Habitual gym-goers are noticing all the extra people around this month. One of the most common New Year's resolutions is to get fit and start exercising.
We all know that exercise is excellent for our health and can help us maintain our weight. Some other benefits may not be as widely understood: working out helps in managing stress, improving our mood and sleep patterns, and boosting our energy.
Even less-discussed, perhaps, is the benefit in self-esteem. When we exercise regularly, we feel good about ourselves, comfortable in our skin; we have more self-confidence. The habit makes us feel we are achieving something, taking care of ourselves, exerting will power.
Despite knowing about all benefits, many of us find it hard to exercise regularly.
If you're starting a new exercise programme, don't set unrealistic goals. Ideally, we should do 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise, at least three times a week. But it's better to start with 20 minutes of walking than to do no exercise at all.
To get into a regular workout routine, we must try many different types of exercise, and find the ones we most enjoy. Working out must be fun! Let's admit it: spending an evening relaxing in front of the TV is more appealing than putting on exercise clothes and driving to the gym for an hour of sweat and pain.
Starting out, treat yourself to a good pair of exercise shoes. This is the only purchase that you need to make at the outset.
Starting is easy, sticking to an exercise programme is hard. We may have unrealistic expectations - of quick weight loss without dieting, for example. One morning recently, I heard a woman ask the trainer how soon she will see the difference in her body. After only a handful of classes, totalling less than 10 hours in the gym, she expected to look drastically different. Unrealistic goals lead to feelings of disappointment.
We should not expect to be able to run on the treadmill for 30 minutes, or know every Zumba-class routine, after exercising for a short time. Fortunately, to reap the benefits of exercise we need not to be perfect; we just have to persevere. It will help to focus on the happy feelings, caused by endorphins, that we get after a workout, despite our aching calves.
After we decide on a number of days to exercise per week, we may not meet the goal, so instead of planning on three days a week and managing only one day, we should aim for five and manage three.
Exercising with a friend, as charming as it sounds, can also be a pitfall. All the fitness websites say working out with someone will inspire helpful competition. But this can also double the number of excuses not to go to the gym.
It is hard to commit to going to the gym when so many other activities in life are less boring or less gruelling. One great way to motivate ourselves is to keep a written record of the exercise we do. It is as simple as writing the date, time and activity in our phone calendars. Then, once a week we can check how many times we actually exercised over the past seven days.
Once we have been exercising for a while we should reward ourselves. If we've had a good month, we can say we have earned a spa treatment or something else we enjoy - as long as it does not involve food.
To form an exercise habit, it helps to convince our subconscious minds that we are sporty people. We all know some people who've been gym regulars for years. They are no different from the rest of us; we can become like them. Their secret is that they are fit, and so they find exercise pleasurable and have become addicted, in a sense. They look fit, and talk about fitness.
We can adopt this lifestyle. Once you have established a fitness routine, go ahead: buy the gym bag, wear the yoga trousers, carry around the plastic water bottle.
With a fresh start and some extra motivation we can make 2013 a healthier year. Let's make sure that next December is as busy as January at the gym.
Reema Marzouq Falah Al Ahbabi is an Emirati homemaker and an MBA graduate