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Shirley McMarlin
Resistance (or weight) training helps to maintain bone and muscle mass.

With all the shopping, wrapping, decorating and visiting — not to mention the eating and drinking — it’s easy to abandon your fitness routine during the holidays.

Then January rolls around and you’re left feeling out of sorts and out of shape. So you make a New Year’s resolution to get fit once again.

You start out with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, only to slip back into old, unhealthy habits in a few months … or weeks … or days.

How to make 2019 the year when good health and fitness become habits rather than hopes and dreams? We checked in with experts for some (relatively) simple and painless ways to get on track and stay there.

Get the go-ahead

“First and most important, always check with your physician before starting an exercise routine,” says Carolyn Loucks, an exercise/wellness specialist with the Well Being Center at Excela Health.

This is especially important if you have a diagnosed health condition, have symptoms suggesting an undiagnosed health condition or are pregnant.

Get moving

“Just saying you want to get healthier is vague,” says Javon Thorpe of Tarentum, owner and head trainer of Flexwork Fitness. “The most important thing is not finding the ‘best’ way to exercise, but finding a way you’re going to stick to.”

The first thing to do, he says, is just moving more. Even small changes like taking stairs instead of the elevator and parking in more remote spots can help.

“It’s good to make small, incremental changes,” he says. “It might not seem like much at first, but it adds up.”

“If you’re currently doing nothing, even exercising one or two days a week is good,” says Tim McBride, a personal trainer at LA Fitness in Hempfield.

It’s also important to find an activity you enjoy.

“If you don’t like it and it’s torture every day, you won’t stick with it,” McBride says.

Do your research

How much exercise is enough? If it’s something more involved than walking, how do I know that I’m doing it right?

That’s where an expert can help, says Aubrey Worek, a Greensburg-based exercise physiologist and nutrition and wellness specialist.

Think of it as an investment, she says.

“It’s worth the time and money to seek out a credentialed professional for advice,” she says. “Do some research and remember that if one doesn’t work out, you can find another.

“People don’t value their health enough to put money behind it, but they will pay for something like a new tattoo,” she says. “You could think of it this way: ‘Once I lose weight, I’ll get a tattoo as a reward.’ ”

McBride says his first meeting with a new client is devoted to “getting them safely into a fitness program.” That includes looking at diet, injury and illness history and physical restrictions.

“The personal part of it is very important, the client’s needs and goals, and a trainer has to respect that,” he says. “But we’re also there to push when needed.”

If finances preclude working with a trainer, Thorpe says, internet videos also can be a good source of fitness information.

Develop a plan

Even if you’re fired up about fitness, it pays to be sensible about your exercise routine.

“Don’t be too gung ho, or you’ll burn out,” McBride says. “If you start out exercising six or seven days a week, the body can’t sustain that. If you’re currently doing nothing, even starting at one or two days a week is good.”

Loucks says that the recommendation for physical activity from the Centers for Disease Control and American College of Sports Medicine is a moderate intensity workout 30 minutes a day, five to seven days a week, and vigorous intensity 20 minutes a day, three to five days a week.

She advises starting an exercise session with a cardio or flexibility warm-up and ending with a cool-down that could include more stretching or a slow walk.

McBride also stresses the importance of resistance training (also called weight or strength training).

“It’s the No. 1 activity that helps sustain bone and muscle mass; it’s the No. 1 anti-aging exercise,” he says.

Stick with it

Having something or someone to keep you accountable is a good way to stay on track.

One way to do that is by keeping a fitness log, Loucks says, including when and how long you exercise, and what type of exercise your workout includes.

Another way is to have an exercise partner or group. That can be a two-way street, she says — others can push you when you’re tempted to slack off, and vice versa. Also, knowing that you’re helping someone else is a good way to keep yourself going.

And, of course, that’s also what a personal trainer will do.

Be kind to yourself

Change takes time, so it’s important to give yourself some grace as you establish new habits — or have the occasional slip.

“I talk about the 80/20 rule,” McBride says. “Try to be healthy 80 percent of the time. Don’t expect perfection. It’s not all or nothing — you can allow yourself some breaks.”

Focus more on how you feel than on how you look, Loucks says. It’s not necessary to step on the scale every day or even every week.

And remember to love and respect yourself, Worek says.

“It’s up to you to be an active participant in your health,” she says. “Nobody else should care as much about your health as you do yourself.”

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter @shirley_trib.

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