For years, Peggy O’Connor has wanted to start exercising, but her body seemed to have other plans.
The East Side resident is a cancer survivor (lymphoma). Her treatments included removing most of her pancreas and undergoing chemotherapy.
Those procedures left her with diabetes and nerve damage in her legs and feet.
“At different times I have gotten myself all geared up to do the fitness thing, but then because of the nerve damage I would end up just being injured,” O’Connor said.
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The last time, she said, “I was just trying to walk fast and do some jogging, and I tripped on a metal plate in the street, fell on my hand and ended up with three months of physical therapy.
“It’s so irritating.”
Last fall, she discovered the Exercise is Medicine program run by Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
With the help of a fitness specialist at the OSU Health and Fitness Center in New Albany, O’Connor found she could work out effectively on an elliptical machine rather than a treadmill, on which her occasional drop-foot issues would trip her up. She also used the rowing and strength-training machines.
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It is a 12-week program, but it didn’t take long for O’Connor to see measurable results.
“I have a continuous glucose monitor, and right from the beginning, I noticed my blood sugar during exercise sessions would drop a significant amount.”
After several weeks, O’Connor said, her blood sugar levels were down even when she was not working out.
“That made me feel really good about it,” she said of her workout program. “It was motivating.”
O’Connor is one of many who find themselves starting and stopping an exercise program, a pattern that is particularly acute in January.
According to a 2018 survey conducted by NPR and The Marist Poll, 13% of those making New Year’s resolutions cited exercising more often, making it the most common resolution.
Not surprisingly, fitness center attendance spikes at the beginning of January, according to data from several fitness apps gathered by Bloomberg CityLab and reported in a January 2019 article. The data showed a gradual decline in attendance starting the third week of January, and by mid-March, attendance was back at pre-New Year’s levels.
“We see new faces at the beginning of the year, but it feels like they generally don’t stick with it,” said Amy Kleski, director of retail operations for OhioHealth’s McConnell Heart Health Center and Neuroscience Wellness Center.
How can one increase the odds of sticking with it? Kleski and other experts offered this advice:
What’s your why for your resolution?
To be effective, resolutions have to have an identified deeper meaning.
People want to lose weight, maybe, so we ask “Why do you want to lose weight?” she said. “Maybe the benefit is improved health, maybe they want to be able to keep up with their kids or grandkids. There has to be something more personal, so that it resonates with people and they keep going.”
Make realistic goals
One common pitfall of people starting a new exercise program, experts say, is they try to do too much, too soon. Sometimes this happens when newbies go to a gym and compare themselves to others, thinking they have to do the same exercise or for the same amount of time as someone else.
“Try to use specific, measurable, actionable goals that are realistic and time-based,” said Allan Sommer, the wellness program manager at Wexner Medical Center. “If you’re sitting on the couch right now not exercising at all, maybe my goal next week is, ‘I will walk to the mailbox and back three times.’
“So you’re not saying, ‘I’m going to start walking.’ Set something you can track and monitor, and then hopefully you can say, ‘Oh, I can do this, so maybe now I’ll try this.’”
It sounds basic, but experts decry how often people choose an exercise program they don’t enjoy or is impractical.
“Patients ask me all the time, ‘What’s the best exercise?’ and I tell them, ‘The one that you’re going to do,’” said Dr. David Groen, a primary care physician with Mount Carmel Medical Group. “I don’t mean that sarcastically. Pick something you’re going to do. You may say you want to start swimming, which is an excellent form of exercise, but if the nearest pool is an hour drive away, you’re not going to stick with it because it’s so inconvenient.”
Perhaps some of the drop-off in fitness center attendance as January turns to February and March is because people new to exercise don’t realize that it takes some time to see results.
“If you haven’t been exercising in awhile, it takes almost three months to notice any outward appearance changes,” Sommer said. “The first thing that happens is those nerves that work on firing to muscles haven’t been used this way in a long time, and then there’s a whole change in metabolism that is going on inside that you don’t see on the outside.
“I always say you have to be willing to stick with me for a minimum of three months. You might not lose weight, you might not look different, but I guarantee you will feel better.”
The often-cited recommendation from the American Heart Association is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity.
But experts caution not to let perfection be the enemy of good.
“We encourage you just to move every day,” Kleski said. “Some days you may feel truly dedicated and exercise for 60 minutes, but there may be a day or two where you only feel like a 10-minute walk, and that’s OK.
“People need to give themselves grace.”