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New studies cast fresh light on how to maintain fitness motivation as January’s difficult days start to undermine New Year resolutions

Even outdoor fitness fans with the very best of intentions can struggle through January when there’s frost and snow on the ground, the wind is blowing a gale and the sun barely seems to peep over the horizon. That sofa and boxset look oh, so appealing…

More than two-thirds of Brits will have vowed to improve their fitness at the stroke of midnight on the 1st of January, according to British Military Fitness, yet research conducted at the University of Hertfordshire indicates that only one in five will have stuck at it by the beginning of February. Personal trainer and running coach Joe Shepherd says it’s important to accept that fitness has no finish line.

Set some goals

“Choosing to improve your fitness and health is a worthy decision, but there are no quick fixes,” he said. “It requires constant goal setting to ensure sustainable and lasting changes.” He advises setting targets that are reasonable and achievable, and recommends never breaking the 10% rule of only increasing your weekly mileage by 10% to avoid injuries and burnout.

“People often get anxious thinking about the task and commit to over enthusiastic training regimes, resulting in muscle strain and joint pain such as runners’ knee or shin-splints,” said Shepherd. “So if you ran 10 miles last week, then this week you should be aiming for 11. Also ensure that you do plenty of stretching.”

Rest days

He also stressed the importance of rest days, which are, “ just as much a part of your training regime as the days you head out for a run. Giving your muscles enough time between runs to recover actually leads to a phenomenon called ‘overcompensation’, where recently trained muscle gets stronger to prepare for future exercise!”

With fitness a lifelong goal, recording your progress is a valuable motivational tool to stick with your exercise routine, says Sam Greenwood, fitness professional and director of online fitness platform Amaven. “We live in a world where people’s time is precious, it’s not enough to just feel fitter and healthier, people need to see evidence that their workouts are worthwhile,” he said.

New research by Amaven revealed that 84% of women and 69% of men would keep up their exercise regime if they can see evidence of positive results, such as getting stronger, improving stamina or losing weight. “One way to do this is to conduct a fitness test at the start of the programme and repeat the test and track whether they have improved,” said Greenwood.

Watching your annual mileage accumulate can also be a powerful inspiration, says adventure racer Hetty Key, who has pledged to walk 1,000 miles this year.

“I’m always looking for a challenge and ways to get fitter and stronger doing things I actually enjoy,” she said. “Whatever the weather, the outdoors is always there and totally free to enjoy. From getting fitter to improving my photography skills, there are so many benefits to getting outside. Plus I know that by aiming to reach that 20-mile target each week I am sure to discover even more stunning new routes and places around the UK and beyond.”

Monitor your progress

Tech can help. The ViewRanger app finds new routes and records each mile walked. In a similar vein, online running community Running Heroes has launched in the UK, having attracted more than 200,000 runners in France. The clever concept sees users earn points for each run, depending on the distance, time and altitude gained, as well as their profile. These points then give access to exclusive discounts and gifts from partner brands like Nike, adidas, New Balance, Mizuno, Saucony, Brooks, Reebok and SKINS.  The site syncs with most running apps and sport watches, including Nike+, Garmin Connect, Strava, Runkeeper, Polar, MapMyRun and Endomondo. “Running Heroes wants to encourage people to go out and run regularly. We believe that we need to develop new motivational leverages for this,” said Quentin Auberger, Running Heroes’ UK manager.

Motivation of a completely different kind is being proposed by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), which is calling for the introduction of “activity equivalent” calorie labelling of food and drink. It says this could help moderate calorie intake, with its own research of 2,000 adults suggesting that 53% of people would make positive behaviour changes such as choosing healthier products, eating smaller portions or doing more physical exercise, if they could see how much exercise they would have to do to burn off the calories in the food and drink.

As an example, to burn off a chocolate bar with 229kcals takes 42 minutes of walking at 3-5mph, or 22 minutes of running at 5mph; a 50g bag of dry roasted peanuts takes 54 minutes of walking or 28 minutes of running; and a medium mocha coffee requires 53 minutes of walking or 28 minutes of running.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive, RSPH, said: “Activity equivalent calorie labelling provides a simple means of making the calories contained within food and drink more relatable to people’s everyday lives, while also gently reminding consumers of the need to maintain active lifestyles and a healthy weight. We believe activity equivalent calorie labelling could provide the nudge many people need to be more active.”

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