Lots of people will set exercise goals as a new year begins, and these goals can be good and useful. Goals can motivate and keep you going when you have discouraging moments or want to quit. But vastly more important than exercise goals is an exercise plan. Someone who has goals but no plan will opt out far more quickly than the person who has a plan for exercise without goals. Actions produce much more results than aspirations. In fact, aspiration without action actually results in nothing – only another goal that was talked about but never acted upon.
You should schedule exercise right now for 2021. By schedule, I mean look at each week and choose times that you will protect for exercise. You may need to get up earlier than you did in 2020. You may need to block off a few lunch times a week. You may need to decide you will not watch TV a few nights a week. But way more important than setting an exercise goal is setting times for exercise. Here is why:
1. Your mental health.
Gallup recently reported that American’s mental health in 2020 reached a twenty-year low. No one is surprised by this data as 2020 has been a very stressful and challenging year for lots of people. While there are lots of factors to declining mental health, exercise rhythms being disrupted in 2020 surely contributed to the decline as gyms were closed and sports leagues were suspended. Research has continually showed that exercise lowers stress and anxiety and helps you sleep better at night – which also lowers stress and anxiety. The stress of 2020 is not magically disappearing when the calendar turns, so setting a realistic exercise rhythm now is one way to wisely lead yourself.
2. Your mental grit.
When you stick to an exercise rhythm you will exercise plenty of days you do not feel like it. You will train your body to push through moments of discouragement and fatigue. This helps in other places in life. For example, over Christmas I preached a lot of Christmas services. For a few of the services my body felt fatigued, but exercise has made me used to that feeling. I have learned I can still do what I have committed to do in the midst of that feeling. I have experience pushing through that feeling. Sticking to an exercise rhythm helps you learn how to persevere in areas of your life that are more important than exercise.
3. Your longevity.
Research has shown that exercise extends your life. It extends the amount of time you have to invest in others and throw yourself into the work the Lord has called you to. One day I asked Jim Randall, who is the CEO of Auxano (a consulting group), about common factors he observed in leaders in their sixties who were still filled with passion and vision for their roles. Among several factors he mentioned was that all the leaders that were still leading with passion and vigor were leaders who exercise regularly.
4. Your physical health.
Yes, exercise is great for your physical health. I don’t mean so you can take a selfie for Instagram but so you can steward the one body the Lord has given you. Exercise lowers blood pressure, combats weight gain, reduces the risk of heart attack, strengthens your bones and muscles, etc. Exercise is really good for you. Better than binge-watching. Better than scrolling social media.
Goals are great. But more helpful will be looking at your calendar, talking to people in your life who help you keep dates on your calendar, and setting times when you will exercise in 2021.