have a partner or a group who's counting on you to come," she said. "If you have a commitment to somebody, it really makes it worthwhile."
Another way to keep motivated is to try a variety of activities, advised Sarah Hoffman, a fitness instructor since 1981 and certified personal trainer.
"Do one thing for a while and then try something else," she said. "You do cross training to avoid injury like swimming one day and then working out on the cardio machines and then you do weights. Everyone has different interests and fitness levels."
People who haven't exercised in awhile should start slowly, Hoffman said, and increase the intensity or duration of activity by no more than 10 percent per week.
"Get a pass at a gym and try it out," she said. "Get help from a trainer and attend a class. Try to fit what would work best for you. For example, a water aerobics class is lot less stressful on your body than floor aerobics."
Stuck on a feeling
Five days a week, Leonardi and her friends meet between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. and run 10 to 12 miles following different routes. The group is training for the Motorola Marathon in February in Austin, Tex. which will be her sixth marathon.
She dedicates Mondays for strength training with free weights at the gym.
"What motivates me is that I feel so much better after we exercise," Leonardi said. "I have high cholesterol so I think that's what got me started in this."
Besides the companionship of friends, Roth, director of professional development for KU's Center for Research on Learning, said she has gained a better sense of well-being.
"When you get through, you feel so good, and it enables you to go to work because you know you have to sit in front of computer all day," she said. "It energizes your brain cells and you feel so much better."
Whether a person exercises to feel good or look better, Wayne Osness, chairman of KU's health, sport and exercise science department, said it's important for general health. Exercising can help ward off common illnesses such as colds and flus, he said.
"We need to take charge of our own health and well-being," he said. "That doesn't mean we're never going to get sick, but the chances are much more slim. It's that self-responsibility that is so important."
Osness is familiar with helping people develop a fitness habit. Since 1966, he and his graduate students have done more than 20 exercise studies, and he has helped establish fitness programs at KU and with the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department. He is starting a 12-week study in January with people older than 60.
Even older sedentary people can reverse the effects of the past, Osness said.
"The good news is you can take any 70-year-old in reasonably good health and they can change," he said. "Older individuals respond very similarly to younger individuals. It takes a little longer, but they can bring back that lean muscle mass that they once had."
Osness, 68, practices what he preaches and regularly walks or jogs.
But even he has struggled with making the commitment. So one cold, rainy day he asked some fellow regular exercisers why they make the effort.
"They told me, 'Because we don't like the way we feel when we don't,'" he said. "What that tells me is if we could encourage a greater number of folks to get involved early, we could change people's lives in a positive way."