By Eddie Phillips, MD

Hi. I’m Dr. Eddie Phillips. I’m a physician specializing in lifestyle medicine and board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Have you given some thought to your goals and motivations for working out?

It’s obvious that exercise is essential to your health. But it could help to set your eyes on another prize, too—maybe cruising across the finish line of a 10K race or just slipping into a favorite pair of jeans. Setting exercise goals can change idle hopes into reality, especially if you put some supports in place.

Being specific about your goals can be helpful. For example, ask yourself if your goal is…
To enhance your health.
Tone your muscles.
Extend your endurance.
Lose a certain number of pounds— by the way, a pound a week is reasonable.

Another option is to break down bigger goals into smaller, manageable chunks. For example, in the next 12 weeks…
Strengthen your upper body.
Strengthen your lower body.
Strengthen your core and back muscles.
Step up your game in a sport, such as tennis.
Be able to enjoy a certain activity.

Let’s face it, losing weight hinges on simple math. Taking in more calories than you burn adds pounds. Burning off more calories than you take in shaves off pounds.

A moderately active person who gets about 30 minutes of exercise a day needs 15 calories of food to maintain each pound of his or her body weight.

To lose a pound a week, you need to lop off about 500 calories a day by eating less and adding on activity time.

If weight loss is your goal, step up to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least five days a week. Depending on your body type, however, you may need 60 to 90 minutes a day of moderate activity to drop pounds and keep them off.

How can you manage this? First, understand that the exercises and workouts I’ve described in my videos are just one slice of physical activity. You also should tack on time spent walking briskly or burning calories through other activities.

Motivation takes many forms, so pick the carrot or stick that works best for you.

Maybe you’d like to tune your muscles to tackle new activities, like climbing a towering rock wall, churning through the water for your fastest lap time, or powering up a big hill on your bike.

Perhaps you hope to be inching ever closer to a body you’d love to show off at some beach.

If you’re competitive, you could make a small bet with a friend—perhaps the loser pays for a round of golf and lunch. Even without a bet, you might be motivated enough just wanting to share a goal with an exercise partner.

To choose the best tack to take, be sure to set a goal or goals that can motivate you for the long-term.

A written record of your goals is a good reminder when life intrudes and interest fades. Create a workout log or use a calendar to record your exercises along with times or other details.

Finding support also helps. A personal trainer or workout buddy can supply motivation and add to the enjoyment of the activity. Friends who cheer you on and hold you accountable to your plan help, too.

Okay, we’re human so most of us enjoy a reward for our efforts. Try writing down pleasurable options if you meet weekly or daily goals. But, avoid food rewards or perhaps keep them small, or they’ll wipe out the benefits gained through exercise.

One big reward is simply seeing progress, so consider measuring your gains at regular intervals. You’ll feel great as you achieve milestones along the way.

Workout Workbook: 9 Complete Workouts to Help You Get Fit and Healthy. Harvard Health Publications, Gardiner J., Prouty J., Bean, J. (2014). Harvard Medical School Special Health Reports.

Edward Phillips, MD

Dr. Phillips is board certified in physical medicine & rehabilitation. He founded and directs the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine at Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School and is co-founder and co-director of the Lifestyle Medicine Education Collaborative "LMEd."

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