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Planning on staying active in 2022? Here's how to sustain that New Year resolution

Consistency is key in staying fit.

Many people in Finland make a resolution to improve their fitness at the start of every new year. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

If you’re planning on exercising more and improving your fitness in 2022, you are certainly not alone. Polls have consistently shown that the most common new year’s resolution for people in Finland is to improve fitness, with 37 percent (siirryt toiseen palveluun) making such a resolution for 2020. Meanwhile, 34 percent of people in Finland resolve to lose weight, while 30 percent aim to improve their diet.

However, of these, only about one in four people in Finland who make a new year’s resolution will stick to it completely.

A similar poll from the Finland Diabetes Association (siirryt toiseen palveluun) also puts fitness at the top of the new year’s wish list. Meanwhile, 2020 data from the health authorities shows that only 39 percent of men and 34 percent of women met THL’s minimum exercise recommendations (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

The pandemic has also had a notable impact on the health habits of people in Finland. Pauli Komonen, a research scientist for the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT), who conducted a study last year on Finland’s pandemic-era lifestyle habits (siirryt toiseen palveluun), says that many have been exercising more as a result of the health "wake up call" posed by Covid.

"People are thinking about their health from new perspectives, and many have been exercising a lot more as the pandemic causes them to re-evaluate their priorities," Komonen says.

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About 1 in 4 people keep to their commitment to get fit. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

However, he further warns that the much-lauded uptick in pandemic-era fitness hides some disparities within the Finnish population.

"A person’s context during the pandemic has had an effect on their response and their fitness approach. We’ve noticed that families who had been busier before now have more time to focus on fitness and wellbeing. However, young students living alone have not always fared better, as they may find it mentally more difficult to stay motivated," Komonen explains.

"We’re also seeing that older people face unique challenges in this area, as it is much more difficult for them to start anything new in terms of exercise or using public facilities."

Data also shows how the ability to stay fit and motivated is governed by a wide range of contextual factors. Studies have shown that men are much more likely to be unfit than women, and that foreigners living in Finland exercise less and have worse health outcomes (siirryt toiseen palveluun) than the native-born population.

As the start of a new year is traditionally the time when people make efforts to get in shape, we asked some of Finland’s fitness experts for their advice on how to keep at it.

So, how much should you be moving in the new year? Sari Virta, senior officer from the Ministry of Education and Culture’s Sports Division, says that, although Finns are not exercising enough, the actual health recommendations are not that demanding.

"Mobility is too low across all age groups in Finland. For adults, 1 hour and 15 minutes of strenuous exercise per week, or 2 and a half hours of brisk exercise, is sufficient. The loss of everyday movement from commuting or being in the office due to the pandemic means that Finns need to make up for the shortfall in other ways," Virta says.

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Having a 'training buddy' can help to increase motivation. Image: Mikko Stig / Lehtikuva

She adds that having a friend to exercise with can provide a big motivational boost, adding that simply calling a friend while going for a walk or a jog can provide vital "peer support".

Finally, Virta recommends that first-timers start off easy and get a sense of their limits, before gradually increasing the amount of exercise.

"Experimentation works. One basic rule is that a new sport or form of exercise and its rhythm should be tried for at least one month before the effects begin to be felt. For example, if you decide to move from walking to running, start with a combination of the two, trying two minutes of walking followed by two minutes of jogging and so on".

There are some concrete tips to follow if you want to maintain that effort.

Set concrete, realistic goals

58-year-old Harri Hänninen, a retired professional long-distance marathon runner (siirryt toiseen palveluun) who is still an active exerciser, says that setting realistic goals and knowing your "starting condition" play a major role in achieving your fitness resolutions.

"The people who exercise regularly are usually those that have concrete goals in mind. For exercise, a straightforward goal such as ‘I will do three fitness workouts per week’ is an easy way to do it," Hänninen advises.

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"You should also keep your workout in your comfort zone. Your current condition is crucial when you start training, and you should be patient as changes occur in your body through more exercise and as your condition begins to develop".

Hänninen also highly recommends "brisk walking" as an exercise activity since this is free and has a low barrier to entry.

Exercise with a buddy

Mikael Sundberg, a 24-year-old influencer whose fitness-inspired Instagram page (siirryt toiseen palveluun) has more than 152,000 followers, says that having a buddy who can keep you motivated is key to seeing your fitness goals through.

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"If you get friends with you, you can do anything. It always makes it more fun, and you can try out different activities such as gym, padel, golf, or climbing," Sundberg says, adding that keeping an eye on your progress can keep you motivated to keep going.

"Change is important. The first time you see yourself lifting weights you could never have imagined lifting, or doing a specific number of pull-ups, is when you see that you are getting yourself into shape".

Keep it varied

Nino Arling, a 24-year-old Tik Toker (siirryt toiseen palveluun) and Instagrammer (siirryt toiseen palveluun) who often posts videos of him and his friends performing adrenaline-inducing high dives (a hobby known as "death diving"), says that keeping things fresh and exciting is the key to staying motivated throughout the year.

"My best advice is to keep your fitness hobbies versatile. There will always be times when you get bored of the gym, or diving, or dancing. When you start to get bored, try something different that feels exciting and new".

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Arling also has advice for those who might struggle to get out of bed and into the gym during the dark and cold winter mornings.

"The darkness of the Finnish winter can easily make you lazy. Mindset here is really important. Instead of forcing yourself to get up and go when you really don’t feel like it, you should instead try and get into a more positive mindset and then only go and exercise at the moment when you are feeling up to it," Arling says.

You don't need to spend a lot of money

Former Finnish Olympic weightlifter (siirryt toiseen palveluun) Anni Vuohijoki, 31, who also runs The Process (siirryt toiseen palveluun), a fitness training centre in Helsinki, has advice for those who might feel like they can’t afford to spend money on a gym membership or expensive exercise equipment.

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"In Finland, your municipality’s gyms and sports facilities will have everything that you need for cheap. You can also exercise in nature, and there are plenty of outdoor gyms you can use for free. You can also save money on nutrition, for example by using more affordable frozen vegetables instead of fresh ones," Vuohijoki says.

For those who might feel self-conscious about working out in public, Vuohijoki recommends using the gym outside of rush hour at first, but notes that "after a while, you will realise that people are not paying attention to your appearance".