7 Health & Fitness Tips to Start off the New Year

by Sean Etsitty, BA, CPT

The body doesn’t like to change. Whether you are starting your exercise journey or waking up for the millionth time to run in the cold, the body doesn’t initially want to get up. The body craves comfort. For 199,900 years the goal of the human race has been to not die from starvation, dehydration, or attacking enemies. But in the past 100 years, we have used and abused systems to create surplus and a false sense of security for humanity. 

So what happens when it is too easy to survive? What happens when all the food you buy is designed to be addictive (Gearhardt et al., 2011)? What happens when your body is designed to manage physical and mental stress, but the society we live in maximizes mental stress and minimizes physical efforts? You end up being one of the fattest countries in the world (Procon, 2020). 

America shouldn’t feel bad for being overweight, it’s honestly what we are set up for. We are told success is working harder for someone until someone is working harder for us, and we are accustomed to the struggle. The struggle to make ends meet, the struggle to meet people who have common interests, the struggle to belong, the struggle to get to the top, the struggle to be happy. What we don’t understand is always being under the struggle has physiological consequences that can’t be solved by the American dollar. 

Chronic stress results in a hormonal response that encourages people to overeat. The hormonal response caused by stress has been shown to change the food choices people make. Hormonal responses and poor food choices have been correlated to weight gain. One in four Americans ranks their stress level at an 8 out of 10 (Harvard Health). Americans shouldn’t feel bad for being overweight, after all, it is what we are set up for. 

The New Year is notorious for people starting their new exercise programs. People often attack their exercise ambitions with the same approach they take with work. They think it should be a struggle; they feel painful workouts will produce expedited results. In fact, most people will assume what they did at their best physical self is where they should start at now. People will assume because they learned how to squat in high school, they can quickly jump on the 8-week power shred program they downloaded on Pinterest. 

What people don’t understand is being overweight/obese results in chronic low-levels of inflammation (Ellulu et al., 2017) and pairing inflammation with exercise at an intensity and/or duration that does not match your current fitness level puts your body under a high-stress situation. When individuals are already stressed out by their work life, home life, and their social life, adding on an exercise program that is doable but not enjoyable is the best way to set yourself up for quitting the new exercise program.

So what exactly am I saying? I am saying when you start your next exercise program, understand exercise is a life-long adventure. Exercise is your tool to teach your body how to handle stress, but adding on too much stress initially will overwhelm both your body and your brain. Exercise is not a punishment, it’s a pathway to managing stress and maintaining health and wellness. 

Tip 1: When starting out, drop the intensity

If you haven’t been in the gym for months–or years–starting your first program with burpees is generally not your best option. Treat exercise like a ramp. Crawl before you walk, and with time and consistency, you will eventually be sprinting. If a generic program you found says to perform 3 sets, start the first week with 2 sets THEN perform 3 sets in week two.

Tip 2: The weight loss you want is heavily reliant on how well you eat

Running one mile burns about 100 calories. I know, it isn’t fair. I am not a dietitian, so it would be good to meet with someone who is qualified to tell you what you should and shouldn’t eat. Inadequate protein intake will result in increased hunger and a desire to eat (Pezeshki, et al., 2016). I personally only eat 2 meals a day so I can eat a little bit more with each meal, but you really should consult your physician and/or a dietitian if you plan on making healthy and sustainable eating habits. 

Tip 3: What does a good exercise program consist of

A good exercise program is the one you are willing to do consistently. The more simple, the better. A good foundational program for anyone looking to start can consist of 3 cardio days and 2-3 strength training days that are spaced apart to allow for recovery. Though circuits are nice, I personally don’t like combining cardio with strength training for initial programs. A good schedule for someone just starting out, or just getting back into the gym, would be: Monday-Cardio day, Tuesday-Strength training day, Wednesday-Cardio day, Thursday-Strength training day, Friday-Cardio day. 

