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Thinking about dusting off those tennies and hitting the gym? Before you take on a new workout routine or diet, check out this expert advice for a healthier new year.

Exercising and being healthier top most people’s New Year’s resolutions every year—but they’re also the two that are most often broken just weeks in. There are several workout routines, classes, and DVDs to fit your style but do you yoga, Zumba, or cross-train? Are you going paleo or gluten-free? Do you really need 64 ounces of water a day? If you’re feeling overwhelmed by starting a new diet and workout routine, start small. YMCA fitness instructor Elmaz Abinader sat down with mater mea to share some sage advice and 12 easy steps for a healthier year and a healthier you.

1. Find Your Fitness Personality

Before taking on a new exercise regimen, find out what your fitness personality is. “What kind of exercises are you drawn to?” Abinader asks. “What will you stick with? What creates peace of mind for you? How can you work efficiently and with commitment?”

According to Abinader, there are three primary fitness personalities. There’s the Social Exerciser, or someone who is either drawn to a class or to a workout partner to keep you accountable; the Goal-Oriented personality, or someone who is planning something in their future that they’re training for—a backpacking trip, a marathon or a major bike ride; and the Mind-Body personality, someone who is just looking for peace of mind and is drawn to more mind-body work, like yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi. While Abinader thinks everyone should cross-train, knowing your fitness personality will make it easier to know where to start and help you stick with it.

2. Set The Exercise Aesthetic

“One of the things I would do first thing in the morning is put on the exercise clothes so at some time during the day you use them,” Abinader recommends, making your workout gear “your uniform.” If sweats are not a part of your job’s dress code, you can change before leaving the office or start this on your weekends. If you are exhausted after dinner and can’t squeeze in a lunchtime walk or trip to the gym, workout in the morning before you get tired. Do your workout 30 minutes before your kids wake up, take your morning shower, and start your day energized. (And don’t worry about your hair—learn what you need to exercise with natural hair.)

3. Start With 10 Minutes A Day

If you haven’t exercised in a while, start small and keep it simple. There are a lot of at home resources for working out such as 10-minute on-demand classes via your cable provider, as well as YouTube and online. “Say to yourself ‘I’m going to do 10 minutes once a day for one week, then do 20 minutes a day for one week until you start to create a habit,” Abinader says.
“It takes 21 days to create a habit. We don’t recognize that it’s not that much time for a lot of benefit.”

4. Don’t Set Yourself Up For Failure

Choose the right routine. “If you’re a person who hasn’t exercised in a while and the first thing you do is boot camp, you’re going to be in so much pain and so discouraged that you’re probably not going to go back,” Abinader warns.

Keep your workout within your reach. Find a class or gym en-route to work or near the house. There’s a good chance you won’t make it to the gym if it’s four or five miles away.

Focus on yourself. “Don’t go to a gym and look at the person who is dedicating four hours a day to working out when you are spending three hours a week,” Abinader says. “If you compare yourself to that person and let that become a negative impact you’re going to stop exercising.”

Stephanie Pope Caffey  // J. Quazi King for mater mea
Stephanie Pope Caffey // J. Quazi King for mater mea

5. Get Your Children Involved in Your Workout

“Go outside and play. Twenty minutes of frisbee is aerobic exercise. You set the value of exercise with your own kids,” Abinader tells us. Your children can go on walks or bike rides and they can follow your moves as you work out to a DVD or an online video. You’ll not only get your exercise in; you’ll be setting a good example and getting your kids healthier, too!

6. Find Your Motivators And Reward Yourself

“Find out what your motivators are,” Abinader suggests. “If your motivators are a goal you want to reach, a way you want to look because you can change your frame, or a way you want to feel, find out what your motivation is and set up a reward system.” Every time you accomplish something, pick something special to look forward to as a motivator. Make it something that you wouldn’t normally do, like a weekly manicure, a new dress, a romantic trip to the coast—something that feels like a gift.

The right playlist of your favorite music can also be a motivator to exercise. Pick theme music that makes you want to dance and work it out.

7. Get Informed

“I think everyone should get a fitness magazine, and get informed,” Abinader says. “The newest research says ‘the most important stretch is the stretch after you exercise,’ and you can get that in one sentence. That’s really helpful information.” Fitness magazines are also great for keeping you informed about the latest in healthy foods, food preparation, and keeping you motivated to make healthier choices.

8. Have A Dialogue With Your Body

“Remove everything from your life that insulates you from knowing what’s happening to your body and to your mind,” Abinader advises. “So if you do a lot of emotional eating, have a lot of sitting-around time, if you’re taking a lot of aspirin, you really need to remove that stuff to start to have a dialogue with our body.“ Pay attention to your body and, as we do with food allergies, know what foods bother you or make you feel tired. Watch how sugar and over-the counter drugs affect you. Body awareness is key.

9. Accept The Body You Have And Empower It

“I accept the body that I have and I empower that body rather than try to create a new body,” Abinader tells us. “I don’t have a standard-size body—certainly not one for a fitness instructor—but I have a really strong and fit body for the body that I have.” Avoid comparing your body to others and having unrealistic expectations of your body type so that you can emphasize your strengths and recognize your individual success.

10. Create Your Regimen

Abinader’s personal regimen is one that would inspire even the most die-hard vegan yoga fanatic. She hikes with her husband and her dog every single day, teaches 10 fitness classes a week, drinks a gallon of water daily, and cooks with organic foods and fresh herbs. (Did we mention that she is also an author, a college professor, and the co-director and co-founder of an arts foundation?)

But remember: Don’t compare yourself, but create your own practice. Once you discover your fitness personality and start to create a routine, remember to focus on your diet and your lifestyle.

11. It’s Not About Money

Abinader reminds us that good health doesn’t have to come with a high price tag. The YMCA (where Abinader teaches) has scholarships and LivingSocial and Groupon have great fitness specials every day, which are easy to purchase for you or for a loved one. Hiking and public pools are very low or no cost depending on where you live. Check out the resources in your community.

12. Keep The Community Healthy

“Being a healthy person is not only being healthy for yourself and for your family, but helping to keep a healthy community around you,” Abinader says.

“We need to address people whose lives don’t have access and the disposable income to do classes,” or eat well, she continues. “I think it’s important that people investigate the local efforts of YMCAs and the health department to create a healthy community.” In advocating for everyone, we can help keep future societies healthier as a whole.


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Meilan Carter-Gilkey is a freelance writer and a writing coach who blogs about being a parent of sons 16 years apart. She has an MFA from Mills College in creative writing and her work has appeared in Mutha Magazine, Heart&Soul, and elsewhere.  


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