5 real tips to starting a fitness lifestyle

At this time of year - about midway through the month of January - there are tons of motivational blogs and social media posts that pop up with messages of "Don't quit now!" or "Remember why you started!" or "Just take that first step!"

They are well-intentioned attempts to draw attention to the fact that this is about the time when most New Year's Resolutioners are falling back into pre-Jan. 1 habits and routines.

Which is great, but can we get real here? The vagueness in these types of messages does little to inspire real action beyond a few fleeting moments of motivation or - let's be honest - guilt.

Those of us who actively lead a healthy, fit, active lifestyle too often forget just how hard it was to establish the habits we now live by. We sometimes forget that its not about drumming up the motivation to get going, it's about understanding and establishing the very tactics that will eventually turn into second-nature as they are repeated over time.

So with that in mind, here are 5 real, actual tips for starting - and sticking with - a fitness lifestyle.

1. Educate yourself

Do your research. Understand exactly what it is you need to do to reach your goals. Figure out which workout styles best suit you. Then create a plan for achieving said goals. Write down or type out that plan.

Just as you likely wouldn't try to create a authentic five-course French dinner without a recipe, don't try to establish a fitness lifestyle without first educating yourself on the best ways to actually achieve your exercise goals.

Don't know where to begin? Try a website like Bodybuilding.com. It has mountains of free training guides available for any goal and at all levels of fitness. Need or want a more personal touch? Connect with a personal trainer, who will customize a workout plan specifically for you and teach you the "why" and "how" of each exercise.

2 . Have realistic expectations

When I started working out consistently several years ago, I had no aspirations of benching 315 pounds or bulking up enough to weigh 200 pounds.

I know and understand my body and my physiological makeup, and I know that benching that much just isn't in the cards. Nor has that ever been my goal.

Be honest with yourself as you create your goals and make your plans - if you are a beginner or have been out of commission for a while, you need to start from ground zero and work your way up.

While I may never squat 500 pounds, I can accomplish my goals in many other ways and through many other methods. Which is why my previous point - educate yourself - is so important.

3. Schedule your workouts

Until exercising becomes a habit for you - just part of your routine and "who you are" - you need to make a concerted effort to schedule your workouts at a specific time ... and then commit to keeping that appointment with yourself.

If you approach your new fitness lifestyle with a attitude of "I'll get to it when I have the time," it'll likely never get done.

Add your workouts to your calendar on your phone. Set your alarm and reminders. Post your workout schedule on your refrigerator. And then keep your appointments!

4. Commit to consistency

One of the problems I see too often when someone wants to start an exercise program is that they over-commit from the beginning.

Typically, you'll hear a beginner say something like: "My goal is to exercise for 30 minutes five days a week."

Jumping right into that kind of commitment tends to be so overwhelming that it causes a flameout, especially when results don't show up within a week or so.

Instead, commit to being consistent, even if all your committing to is something as simple as: "My goal is to exercise twice a week."

So simple, yet not so overwhelming that you feel unnecessary pressure.

Only have time to exercise for 10 minutes one day and 5 minutes another day? Great! That's 15 minutes well-spent. As that rhythm and cadence becomes something you consistently do, then add to it. Do it in small steps.

5. Start thinking of food as fuel

When you start to see your food as fuel for the output required to exercise and workout, you'll begin to make the connection between the things you eat and how they make you feel and perform.

Obviously, food is what makes us go, and the quality of the food we take in directly affects the quality of our "go."

You might even go so far as to keep a food and workout journal so you can document how certain foods affect the quality of your workouts. That way, you can gain a better understanding of which foods fuel your greatest workouts, and then do more of that!