Tip 4: How strength gains work, and how long before you start building muscle 

Strength gains initially come from the nervous system learning to work better. Performing exercises can improve your body’s wiring. Over time, your body will learn the process of building muscle, and with adequate rest and nutrition, the body will rebuild torn muscles into bigger muscles. If you do not rest, you will decrease the results produced. Generally it takes 2-3 months to produce hypertrophy results that are noticable. 

Tip 5: What should my initial cardio days consist of

The cardio days should have a 5 minute warm up, 15-20 minutes of sustained exercise (walking, running, biking, etc.), and a 5-10 minute cooldown. Every week, the sustained exercise should feel like a 7-8/10 in terms of difficulty to complete. After 2 months, start to look at different cardio programs to follow. Static stretching is essential to both healthy ranges of motion and healthy muscle growth/maintenance. 

 Tip 6: What should my strength training days consist of

The best exercise program is the one you are willing to follow. When starting out, generally anything will produce results. But again, it’s important to remember exercise is a life-long pursuit, not a 3-month race. If you were to follow a 2-day program, a simple program could look like: 

  • Tuesday: 
    • Warmup-10 minutes walking/gentle jog or cycling at a 7-8/10 difficulty. 
    • Workout 
      • 5 sets of 5 reps, with 2 minutes of rest in between sets 
        • Dumbbell Deadlifts 
          • Difficulty: 7-8/10
  • 5 sets of 5 reps, with 2 minutes of rest in between sets 
    • Dumbbell Bench Press
      • Difficulty: 7-8/10
  • 3 sets of 30-45 seconds, with 1-2 minutes of rest in between sets 
    • Side Planks 
  • Cooldown – 3 sets of 20 second holds
    • Shoulder Hang 
  • Frog Stretch 
  • Deep lunge stretch
  • Thursday: 
    • Warmup-10 minutes walking/gentle jog or cycling at a 7-8/10 difficulty. 
    • Workout 
      • 5 sets of 5 reps, with 2 minutes of rest in between sets 
        • Dumbbell Deadlifts 
          • Difficulty: 7-8/10
  • 5 sets of 5 reps, with 2 minutes of rest in between sets 
    • Dumbbell Bench Press
      • Difficulty: 7-8/10
  • 3 sets of 30-45 seconds, with 1-2 minutes of rest in between sets 
    • Side Planks 
  • Cooldown – 3 sets of 20 second holds
    • Shoulder Hang 
  • Frog Stretch 
  • Deep lunge stretch

*Increase sets +1 in each exercise every week for 4 weeks, then switch programs. 

Tip 7: Enjoy the process

Be proud of wanting to take care of yourself. Be proud you are willing to work to be a healthier you. Take small steps, and enjoy the process. I believe in you, and you believe in you. This is the year you become a little more proud of the person you are turning into.

Works Cited

Ellulu, M. S., Patimah, I., Khaza’ai, H., Rahmat, A., & Abed, Y. (2017). Obesity and inflammation: the linking mechanism and the complications. Archives of medical science : AMS, 13(4), 851–863. https://doi.org/10.5114/aoms.2016.58928

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/why-stress-causes-people-to-overeat

Gearhardt, A. N., Grilo, C. M., DiLeone, R. J., Brownell, K. D., & Potenza, M. N. (2011). Can food be addictive? Public health and policy implications. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 106(7), 1208–1212. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03301.x

ProCon.org. (2020). Global obesity levels. https://obesity.procon.org/global-obesity-levels/
Pezeshki, A., Zapata, R. C., Singh, A., Yee, N. J., & Chelikani, P. K. (2016). Low protein diets produce divergent effects on energy balance. Scientific reports, 6, 25145. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep25145

About the Author

Sean Etsitty is Co-Founder of the Healthy People Project LLC, and a multi-certified fitness professional who has developed and implemented hundreds of personal training programs tailored to clientele goals. He is a graduate of the Exercise Science Exercise-specialist program at Fort Lewis College and is certified by the National Council of Strength and Fitness as a personal trainer. Sean specializes in kettlebell training and strength training for young athletes, in addition to being certified by the American Association of Diabetes Educators as a Level I Career Path Paraprofessional.

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