Set exercise goals for 2021 that work for you

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Getting fit tops resolution lists for millions of Americans planning to sweat off that holiday slump. If your plan includes weight loss, be sure to pay attention to a healthy diet as well as exercise.

"Scientific studies have shown only mild or modest weight loss achieved through exercise alone," said exercise physiologist Dr. Cris Slentz, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center.

The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or a combination of both, spread throughout the week. In addition, moderate or vigorous muscle-strengthening activity, such as resistance training or weight training, is recommended twice a week.

Experts say whether you’re setting new exercise goals for 2021 or making changes to your physical activity(link opens in new window) routine, it's important to find a fitness plan that fits your needs, and keep the focus on overall health and wellness. 

With the coronavirus and winter weather causing people to reconsider their workout spot, being more physically active may mean getting creative with an exercise routine. Many people are exploring new ways to do it.

Here are some tips for getting your 2021 fitness resolution off on the right foot:

Start gradually. If you’re just starting an exercise routine, start “slow and easy” rather than trying to do too much too fast, Slentz said.  

Start by committing to 15- to 20-minute sessions of physical activity(link opens in new window), ramping up both intensity and duration over time.

“Don’t expect too much too fast,” he said.

Make exercise routine. Exercising every day or almost every day changes the question from “Do I exercise?” to “When do I exercise?” Slentz said.

Get creative with movement at home.  Many gyms and yoga studios are providing online video classes people can do at home. Other e-tools include fitness apps and YouTube videos that encourage aerobic activity, strength training, yoga and Pilates.

"One fun thing to do indoors is have a virtual Zoom dance party with friends at a certain time every week or even every day," said Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy, a holistic health counselor and CEO of Power Living Enterprises, Inc. "With the built-in social connection and a set schedule, you will be more likely to commit to it."

Gardening, vacuuming or cleaning out the garage are other ways to stay active at home. Your body gets the health benefits of movement, even if it's by doing a household chore.

Focus on the benefits. Physical activity(link opens in new window) can improve heart, bone and vascular health, reduce risks of diabetes and certain types of cancers, and lower stress and improve brain health. Research has also shown a connection between exercise and reduced risk of premature death.

Spend wisely. Some spending can be worthwhile if it helps you focus on your health, but physical activity doesn’t have to be expensive. Instead of filling your closet with new workout gear, invest in a good pair of athletic shoes for safety and support.

If you're thinking of investing in home exercise equipment, first evaluate your fitness needs and goals. Consider buying small sets of equipment that match your needs before investing in complicated exercise systems. And, before you buy anything, consider the available space you have.  Buy what will comfortably fit in your home or could easily be stored out of the way when it's not in use.

Try walking. Walking is free and can be easy to work into your schedule. Mall walking is a great option when the weather is cold and blustery. It's a safe, temperature-controlled environment with level surfaces. Just make sure to wear a mask and practice physical distancing staying six feet apart from other walkers and shoppers.

“Walking is a great exercise,” Slentz said, adding that research has shown people stick to walking routines more than other forms of exercise.

Add variety. Mixing up your routine is important. Even at home, you can incorporate resistance training by using hand weights or resistance bands to improve muscle strength and contribute to lean body mass, which are important as you grow older.

Stay motivated. Consider joining a mall walking club or try online fitness classes to stay motivated and accountable.

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