Suzanne Tobias

Resolving to exercise in the new year? Dive in and just keep swimming

Setting a specific goal can help you achieve exercise milestones.
Setting a specific goal can help you achieve exercise milestones.

It has been almost a year now since I made the oh-so-cliche New Year’s resolution to stop being a sloth and start exercising.

It wasn’t a formal resolution, the kind you tell friends about or write on a Post-it and stick to the bathroom mirror. I didn’t want to be that person who declares, “This year, I’m getting into shape!” only to make a half-dozen trips to the gym before collapsing into a sweaty puddle of embarrassment and defeat.

The day after Christmas last year, I got an e-mail from the club where my son swims, inviting parents to begin training for a 500-yard freestyle race. I said yes without thinking too much, which is the best way to say yes to ridiculous ideas.

So that’s how it started – weekly swim practice with a bunch of adults who weren’t afraid to laugh at themselves. I couldn’t believe how much it hurt at first and even months later, when I watched some of my peers perfecting flip turns while I still trudged through the water.

But I kept going. Slowly, deliberately and unnoticeable to anyone but my immediate family, I changed from being a person who never exercised at all to one who worked out on weekends.

Then I started incorporating exercise into my regular routine. I renewed our family’s YMCA membership. My husband and I started playing racquetball occasionally. We experimented with the arc trainers and elliptical machines, huffing and puffing to go even 10 minutes at first.

Eventually I bought actual workout clothes and an insulated water bottle. I started doing sit-ups. I walked the track.

In mid-May I completed my 500-yard swim in a little over 12 minutes – a pathetic time, but a victory nonetheless. I learned lots from the experience. Most notably: I love watching my son and his teammates swim, and I appreciate their effort even more now, but I don’t love swimming myself.

And that’s OK. Months later I’m still exercising regularly, doing things I enjoy. I’ve reached the point where I look forward to workouts rather than dreading them. I lost some weight and went down a few pant sizes. It took a long time, but it happened.

We’ll hear lots this month about New Year’s resolutions. While I’m no expert, I can speak as someone who, for once in her life, made and kept a resolution to get a little healthier. So here are my tips:

▪ Set a specific goal. For me, it was completing a 500-yard swim. I wanted to better understand a sport I had only watched from the sidelines, and I just wanted to see if I could do it.

▪ Peer pressure can be a great thing. Without other parents and our coach holding me accountable, I’m not sure I would have shown up to swim practice regularly. Once I told a few friends I planned to swim that 500-yard race, they wrote the date on their calendars and pledged to cheer me on, which ramped up the pressure on me to actually do it. After the race, friendly competition with my husband kept us both going to the gym.

▪ Find something you like. Swimming wasn’t my thing. So what? I did the swim and then looked for options. Turns out I enjoy the “dryland” exercises many swimmers do to supplement their aquatic work, such as planks, squats, Russian twists and medicine-ball sit-ups. They make me feel like Rocky. Heh.

▪ Plug in. Electronic distraction kept me going so many times when I wanted to give up. Trying for one more song, one more podcast, even one more segment of a Food Network show, was a great way to trick myself into a few more minutes of movement. (And yes, I realize the irony of exercising while watching the Pioneer Woman bake a caramel apple pie.)

Whatever you resolve to do next year – or whatever you consider maybe, possibly, quietly doing without all the ridiculous New Year’s fanfare – be brave and confident. Know you can do it. Because I know you can.