fitness2Infomercials, books, TV programs, DVDs, advice columns, websites, and online advertisements all tell us the fastest, easiest, or safest ways to lose weight or get fit. In most cases, trendy fitness plans, while fun and effective in the short term, do not provide long-term results because, for various reasons, they’re difficult to maintain. Special foods or exercise equipment may be prohibitively expensive, and the latest exercise regimen may require too much time for busy people.

With all the exercise options and “easy” solutions out there, how do you choose the right plan for you—the one that will work for longer than a few weeks? The right fitness plan for you is simply the one that best fits into your budget and schedule. You’ll most easily maintain a fitness plan when it has minimal impact on your finances and your overall lifestyle. To fit in fitness, try the following:

• Pencil in exercise on your calendar just as you would an appointment and program your PDA, smartphone, or computer with reminders. Scheduling exercise time will help keep you from skipping a workout.
• Make a date to exercise. Combine catching up with family and friends with a calorie-burning physical activity that allows for socializing. Walking, dancing, biking, and outdoor activities will take your mind off the fact that you’re actually exercising.
• If you’re an early riser, try exercising in the morning instead of sitting and reading the newspaper or watching TV. If you simply can’t skip the morning news, multitask by walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike while watching TV.
• Too busy for a traditional workout session at the gym? Make household chores your exercise by moving fast enough to work up a light sweat and increase your breathing rate. Or take short but brisk walks throughout the day.

Once you’ve figured out when you’re going to exercise, how do you choose a routine? It’s difficult to decide what activities are the most effective calorie burners in the face of conflicting information. In general, the more vigorous the activity, the more calories burned—that much is obvious. However, if you can’t maintain a vigorous level of exercise for more than a few minutes or you injure yourself while moving rigorously, activities such as running or taking a boot camp class can put an immediate end to your fitness plan. Choosing something you enjoy and can maintain makes it more likely that you will stick with your routine.

Also consider where you’ll exercise. If you’re self-conscious about your weight, a gym or a fitness class probably is not the best choice. A number of companies offer great selections of workout DVDs, and Comcast On Demand, Netflix, and online fitness websites are additional sources of exercise routines you can do at home.fitness-1

If you’re a stay-at-home parent or you work from a home office, exercising at a gym or taking a fitness class can provide much-needed socialization after a solitary day at home. Walking outdoors may be a great option during nice weather, but if you live in an area affected by extreme seasons or weather conditions, you’ll need an indoor alternative.

Ideally your fitness plan should include different activities to help avoid boredom and burnout and address strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness. Whether you do cardio one day and strength training the next or cardio and strength in one workout session is not as important as consistency and making sure you exercise each muscle group. You can address flexibility by spending 10 minutes at the end of each workout stretching from head to toe by performing athletic stretches or doing a short yoga sequence. Adding 30 minutes of stretching to one hour of yoga once or twice weekly will further improve strength and flexibility.

While guidelines recommend a certain amount of daily or weekly physical activity for optimum health and fitness, our busy lifestyles often don’t mesh with the suggestions despite our good intentions. Try committing to at least 60 minutes of exercise three days a week to start and then add sessions as your fitness level improves. But avoid obsessing about it if you miss a workout. Feeling guilty can be self-defeating and sabotage your efforts. If you miss a workout, or even a few, focus on your next exercise session and getting back on your regular exercise schedule, even if it means completing shorter sessions or participating in less intense activities for a few days.

For long-term success, choose the exercises that you enjoy and that work best with your schedule, your fitness level, and your finances.