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Hang (ten) in there

Special to The Times

Question: I’ve started an exercise program many times, but I can never seem to stick to it for more than a month or so. Can you give me some advice that might make it easier?

Jill

Palm Springs

Answer: The single biggest exercise challenge for most people is remaining consistent. Family and work responsibilities, special events and even traffic can make it tough to fit exercise into our busy schedules, but here are some practical tips to help your exercise regimen stick:

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* Buddy up. After a long day, it’s easy to talk yourself out of going for a run, lifting weights or taking a yoga class. But research shows that having a workout partner increases workout consistency. Knowing that someone else is expecting you to show up keeps you accountable and motivated, so find a neighbor, a family member or someone at the gym who works out at the same time and set your “workout appointments” together.

* Try new activities. Take a dance class, hike a nearby mountain, snowboard, do yoga, surf, try Pilates. . . anything new or unfamiliar will reduce boredom and add a jolt of excitement to your workout routine. You might be amazed at how motivating a change can be. Think of it as a no-calorie treat for your workout routine.

* Reward yourself. Set weekly, monthly and quarterly goals and give yourself a personal reward when you achieve them. For example, if you hit your goal of working out 15 times in three weeks, treat yourself to a massage, pedicure or new outfit. These goals (and the rewards that go with them) help keep you on track, provide you with milestone markers and give you a reason to “celebrate,” which is always motivating.

* Pace yourself. Listen to your body -- and don’t overdo it -- to ensure you don’t get too tired or injured. Also, when you add a new activity, exercise or sport, give your body time to adapt before you push yourself 100%. Furthermore, take workout breaks every now and again -- one day, two days, maybe even a week in which you don’t work out. Such respites will give your body a break and help keep you engaged in your workouts.

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* Go shorter. Even if you schedule your workouts and plan your day perfectly, something unexpected can come up and cut into that designated exercise time. But a little exercise is better than no exercise, and a shorter workout now and again is better than skipping a workout altogether. Even if you have only 10 to 15 minutes, you can walk a mile and burn 100 calories, possibly without even breaking a sweat. These short workouts can add up and help ensure that you don’t get off track or lose momentum.

* Compete or race. Races, charity walks and other types of events are not only fun, but adding them to your schedule also will keep you focused. You don’t have to be fast or even competitive to be motivated by these types of events. And you can invite your workout buddy or friends and make it a social occasion that energizes your whole weekend.

Whatever you do, don’t let a small break in your exercise consistency get you down. Just pick it back up the next day or at the beginning of the next week, and make a fresh start.

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Jay Blahnik, a Laguna Beach-based personal trainer and IDEA Health & Fitness Assn. spokesman, has appeared in more than 25 videos and is the author of “Full-Body Flexibility.” He can be reached at jay@jayblahnik.com or health@latimes.com.


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