Set goals to help improve fitness

Farm Forum

A couple of years ago, my husband and I set a goal to exercise more often, so we joined a health club. As a motivator, we are able to receive $40 back on the monthly fee if we each work out 12 times a month.

We have met that goal every month, but sometimes one of us has to drag the other one there. Honestly, I can come up with lots of excuses to avoid leaving our house to exercise, especially in the winter.

Sometimes my excuses are real: I have a newspaper column due in the morning, for example.

Other times, I can come up with a wide variety of tasks that appear to need my attention. Maybe the furniture needs dusting, the spices in the cupboard need to be arranged in alphabetical order, or our dogs need a bath immediately.

If we are not motivated early in the month, by the end of the month, we are at the health club every day to meet our 12-visits goal. The staff know us by name and grin at us when we arrive daily starting on the 19th of the month. Sometimes we have a good start at the beginning of the month, then we meander off track around the middle of the month.

We certainly know that exercise is important for us to maintain our weight, exercise our heart, and maintain our strength and even our memory. Exercise is a way to reduce the likelihood of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

That’s the motivation that got us going on our goal. However, we need to step it up a notch in the coming year. To do that, we need to set some goals.

Do you have a goal for the new year? Remember the SMART acronym for goal setting. This process works whether you are saving for a house, vacation or retirement, or whether you are training for a 5K race or trying to lose weight.

1. Set a “specific” goal. For example, what exactly do you want accomplish healthwise in the coming year? Write it down.

For example, a goal for my husband and me is to increase our physical activity intensity. If he reads this column, my husband will be in for a surprise. I need to add some strength training to my regimen, too. I noticed that when I was hauling heavy boxes to our basement the other day.

2. Be sure the goal is “measureable.” If increasing your amount of exercise is a goal, how will you track it? You can keep track of time spent exercising or number of miles walked, jogged, run or swum. You can track steps taken based on a pedometer, a computer app or other high-tech device.

In our case, we can track our progress based on the number of miles we can walk or run on the treadmill. We can monitor our heart rate and get an assessment if we use one of the high-tech treadmills. I can increase the weights on the strength-training equipment.

3. Make sure the goal is “attainable.” Start simple and be sure you need to “reach” a bit toward your goals. The goals should not be beyond your grasp. If you are starting an exercise program, be sure to talk with a health-care provider.

I know I will not be training for a body-building contest or a marathon. Maybe I could attain a 5K. I have taken a class on how to use all the machines at the gym, so I have the skills and equipment available. I just need to plop my weary body on the machine and do it.

4. Be sure the goal is “realistic.” Do you have what you need to accomplish the goal?

I have an exercise buddy and the reward money back from our health insurance company if we reach our monthly attendance goals. I think I can do this, but I need a new reward to motivate me. Maybe a trip somewhere warm would be motivating. Now I need to set a financial goal, too. A new pair of tennis shoes might be my reward for now.

5. Finally, be sure the goal is “timely.” When are you going to start? Write it on the calendar.

We will start our goal at the beginning of January or thereabouts.

The NDSU Extension Service has resources to help you meet your food and fitness goals. Visit for ways to motivate yourself for the new year, beginning with nourishing and exercising your muscles in January. Sign up for the free e-newsletter and “like” the Facebook page for daily health tips.

Exercise and food choices go hand in hand for maintaining and improving health. If weight loss or maintenance is your goal, focus on fiber-rich, filling foods such as this salsa recipe. Split peas and black beans are excellent sources of fiber.

Split Pea Salsa

1 c. dry green or yellow split peas, rinsed

2 1/2 c. water

1 (19-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

2 c. frozen corn

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped

1/4 c. lime juice

2 medium tomatoes, diced

1/2 c. onion, diced

1 tsp. ground cumin

Optional seasoning (cayenne pepper, hot sauce, etc.)

In a medium saucepan, bring peas and water to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until peas are tender (about 20 minutes). Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Wash and prepare all produce. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Serve with tortilla chips.

Makes 10 servings (about 3/4 c. per serving). Each serving has 110 calories, 0.5 gram (g) of fat, 5 g of protein, 20 g of carbohydrate, 4 g of fiber and 250 milligrams of sodium.