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En español | You may have heard that the hardest step in a new fitness program is the first one. But we now know the first step is the easiest — we've taken that one step dozens of times, and we bet you have, too. No, it's the 10th, 11th or 53rd step that's really tough. Stumble here, we've found, and you're even less likely to start again, because life is full of obstacles to our best intentions. Catch the flu, take a cruise or deal with a few weeks of crazy at work — and we find ourselves heading for the lattes instead of the Pilates.
Here, we offer you three simple steps to a fit life, along with easy-to-follow tips on how to get started, keep moving and make it a habit.
1. GET STARTED
Schedule a wake-up call
Use an alarm clock to wake yourself, but set your coffeemaker for the same time: The smell of coffee brewing will help motivate you to get up and get moving. What's more, coffee not only improves your mood and the chances you'll get out the door, but also makes you burn up to 15 percent more calories for three hours after exercise, and boosts endurance, too.
Be a spin master
Don't know where to start? Consider taking a spin class. The camaraderie and music can make you forget you're working out, and you can control how hard you work, allowing you to ease in, says Shannon Colavecchio, CEO of Badass Fitness in Tallahassee, Florida. Another way in: Try the "AARP 15-Minute Workout" below, followed by the "World's Best Stretch" video on page 2.
Think of a positive memory involving exercise or an activity: a fun hike with your family, swimming at the beach on a beautiful day with friends, racquetball with your neighbor. Now, when you need that little push to get up and out, use that memory like a jolt of electricity. People who invoke positive memories exercise more frequently than those who don't, a University of New Hampshire study found.
Rock some new duds
Nothing motivates you to take up yoga or a fitness class like some new home-gym items or fitness wear. Forget the black yoga pants or sweats and get into a sleek new running top or body-flattering spandex leggings. Fun new gear can also help increase your willingness to keep training, says Hajo Adam of Houston's Rice University; he studies the effect of clothes on psychology.
Fitness isn't going to become a habit unless you make it easy on yourself. Part of that is knowing what works for you. "If you don't enjoy doing it, you won't continue," says Christine Whelan, a behavior-change expert affiliated with AARP's Life Reimagined program. If you need music, make a special playlist just for your workouts. Sample various gyms and pick the one where you feel the most comfortable.
2. KEEP GOING
Once you've been at it for a month or more and you're beginning to see results, kick your workout up a notch. Add a minute of jogging for every 10 minutes of walking, do some step-ups in between sets of weight lifting, or do whatever is a little harder in 30-second bursts.
Short bursts of intensity while exercising can improve heart health, raise metabolism and lower blood sugar; they can also enhance motivation, recent research published in the Journal of Physiology shows.
Rest as needed
No one, and particularly those of us over a certain age, should try to sustain high-intensity exercise for every workout. That puts you at an increased risk of burnout — and prevents your body from fully recovering. The best way to tell if you're burned out? Take your pulse (putting fingers on neck or wrist, or via a mobile heart monitor) every morning for a week when you wake up. If it's seven beats faster than average, take a day off. Studies show that a rise in your morning heart rate is a sign of training fatigue.
Change it up
Boredom kills more exercise programs than burnout. A University of Florida study found that people who changed their workout every couple of weeks enjoyed exercising more and were more inclined to stick with their regimen than those who stuck to the same old routine. Cross-training serves the same end.
Measuring success, whether it's steps taken in a day, frequency of workouts or your blood metrics, is a proven way to keep yourself coming back for more. People who record their exercise habits not only exercise more, they like it better, according to a recent review of studies from New York University. Keep a fitness journal, write your successes on your calendar at work, post your progress on social media for all your friends to see — anything to remind yourself that you've made progress and to motivate you not to go back to square one.
3. ESTABLISH A HABIT
Getting in a fitness routine can be as simple as making it super easy to get to your workout. Try packing a gym bag the night before or laying out your workout clothes in the bathroom so they are unavoidable in the morning. Or block off time on your calendar so that your workouts are just another part of your day.
Nothing makes working out more enjoyable than setting a goal and pursuing it with a friend or two. Knowing other people are waiting for you before they can start is powerful motivation to get out the door. One Michigan State University study showed that people who work out with a partner or sports team exercise 200 percent longer than those who exercise by themselves.
Enlist your pooch
Even if your workout buddy is busy, your dog will never turn down an opportunity to be outside. Your four-legged friend might even inspire you to run that extra mile or go a little harder than you had planned.
Weather the weather
The skies are lightening ever earlier now, but if you exercise outside, you'll want to invest in some foul-weather gear — including wind- and water-resistant tops and bottoms — especially as the seasons change. Keeping dry is critical, particularly for older athletes: In cold weather, heat loss in wet clothes can be double that in dry conditions.