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The Globe and Mail

The 6 mistakes derailing your health and fitness goals

There is nothing worse than working hard and still not succeeding. It is one thing not to reach your health and wellness goals if you are eating fries every day and skipping workouts, but it is extremely frustrating to give it your all and strike out.

Believe me, I get it. I have broken down in tears when I thought I trained perfectly yet didn't make my goal time in a race.

If you feel you are always worrying about your health, yet never reaching your goals, consider whether you are making one of these common health mistakes.

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Overreliance on steady-state cardio

You need to do more than just mindless cardio. Do interval training two or three times a week. Interval training improves cardiovascular fitness, insulin sensitivity, HDL (good) cholesterol and helps reduce both visceral and subcutaneous fat.

One of my favourite interval workouts is "rolling intervals." After warming up, cycle through 30 seconds at regular intensity, 20 seconds at a slightly higher intensity and 10 seconds at an even higher intensity. Repeat for 10 to 15 minutes.

Focusing too much on calories

You need to pay attention to the quality of your nutrition, not just how many calories you consume. If your goal is weight loss, don't just count calories – eat healthier and exercise.

When you lose weight solely through dieting, the weight you lose will be predominantly muscle. When you lose weight through a combination of resistance training, improved diet and cardio workouts, you lose proportionally more fat and gain muscle. That means you don't simply lose weight on the scale, you change your body's shape and composition.

Prioritizing cardio over strength and balance work

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At the start of my triathlete and running career, I placed more emphasis on running and cycling than on strength training, which led to overuse injuries and slower race times. Learning to incorporate strength and balance training has made me a stronger and less injury-prone athlete.

Staying injury-free is a key part of achieving any health and wellness goal. To avoid constantly being derailed by injury, prioritize multijoint functional exercises such as squats as well as single-leg balance exercises. The inability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds or perform a squat have been shown to be strong indicators of future injuries and even mortality.

Setting unrealistic goals

Don't set yourself up for failure. Make sure your goals respect your health history, current lifestyle, age, gender and genetic makeup.

This advice probably sounds like common sense, and in many ways it is, but I hardly ever meet anyone (including myself) who actually follows it. Don't aim to have model abs if you don't have the genetics, a photoshopper at your disposal and the time needed to train.

I am trying to learn to practise what I preach. Too frequently, I set unrealistic athletic goals and when I don't succeed I am devastated. Twice I aimed to complete a sub-3-hour 45-minute marathon, but that would have required training for eight-plus hours a week. I completed the races in four hours after training four to six hours a week. When I analyze my training program postrace I realize I failed because my goal didn't respect my available time to train and my genetic window. I don't have the genes to be an Olympic marathon runner. I can push myself to be a faster runner, but my "fast" is always going to be relative.

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Associating exercise with weight loss

Too often people exercise simply to lose weight and when they don't lose weight immediately, they give up. My advice: In addition to any weight-loss goals, aim to have more energy, sleep better, improve your bone density, enhance your mood, increase your strength and even train for a sport.

The more reasons you have to exercise, the more likely you are to stick with it and ultimately achieve your weight-loss goals, which won't happen if you continually start and stop exercising.

Being lazy the rest of the day

Don't fall into the trap of believing lifting weights and doing intervals a few times a week means you can be a sloth the rest of the time.

Prolonged sitting negatively affects the cardiovascular, lymphatic and digestive systems, not to mention your metabolism. It is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes, and affects how our bodies metabolize glucose. Move wherever and whenever possible.

Health Advisor contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging.

Kathleen Trotter has been a fitness writer, personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for more than 12 years. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @KTrotterFitness.

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