BANGOR, Maine — It happens every year without fail: The gym parking lot is overflowing on Jan. 2., people wait in line to use the elliptical and classes are crammed with participants who want to make good on New Year’s resolutions so they rub sweaty shoulders with strangers for an hour to upbeat pop music.
By February, though, that number dwindles as the so-called January Joiners stop going to the gym. A few newcomers still hooked on exercise keep going, but it’s mostly the regulars who occupy the machines once again.
According to a survey by the University of Scranton, 45 percent of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions. Losing weight is the most popular, followed by “staying fit and healthy” at No. 5. However, by the end of the year, only 8 percent are expected to have stuck with their intentions.
Fitness experts throughout the Bangor area say with the right mindset and activity, exercise can become an all-year part of your life.
“If you can make it part of your life, you get addicted to it. If you make half an effort, you get half the result,” Sherry Haller, owner of Union Street Athletics, said. “Nothing upsets me more than to know that people paid for a membership and haven’t used it.”
Many Mainers, who are busy all summer hiking, fishing, canoeing, golfing and enjoying themselves outside, are at a loss come winter, when the weather turns blustery and mercury levels drop.
Cathy Cobb, a retired Augusta resident, is no exception. But this year she has a plan.
“I love to play golf. I’m a golf addict. And at the end of the season, you’re always looking at the temperatures, dreading the upcoming winter,” she said. “After playing three to four times a week and then suddenly it’s over, it’s a big change.”
Cobb finds herself busy doing outdoor chores once the snow falls, taking care of her horses and shoveling the snow. But it’s not enough, she said, so this year she wants to work out a couple of days a week to supplement her outdoor activities.
She plans on joining a local gym soon and walking the indoor track with a friend.
“I just have to tell myself, ‘You have to do this,’” she said. “If I don’t, I would become lethargic. … I’ll just have to kick myself out of the house.”
While some like Cobb find a balance between outdoor duties such as shoveling and working out in a gym, Bangor resident Telly Halkias said it’s also important people remember to do what they love.
“I’ve done every organized workout known to man,” he said in an email. “In the end, variety and getting outdoors all year is the key or you will die of boredom. … An hour walk in big boots is a killer workout, but also beautiful, regardless of any weather.
The numbers game
Gym owners and trainers know people like Cobb are looking for a way to increase their daily activity level and expect the surge in the new year, when many make resolutions to exercise more and/or lose weight.
Wendy Watkins, co-owner of Bangor-Brewer Athletic Club, said she often sees an increase in membership three times a year: in January, when people are gung-ho about their resolutions; at the end of spring, as people realize swimsuit season is around the corner; and in September, once school starts giving people a surge of motivation.
But after the initial increase, numbers start dropping and the gym often is again filled with regulars.
“The surge lasts about three weeks,” Watkins said. “The first week, people are so fired up. Then the second week, something happens that throws them off their schedules. And by the third week, it’s not as fun or novel anymore and life kind of gets in the way.”
Tips avoid being a gym dropout in 2015
Haller and Watkins weighed in — pun intended — with a few ways to keep fitness and exercise exciting and effective in 2015
Using energy leads to more energy: Watkins encourages people to work out four or five times a week for at least 20 minutes, even if they don’t think they have enough energy. If they don’t feel rejuvenated after that time, they should stop and try again the next day. “Sometimes people are tired, but it’s often because they don’t exercise,” she said. “Energy can beget energy.”
Lean on others: Haller said one of Union Street Athletics’ biggest draws is their group classes that allow people to do some of their favorite outdoor activities like cycling indoors. Other people enjoy lifting weights, doing cardio or taking yoga classes. “A coach or instructor will lead you through your workout, and you’ll push harder because you’re with other people,” Haller said. Both women agree it’s important people find activities that excite them, whether it’s finding a friend to run next to on a treadmill or joining a group class.
Less, more often: It’s a lot harder to work out twice a week than five times a week, Haller said. “You get so plugged in if you go every day that you start wanting more and more.” She encourages new gym goers to start working out three or four times a week and build up as they become more fit. Watkins encourages her clients to “do a little bit less more often.” Instead of making a resolution to work out for an hour a day, start with five or 10 minutes a day. “Make it more of a habit first, then it’s easier to integrate into your life and slowly ramp it up,” she said. “An hour can seem overwhelming. So if you start with a little bit, chances are that little bit is more than what you’re already doing.”
Make a plan: Some people are energized by a morning workout; others can’t bring themselves to roll out of bed. Haller said it’s important people just do what works for them so they aren’t constantly battling themselves. Come up with a plan for the week and fit it into your schedule and other commitments. And do what you love, Watkins said. She used to hate exercising until she started taking cycling classes. Now she is the co-owner of a gym and a personal trainer. “It’s not about what your co-worker, neighbor or brother says you should do,” Watkins said. “For a while, just don’t listen to them.”
Set realistic goals: Haller reminds people to set realistic goals. If they want to lose 50 pounds, for example, she suggest they first try for 10. “If the goal is too hard and overwhelming, it’s easier to give up,” she said. “Setting little goals means there are successes along the way, and you’ll feel better about yourself.”
Treat yourself: Along with smaller goals, Haller and Watkins want people to be kind to themselves. “Reward yourself a little bit when you do hit a goal: Buy yourself some new workout clothes or something that makes you feel good about yourself,” Haller said. What happens if you do skip a workout? Don’t give up. “Being kind to yourself doesn’t mean you let yourself go,” Watkins said. “You should ask yourself, ‘Tomorrow, how will I feel about what I did today?’”