You Can Do It! How To Keep Your New Year’s Exercise Resolutions

January 20, 2023 By Eric Williamson, williamson@virginia.edu Eric Williamson, williamson@virginia.edu

It’s late January, and you’re officially back to work or school. How are you doing on your new year’s fitness goals?

When life gets hectic, it’s easy to fall back on sedentary ways. UVA Today recently asked a University of Virginia exercise research manager how she helps clients stick to their health improvement plans.

Lisa Farr manages the Exercise Physiology Core Laboratory for the School of Medicine. Each year, the lab conducts dozens of studies involving exercise, body composition and metabolism. The lab invites community members to participate in the studies, giving them access to recurring, supervised exercise and specialized equipment. It also offers community health services, such as fitness testing.

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“Time is a really valuable commodity and it is the No. 1 reason people give for not exercising more,” Farr said. “So, people should plan for and use their exercise time wisely.”

In addition, she said, people should focus on sustainable behavior that can be built into a habit. That’s opposed to focusing on an outcome, such as weight loss or the ability to complete a run in a certain amount of time.

Portrait of Lisa Farr
Lisa Farr, who manages the Exercise Physiology Core Laboratory for the School of Medicine, shared answers to frequently asked questions about maintaining exercise. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

“Once you are a more experienced exerciser, you may indeed set some goals that are more outcome-based, but I don’t recommend this in the beginning,” she said.

Farr added three specific tips – “health hacks,” if you will – for getting started:

  • “Take advantage of those free short-term trial memberships offered here at the UVA facilities and many local gyms. It’s a good way to try things out for a week or two before committing a lot of money.”
  • “Have the gear you need to be successful. Beginning an exercise program with worn-out shoes is a common mistake, and one that can lead to aches and pains, or even injury.”
  • “Write down the details of your exercise along with what you eat, because it provides insight and accountability.”  

Even if you don’t track every step, just remembering how great it feels when those endorphins kick in is a classic motivator, Farr noted: “No one ever finishes a workout and says, ‘I wish I hadn’t exercised.’”

Farr answered some additional “frequently asked questions” about maintaining exercise.

Q. How often should you exercise?

A. This may sound counterintuitive, but I highly recommend daily exercise, not the usual advice of three times per week. Here’s why: You want to make exercise a habit, something that is automatic, not something you have to negotiate with yourself to do. You want exercise to be more like brushing your teeth or wearing your seatbelt. You don’t say to yourself, ‘I’ve already worn my seat belt three times this week, so I won’t do it today.’ So much of what we do is habit.  Creating a daily routine helps people stick to it when life gets extra busy or stressful.

Close up of test tubes
In addition to physical testing, the Core Lab can provide metabolic screening and other services. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Q. Does it matter when you exercise?

A. Yes. You are more likely to be successful with establishing your new habit if you exercise at the same time every day. Morning exercisers tend to get in their exercise because not as many people want something from you at 6 a.m. But if you can’t stick to a time, the next best thing is to plan your exercise time – literally write it in your calendar.

Set yourself up to succeed by preparing the night before. Know what you are going to do and set out appropriate clothing. Pack your gym bags or have your walking/running gear ready.

Q. Is it advisable to multitask when you work out?

A. I see so many people at the gym completely distracted by their phones. I know many of us use our phone for music and some watch exercise videos on them, but others are reading and responding to texts in the middle of their workouts. You will get more out of your exercise if you move through it without the prolonged breaks for social media, to check the news, or to respond to non-urgent texts. I tell my class that unless you are on call or the parent of a very small child, you probably don’t need to be available for texts during the hour you are at the gym.

Q. Should you do the same exercises every day or mix up your routine?

A. While I encourage daily exercise, it is important not to do the same thing every day. For example, if you are a new runner, running every day is a surefire way to end up injured. Beginners should ease in and find a variety of things to do. Novelty is good for both body and mind.

Q. What if you’re not sure of the best way to perform an exercise?

A. Injury can derail the best laid plans. If you’re not sure how to use equipment or perform an exercise, ask someone. Sign up for a class, training program or personal trainer. It is important to know how to set equipment correctly. The correct settings for someone 6-foot-1 are going to be different than those that work for someone 5-foot-3, like me. It’s also important to know how to make the exercise easier or harder.

Other than developing the exercise habit, I think getting comfortable with your exercise – be it in the gym or outdoors – is a critical component to success.

Some of the diagnostic equipment
State-of-the-art diagnostic equipment tracks workouts for UVA Health patients and community members who use the lab’s services. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Q. Is the “buddy system” effective for maintaining a routine?

A. Sometimes. Some people are really encouraged by social support and the accountability, as well as the camaraderie that can develop. I think the issue comes if your exercise buddy falls off track. You have to be willing to not get pulled down too.

Q. What can people who tend to give up on exercise do to help themselves?

A. I think it’s important to remember and remind yourself that the more you do something, the easier it becomes. Trying something new can be awkward, uncomfortable and inefficient. It takes time to figure out the little things. For example, going to a new gym might mean figuring out parking, locking up your belongings, showering outside of the comfort of home, etc. Over time, these things become automatic, and you’ll develop a sense of what works best for you.

Do not have an all-or-nothing approach. Perfect is the enemy of the good. If your goal was to go spend an hour in the gym, but you feel time-pressed, then going for 30 minutes is still a win. Do less if you need to – but DO SOMETHING.

Q. Does giving yourself a reward reinforce an exercise regimen?

A. Yes, I think rewards can be helpful. Ideally, these are rewards that bring you deeper into the habit. For example, a new yoga mat could be a reward for sticking with a new yoga practice for three months. Avoid using food as a reward.

Q. Can taking classes help you stay committed to working out?

A. Often a class can help in that you show up and don’t have to think because the instructor will lead you through. Sometimes, however, it can take a while to find the type of class and instructor that works for you. Yoga is a great example of this. Some classes are very vigorous and even heated; others are more focused on mental and physical relaxation.

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Q. Are there apps or organizational systems that can help with fitness motivation?

A. Some people find the tracking and the acknowledgements (“You closed your rings!”) offered by a device or app very helpful and motivational. Apple Watch and Fitbits are good examples.

Apps such as Strava allow you to track a number of things related to running and walking (pace, mileage, vertical gain, fastest times for certain routes) and also get “likes” from others who follow you.

Still, some people prefer to kick it old school and simply write things down in a pen-and-paper journal.

Q. Are workout videos worth trying?

A. For those who are going to exercise at home, instructional videos are helpful. You can find instruction for cycling, strength training, yoga – pretty much everything. Some of these allow for tracking or even offer competition. (Apple Fitness+, Peloton, TRX, etc.)

Q. How can UVA help?

A. The University offers a number of health and fitness opportunities for those with UVA affiliations, as well as for the community at large.

Anyone may request Exercise Physiology Core Lab services or participate in a UVA Health study, if they qualify and are selected. (Typing “exercise” in the search function will narrow down the available studies.)

UVA employees can also participate in the Hoos Well program and get financial rewards for exercising, attending health-related seminars, seeing the doctor, etc.

And UVA IM-Rec’s intramural sports offer students, faculty, staff and spouses opportunities for organized play. These same UVA community members, along with alumni, may also apply for membership to the Aquatics & Fitness Center and the North Grounds Rec Center.

Contact information can be found on their websites.

Media Contact

Eric Williamson

University News Senior Associate University Communications