Focus instead on being consistent and being active, no matter how small the effort. Over time, you'll increase your fitness by virtue of doing something and your level of intensity might naturally increase as well, Williams said.
For the yo-yo exerciser, who jumps on and off the fitness bandwagon, aim to find an activity that's realistic for you to do so you can slip into a routine. And if you get sick or take a vacation for a week or two, you get back into it without feeling as though all of your previous efforts are wasted or your progress is gone.
If you've just enrolled in a health club, commit to going twice a week at first rather than shooting for five days a week. Once you've been regularly sticking to your twice a week goal and feeling good about yourself as a result, see if you can work a third visit into your schedule.
And for those who are avid gym-goers or regular exercisers, keeping things fresh will likely help keep you at it. Whether that means dabbling with a new activity, adding some strength training to your aerobic workouts, or setting a performance-oriented goal, this will help keep your motivation alive, not to mention all the mood-boosting, calorie-burning benefits you're already getting from your regular workouts.
It's not unusual for Dr. Robert Kushner, medical director for the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, to hear the lofty, grandiose "I need to lose 50 pounds" resolution.
But these kinds of goals are too broad and too long-ranging to be successful, he said. Although it's fine to have a long-term view, what's important is targeting short-term, practical, and manageable sub-goals to help you get there, Kushner added.
Kushner encourages his weight-loss patients to "focus on what you need to do today, tomorrow and next week to reach your sub-goals."
And be specific. If your ultimate goal is losing a particular number of pounds, spell out the actions you'll take to get you there. This could mean clearing out the house of any foods you tend to overeat, like candy earmarked for "the grandkids." Or it could mean committing yourself to walking three times a week after dinner.
Kushner recommended taking an inventory of your current eating and exercising habits, and also noting the stressors that might cause you to overdo it. Then he said to ask yourself the question, "What do I want to accomplish?" Depending on your habits, your responses might be "I need to start eating breakfast," or "I need to get more physical activity."
Circle a few items that appeared on your list, so you have a place to start. Then engage in those lifestyle changes.
To enhance your success, monitor and track your diet and exercise changes with pencil and paper or via the Internet and also by weighing yourself once or twice a week. Another way to elevate your enthusiasm is by joining a commercial weight-loss program at your work site, or a local church or community center.
No matter which route you choose, "know yourself and set yourself up for success," Kushner said.
"Shape your environment so that it's easier for you to make behavior changes, don't just depend on willpower," he said.
Have healthy foods and snacks readily available at home and at work, so you can control what you consume. When dining out, although you can't control the restaurant, you can control what and how much you eat when you're there.