At the top of many New Year's resolutions lists this year is the intention to get in shape. It's likely that it was in first place last year too. Every January gyms are inundated with new members intent on improving their fitness levels. By February or March most have given up, overwhelmed by the task ahead of them.
This year, getting and staying fit is more important than ever.
The world is facing an obesity crisis. A BBC news report last week revealed there are now one million obese adults in the developing world. In the UK alone, 64 per cent of adults are classed as overweight or obese and experts are predicting a significant increase in heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. In the US, if the incidence of chronic diseases continues to soar this generation of Americans will be the first to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.
As Christians, should fitness matter to us? After all, God sees the heart, surely he's not interested in what we look like? Of course it matters. Paul tells us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and we should 'honour God' with them (1 Cor 6:19-20).
Fitness is a way of life. It is, to excuse the pun, a marathon, not a sprint. The long-term benefits of regular exercise are well proven, from improved health and energy levels to lower anxiety and depression. The key to success is to create a plan that will fit in with your life and personality. Joining a gym isn't for everyone, especially if you prefer the outdoors. Equally, solitary activities such as jogging won't work if you enjoy the social interaction of a dance class.
By applying some simple principles to your fitness resolutions, 2014 can be the year where good intentions become regular habits.
Be realistic: Set goals that are specific but manageable. Don't aim for an hour of exercise five times a week when you've hardly scraped five hours in the past six months. Shorter, high intensity bursts of exercise are growing in popularity and can be slotted into the most hectic schedule. The smallest chunks of exercise carried out consistently will soon make a difference.
Use reminders: Include your exercise sessions in your calendar and afford them the same importance as you would a vital work deadline or lunch with a friend. Keep your walking shoes/sports kit in your car when you leave the house so you don't have an excuse for missing a workout.
Make yourself accountable: Join a likeminded group of people, announce your intentions to your friends and ask for encouragement in meeting your goals. This will be especially important on the occasions you feel like giving up.
Persevere: It takes 30 days to make a new habit and it is those first 30 days which will prove to be the most challenging. Don't lose heart if you miss a scheduled workout or overindulge. Keep a journal to reflect on your progress. You'll be encouraged by how quickly you can progress if you persevere.
Reward yourself: Break your goal down into achievable milestones. As you meet a milestone, reward yourself with a - preferably healthy - treat.
It's not about vanity, it's about living healthy lives so we can fulfil the purpose God has for us. We are given a spirit of 'power, love and self-discipline' (2 Tim 1:7). Harness that power, love and self-discipline effectively to make 2014 your healthiest year yet.