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The Expert Answers Q&As and columns reflect the expertise and opinions of individual faculty members and do not necessarily represent an official policy or position of the university.

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Every 12 months when a new year rolls around, one buzzword is heard in the weeks leading up to the first of January: resolutions.

With the fresh start of the new year, many people resolve to achieve goals and make lifestyle changes, often related to health, wellness and physical fitness.

How can goal setters ensure they keep their resolutions throughout the year instead of ditching them after a few weeks? Experts from Auburn University’s School of Kinesiology have some insight.

Use Exercise as Preventative Medicine

Harsimran Baweja, director of the upcoming Doctor of Physical Therapy program in the School of Kinesiology, says success can begin with preventative measures.

 “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today. Exercise, whether for general health and fitness or for preventative or rehabilitative purposes, should be viewed the same. Movement is medicine,” Baweja said.

He says the right kinds of exercise can improve health and fitness without hurting. Regular exercise can strengthen muscles around joints, maintain bone strength, increase energy, make it easier to sleep well, help control weight, improve balance, prevent bladder control issues and improve mood and memory.

Baweja recommends five types of everyday preventative exercises that can help individuals become more fit, flexible and firm while lowering the risk for disease. 

  • Brisk walking: “Brisk walking can help improve cholesterol levels, strengthen bones, keep blood pressure in check, uplift mood and lower the risk for several diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases,” he said. Baweja recommends people start walking 10 to 15 minutes at a time at a comfortable pace, two to three times per day, until they are walking for 30 to 60 minutes at a brisk pace most days of the week.

  • Range-of-motion exercises: “Range-of-motion exercises, which lessen stiffness and put joints through their full range of motion, include stretching arms up high or rolling shoulders forward and backward. Most of these exercises can be done at least once every day and do not require any equipment,” he said.

  • Strengthening exercises: “Bones need strong muscles for support,” he said. “Not exercising weakens those supporting muscles. Weak muscles put more stress on joints. Exercises such as practicing to stand-up from a chair, sofa or couch help strengthen the legs. These can be done in as few as 10 repetitions, two to three times a day.”

  • Tai chi: Because it’s referred to as “meditation in motion,” Baweja recommends the Chinese martial art of tai chi for preventative medicine. “Tai chi is made up of a series of graceful movements, one transitioning smoothly into the next. Because the classes are offered at various levels, tai chi is accessible and valuable for people of all ages and fitness levels,” he said.

  • Kegel exercises: Often overlooked, his final recommendation is Kegel exercises, which strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder. “To do a Kegel exercise correctly, squeeze the muscles you would use to prevent yourself from passing urine or gas. Hold the contraction for two or three seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times and try to do four to five sets a day,” he said.

Baweja’s biggest advice is to remember everyday activities are exercise.

“Any movement, no matter how small, can help,” he said. “Daily activities such as mowing the lawn, raking leaves and walking the dog count as physical activity, and so do dancing and playing with your children and grandchildren. As long as you're engaging in some form of exercise beyond your daily routine for at least 30 minutes a day, you can consider yourself an active person.”

Maintain resolutions by setting realistic goals

Brooks Mobley, an assistant clinical professor in the School of Kinesiology and director of the TigerFit Health and Fitness Laboratory, frequently analyzes individuals’ fitness levels and offers exercise recommendations. When it comes to fitness-related New Year’s resolutions, Mobley is familiar with seeing people set high expectations they can’t maintain.

“Resolutions tend to dwindle due to life challenges, busy schedules and a lack of time and preparation. People may lack intrinsic motivation, leading them to be dissatisfied with their progress and ultimately resulting in them throwing in the towel on their resolutions,” he said.

Mobley recommends people set up a support system for accountability, because a lack of support and unrealistic goals contribute to people giving up on their resolutions.

“Simplistically, start slow, make it a habit and a hobby and don’t give up,” he said. “People should evaluate their schedules on a regular basis to see what time they have available for incorporating physical activity. I also recommend making small goals that are achievable, focusing on making resolutions enjoyable and tracking progress.”

Sometimes those goals are broader and more flexible - such as simply being physically active consistently each week, rather than a detailed, rigid fitness resolution.

“Setting an overarching goal that is centered on being consistent with physical activity of any kind - rather than specific exercise modes, intensities, durations and frequencies - makes it much more appealing and achievable to establish a long-term or even lifelong fitness resolution,” he said.

Reduce stress with mindfulness

The practice of mindfulness, which includes exercises such as conscious breathing and setting daily intentions, can reduce stress and help establish self-regulation skills and healthy coping mechanisms that support optimal health and well-being.

Olympian Reita Clanton is the recently retired coordinator of Performance and Health Optimization in the School of Kinesiology. She teaches mindfulness-based stress reduction and works alongside Kinesiology Associate Clinical Professor Ford Dyke to promote Mindfulness@Auburn. Dyke teaches courses in Pillars of Performance and Health; The five pillars include respiration, hydration, nutrition, movement and recovery.

“If you can improve breathing and improve hydration, you will feel so much better,” Clanton said. “Our personal power lies in our ability to make choices for ourselves. The more we’re in alignment with ourselves in the present moment, then the more mental clarity we have to make choices that support us in our health and well-being in every way, not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well.”