How to Set Healthy Fitness Goals You’ll Actually Achieve

Different people work differently when they’re trying to make changes in their lives. Some people accomplish more when they have concrete goals to work toward, while others find that goal setting often just makes them too anxious about reaching or not reaching their goal. Either way, best practices when it comes to setting fitness goals include making sure that your goals are realistic and healthy.

Nutrition expert Keri Glassman says, “Compartmentalize and think of every situation as its own opportunity. You’ll be surprised how many good choices add up and help you stay on the straight and narrow to achieve your goals.” Here are a few more tips to help you set healthy goals and achieve them:

Take Baby Steps

If your long-term goal seems very far away and completely unattainable, the best way to achieve it is to take baby steps. Break up the goal into a number of smaller steps that you can reasonably achieve. Or, just focus on the next thing you can do that will help you to achieve that goal. It might be something really small like getting sufficient protein in your next meal or taking a half-hour walk on your lunch break. The important thing is to keep working on your long-term goal as many times a day as you can. Your baby steps will eventually turn into adult steps.

Olympian gymnast Nastia Liukin has said, “I always set short-term and long-term goals. Growing up, my long-term goal was to compete at the Olympic games, but I knew that would only be possible in the future. Short-term goals kept me driven and motivated.” If Liukin could become an Olympic gymnast by setting smaller, attainable goals, there’s no reason why you can’t lose weight, gain muscle tone or finally run that 5K by doing the same.

Set Flexible Goals

Women’s Health magazine cites a study suggesting that having flexible goals is more effective than having fixed goals. For example, it’s better to aim to lose two to four pounds than it is to aim to lose three pounds. In the flexible goal, you feel like you’ve achieved something even if you lose two pounds, leaving you more motivated to keep going. And if you lose more, there’s a greater sense of achievement. But if you aim to lose three pounds and only lose two, you feel like you’ve failed, and are more likely to give up completely.

So give yourself a range in anything you want to achieve, to keep yourself motivated when you don’t hit an exact target. Ideally, for example, maybe you’d like to work out every day. But instead, you can aim to work out three to six times a week. This will give you a sense of achievement even if you can only squeeze in three workouts throughout the week. Similarly, you might aim to run two to four miles when you go for a run (or a different number, depending on how much you know you can run). This way, even running two miles will be enough to make you feel good but running four will give you a greater sense of accomplishment.

Consider Your Health

It’s entirely possible — common, even — to set unhealthy goals without realizing it. You might set a certain weight loss goal, for example, without knowing that if you achieve it you’ll actually be underweight. So make sure that you check the healthy weight ranges for your height before you set a weight loss goal. You can use the BMI calculator from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do this.

Similarly, you should remember that your body needs a certain amount of rest between workouts. Olympic athletes might practice their sport for six to seven hours a day, but most likely, you’re not aiming to get to the Olympics, and you probably don’t have an army of coaches and nutritionists making sure you’re working out safely and recovering effectively. So make sure that you give your body the time it needs to recover. Though some muscle soreness is to be expected, and actually means you’re making progress, persistent pain that keeps you from working out or even moving normally is never a good thing, and shouldn’t be ignored. Don’t hesitate to consult a personal trainer or your doctor to find out how much you should be working out, and whether you’re doing it in a healthy, sustainable way. There’s nothing wrong with taking a day or two off every week.

When setting health and fitness goals, the best thing you can do is listen to your body. It will tell you what it needs. Soon enough, if you get into healthy habits that make sense for your own lifestyle and body, you’ll be sailing past all the goals you set and reaching new ones you never thought would be attainable.

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