New year, new you? Here's how you can stay motivated at the gym

Alec Pinchin, owner of Fitness Forum in London, Ont., says the first 60 days of exercising at a gym are the most critical in a new year. (Clement Goh/ CBC News - image credit)
Alec Pinchin, owner of Fitness Forum in London, Ont., says the first 60 days of exercising at a gym are the most critical in a new year. (Clement Goh/ CBC News - image credit)

Starting 2023 with a resolution for a new and healthier you? You're not alone, as people prepare to suffer at the squat racks and treadmills, usually in numbers greater than at other times of the year.

But gym owners caution the drive to stay fit can break by March if not done in conjunction with the right mental outlook.

"Something that may be seen as difficult or intimidating at the start gets easier," said Alec Pinchin, owner of family-run Fitness Forum in London, Ont.

He said that if you can figure out a way to stay motivated for at least six to eight weeks, long-lasting habits will become entrenched. He recommends creating an achievable workout plan that builds on progress.

"People may have an unrealistic expectation and think, 'OK, I bought a gym membership and I'm halfway there.' Well, really, what you've done is you've taken Step 1," Pinchin said.

One of the biggest excuses includes being too busy to work out.

"If you can scratch out an hour and a half a week, out of your hundreds of hours that you have available, then really a lack of time is not a viable excuse," he said.

Clement Goh/ CBC News
Clement Goh/ CBC News

"A lot of people feel like they have to come every single day, multiple hours a day to see progress. But, it's consistency over the amount of time you're here," said Ethan Rogers, general manager at Planet Fitness east of London's downtown.

One of the biggest traps of setting a year-long gym resolution includes pushing yourself too hard, creating more stress, Rogers said.

"Coming one or two days a week is one thing. But consistently coming one or two days a week, you're still going to see progress in your health and your fitness journey," he added.

'Be gentle' with yourself

Motivation to exercise stems from mental health in more ways than one, according to London-based GoodLife Fitness, which has clubs across Canada. The company's is marking 2023 as "The Year of Mental Fitness".

"These [mental health] benefits happen right away. We're talking 15 to 20 minutes. You can get in a short workout or a walk, and it will start happening," said Scott Leith, a behavioural scientist at GoodLife Fitness.

According to Leith, working out also boosts anandamide, a brain lipid that helps create a "runner's high," stimulating a sense of happiness and mental wellness.

He said trying to create too many new habits or overloading on New Year's resolutions can also lead to burnout in six to eight weeks.

"The key thing you want is kind of be gentle with yourself, and if you feel like you need a break, take a break. Don't punish yourself for it," Leith said.

For people looking to lose weight and keep it off, cardio — getting your heart rate up to levels that safely work your heart — is just one part of the equation. One of the smartest things to do is to set goals, ask for expert advice and not go it alone, Pinchin added.

"What you really need to do is put together a plan that's a little more inclusive. It's the overall plan that has achievable, realistic goals so that you see some success and and continue on."