Keys to fitness: Set goals, stay motivated

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Steve Willoughby
  • Superintendent, Force Development Team Branch, Directorate of Assignments
Over the years, doctors and researchers have increasingly stressed the importance of fitness in living longer and healthier lives. For those of us in uniform, it has become an important part of not only our lives but also our careers. 

In my opinion, the most important elements of a good exercise program are setting goals and staying motivated. But before you can set realistic goals and begin your program, you must first know your current fitness level. 

Measuring your fitness level can be done in a number of ways. You can use a treadmill, elliptical machine or stationary bike to measure your cardiovascular fitness. For measuring strength, you can use the numerous types of strength-training equipment available. The important thing is to measure both your cardiovascular and strength levels. Also, you should measure your fitness level periodically to track your progress.
Once you have determined your current fitness level, you can set goals. Begin by setting long-term goals. I believe long-term goals should be fairly lofty but not out of reach. Ask yourself, "At what fitness level do I want to be in six months or one year?" 

Using your current fitness level and your long-term goals, you should next set short- term goals. As with your long-term goals, your short-term goals should be challenging but not be so far out of reach that you give up trying after a short time. Also, your short-term goals should always be set with the intended outcome of reaching your long-term goals. For instance, if your goal is to run three miles in 30 minutes and it currently takes you 36 minutes to run the three miles, you need to drop six minutes off your run time. If you want to reach your goal in six months, you need to decrease your run time by one minute per month or 15 seconds per week. 

Don't forget to set goals for your strength level along with your cardiovascular level.
One thing to remember about setting goals ... be flexible. If you find your goals are set too high or too low, adjust them and keep trying. Also, when you reach your long-term goal, remember to set new goals to ensure your exercise program becomes part of your lifestyle and you maintain your desired fitness levels. 

Now that you have measured your current fitness level and set both long- and short-term goals, you're ready to exercise. 

Sound easy so far, right? Not so fast my friend! The hardest part of every fitness program is staying motivated. 

Here are a few things I found helpful in staying motivated. First, find a workout partner. Try to find someone that is near your current fitness level and has roughly the same goals you do. You and your workout partner can benefit from exercising and can also motivate each other. 

Second, schedule your workouts. Try to schedule each workout at the same time of the day and on set days of the week. Begin your program by scheduling at least three workouts per week. As you increase your fitness level, you can increase your exercise periods to ensure you meet your goals. 

The third and final thing I found helpful to maintaining motivation is to vary my workouts. Don't do the same exercises every day. This becomes boring, and you may lose interest in your program. Varying your exercises will make sure you are working on different muscle groups and will help promote overall fitness. 

As we continue to realize how important fitness is to our overall health, I hope you take the time to develop and stick to a good personal exercise program that's right for you.
Now get out there and exercise! It just might help you live a long and healthier life. Good luck!