Health & Wellness

How to get your New Year's fitness goals back on track with a 30-day challenge

If your New Year's resolution to get into shape has already fizzled, there are plenty of ways to get back on track — if you just give it 30 days.

There are now 30-day challenges for almost any type of fitness or diet goal, according to The Wall Street Journal, and doing something for a month can seem much less daunting than a life-long commitment.

"I think people are looking for manageable ways to start something new,'' Wall Street Journal reporter Rachel Bachman said on TODAY Thursday. "They want to maybe join a gym, or try a new workout regimen, but they don't know how to start. And you know 30 days feels like something very manageable."

A big reason we are already gorging on wings and chips at the Super Bowl party and forgetting our fitness goals barely a month into the new year has more to do with our minds than bodies, according to an expert.

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"The problem with New Year's resolutions is that they really undermine our confidence sometimes,'' Weill Cornell psychiatrist Dr. Samantha Boardman said on TODAY. "We think of ourselves as failures."

Thirty-day challenges are now offered in everything from yoga to running to strength training to bodily cleanses. There also are apps to challenge your body and your mind, as well as gyms offering 30-day challenges looking to keep you hooked for longer than a month. The challenges can be the basis for forming new habits that could help you reach your target goals.

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"Research shows that if you do something frequently, like four days a week, or more, you are much more likely to establish a habit,'' Bachman said.

However, it most likely will take more than 30 days for good habits to become ingrained. On average, it took people 66 days for a new healthy habit to feel automatic, according to a 2010 UK study.

While 30-day challenges are marketing-driven, there is a psychology behind having a nice, neat round number to the challenge. Plus there is the "fresh start effect," as defined by a 2014 Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania report.

The report finds that there are certain days called temporal landmarks where you feel like a new person and have a different view of yourself that allows you to be more forward-looking. That's why Mondays are good days to tap into the "fresh start effect" to begin working toward your goals or get back on track.

Boardman offered four tips for those thinking about trying a 30-day challenge to jumpstart the fitness and diet goals that have fallen by the wayside already this year.

  • Start with a week-long challenge if 30 days seems a little overwhelming.
  • Do the activity at the same time every day, and maybe pair it with something you already do regularly.
  • Work out with a friend or announce your fitness goals publicly on social media to help hold yourself accountable.
  • Be realistic. If you've haven't gotten off the couch in a month, don't try to train like a Navy SEAL right away because you could risk injury.

Follow TODAY.com writer Scott Stump on Twitter.

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