University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Kristi Fergusonm MSW, PhD
Associate Professor of Community & Behavioral Health/Internal Medicine
First Published: November 2000
Last Revised: September 2003
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Many people set personal fitness goals but fail to incorporate
them appropriately into their lifestyles. As a result, they drop
their goals after a couple of weeks and rejoin the non-athletic
"A fitness goal, depending on the individual's preference, could
take one of several forms," says Dr. Kristi Ferguson, associate
professor of community and behavioral health and director of the
Office of Consultation and Research in Medical Education at the UI
College of Medicine. "It could be distance walked, time spent, or the
number of times per week you exercise. Anyone of these can work as
long as it can be measured and accomplished."
Ferguson recommends starting with a smaller, achievable goal and
working your way up. "Gradually increase the frequency or intensity,
or both, at your own pace, month by month or week by week. Don't
start all out because that's a sure way to burn out."
When thinking of a fitness goal, you should keep in mind what kind
of exercise you want to do. "Find one or several activities that you
enjoy doing," Ferguson says. "Some people consider cross-training to
avoid the monotony of a single activity. Athletes use this approach,
and I think it's helpful in personal fitness, too. Select a menu of
things you can do for a long time so that you don't get tired of
doing only one of them."
Setting a personal fitness goal, however, does not just include
physical fitness. Physical and nutritional fitness are closely
related. "You could probably have a good diet without physical
fitness, but it's hard to do it the other way," Ferguson says. "Being
physically fit requires energy to exercise and taking in good food
will help give you that." She also recommends not eating a big meal
prior to exercise, so that food isn't percolating through the
digestive system while working out.
Personal fitness should be on everyone's agenda, regardless of
age. "You're going to benefit from it no matter what as long as
you're physically able to undertake an exercise program. Doing a
little bit is better than doing nothing, even for elderly people
under supervision," Ferguson says.
Motivation is another factor to keep in mind. Some people enjoy
having a friend to exercise with, because it makes the activity a
social event and seems to keep them going. For others, however,
finding time to work out with someone is a huge barrier, so it is
less likely that it will get done. Ferguson says make it an
individual choice to find what motivates you best to get fit.
Once the goal is set, all that's left is to follow it. "Most
people don't undertake an exercise program with the idea that they're
going to stop, but many of them do. It has a lot to do with fitting
fitness into the way you live. People who stop tend to plan their
life around exercise, instead of adding exercise to their life."