Shoring Up Those Fitness Resolutions
January is the cruelest month, at least for those with good intentions to get fit. According to recent analyses of decades’ worth of exercise studies, many new exercise “intenders” will abandon their workout routines within two weeks of their New Year’s resolutions, and about half will quit by June. Even longtime exercisers feel the pull of physical entropy. In any given year, around a quarter of the people who had been working out dutifully will stop. (And about 2 percent of those who claim to have no intention of exercising actually start and continue, baffling researchers and possibly the exercisers themselves.)
Why we fail to realize our best exercise intentions is a complex interplay of psychology, physiology and genetics. Adult twins frequently have similar exercise patterns, suggesting that some portion of exercise motivation is inherited. Innate personality also plays a role, according to one of the new reviews published last fall in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Being extroverted makes it easier to stick with exercise resolutions, while being nice (or “agreeable,” in psychological terms) does not.
But most quit exercising for more commonplace — and redressable — reasons. For instance, people make generic or unrealistic plans about where and when they will exercise, making them essentially fairy-tale wishes, says Ryan Rhodes, a professor of behavioral medicine at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, who has co-written several recent reviews and conducted numerous exercise-intention experiments.