Everyone experiences health struggles in their lifetime, and for most people in our modern world fitness goals can seem consistently out of reach.
What’s our response? A roller-coaster of extreme dieting and indulgence, tremendous exercise and weeks without an elevated heart rate.
It’s easy to beat ourselves up, but let’s not be unrealistic. Dedicating the time, effort, and discipline it takes to accomplish the bodies and lifestyles we desire is no easy feat these days. Innovation and technology have made food abundant, and physical movement optional.
That’s a good thing when you don’t have to wash your jeans by hand. It’s a bad thing when those jeans go up six sizes!
On a genetic level, we are still largely the same people we were a thousand years ago. We’re driving cars in bodies that were designed to walk. We’re eating calorie-packed snacks, with bodies built for nutrient-rich food. It’s no wonder we’re struggling with our fitness.
That may sound like an indictment of modern lifestyles, but it isn’t. We just think it helps to be honest about the challenges in front of us. And an honest look at the difficulties inherent in a modern life deserves an equally honest look at our responses.
Most people simply enjoy their lives until they reach some sort of personal low. Maybe it’s a certain weight on the scale that shocks us, or the pants that no longer fit right, or a shared picture of ourselves that looks like it must have been taken in a fun house mirror.
Whatever the catalyst, the typical response burns hot, but is short lived. We go on intense diets. We work out for hours every day. We fast, and sweat, and strain.
Some people settle into a fitness routine that continues to work for them, and they don’t look back. But most of us fall off again, perpetuating the cycle of damage and extreme correction that makes it difficult to get real traction. This article is for those people.
Use these 9 tips to create a base-line of basic behaviors that will start you on the right course. All of these ideas require very little energy, and most require very little time. You won’t be counting every calorie, or sweating buckets, but you will move towards better health with simple lifestyle changes.
1. Drink more water
Increasing your water intake will help you in two ways. First, your body will be hydrated more fully, which is important because every cell needs water to perform. Second, taking in water will make you feel fuller, and take the edge off of hunger.
Plus it’s easy. Just start by drinking an extra glass a couple of times during the day when it crosses your mind.
2. Prioritize sleep
Getting the full 7-9 hours of nightly sleep that doctors recommend requires no extra work, but the results can be enormous.
The body heals and restores itself during sleep. When you rest properly, you’ll have more energy during the day, and your body will be more willing to give up its fat reserves more easily. It’s also important to make sure that you’re lying down and rising at the same times each day to settle into a good pattern of rest.
3. Eat the healthiest thing on your plate first
Here’s a simple one. It doesn’t even require you to change your food choices! Just eat the healthy items first. That way any leftovers will be of the less healthy variety, and you'll have shifted your meal choice in a positive direction.
4. Take the stairs
Okay, so this takes a bit more energy, but taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator isn’t a full-on workout. You don’t have to prepare or dress appropriately. It’s also over before you know it. These quick bits of physical exertion can go a long way over time.
5. Avoid liquid calories
There’s nothing that inflates calorie consumption faster than drink options like soda and sweet tea. Unfortunately, far too many of us drink more of these beverages than actual water.
But the calories add up quickly. With soda, you’re able to ingest calories at a rate that would be hard to match if you had to chew. Cutting out the sugar and caffeine that these drinks provide is difficult, but once you’ve gotten back to drinking water, the benefit far outweighs the relatively small sacrifice.
6. Dress well
Being out of shape is as much mental as it is physical. Unfortunately, when we feel bad about our bodies, it can be easy to enter a mental pattern that just makes things worse. This tends to be reflected in the way that we present ourselves.
It’s hard to put effort into looking your best for the day, when you aren’t happy about your body. But that sweatshirt hoodie isn’t going to make you feel better about things. In fact, dressing poorly can exacerbate a poor self image.
You can break that chain by taking pride in the way that you present yourself. When you look your best, you feel better. That feeling is motivational, and helps you make better decisions.
Plus, dressing well requires you to take yourself more seriously. When it comes to fitness, that is a good thing.
7. Change up the refrigerator and pantry
If the junk food is right there in reaching distance when you open the door to your refrigerator or pantry, you’re more likely to grab it. Rearrange your food storage so that you have to do a little digging to get the bad stuff. It may not be Fort Knox, but this subtle hurdle is more effective than you might think because “Out of sight, out of mind” also applies to junk food.
8. Go outside
The health benefits of spending time outdoors are numerous. The fresh air and sun alone are worth it. And you don’t have to run a marathon to feel the difference. Walking around or doing simple things like tinkering with your garden can go a long way. Whatever your activity, make it a priority to get outside.
9. Don’t rush your meals
Taking more time to consume food helps with digestion, but it will also actually help you eat less overall.
The message that you are full travels slowly from the stomach to the brain. That’s one of the reasons that we get so uncomfortable when we gorge ourselves; we don’t quickly realize how full we actually are. When you take your time, you allow your stomach to communicate with your brain, and make it easier on yourself to stop eating without having to feel less full.
* 4 Bonus Tips
1. Brush Your Teeth
Regular brushing is the key to lasting dental health, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
Nobody wants to eat right after they’ve brushed their teeth. Take advantage of that fact by brushing when you start to have a craving that you know you should ignore.
2. Beware The Weak Points
Making the decisions required to be more healthy can be difficult during the best of times. In those moments when life is more challenging, our fitness goals are often the first things to crumble.
If you can see the pitfalls coming, you have a better chance to keep from gorging on an entire tub of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream… or whatever your thing is.
If you’re so inclined, there’s even a helpful acronym for these vulnerable states: H.A.L.T.
That stands for hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Whenever you find yourself in one of these four states, it pays to be aware that you are more vulnerable to making decisions that could sabotage your goals.
3. Weigh The Right Way
A lot of fitness professionals would tell you that living and dying by the scale is a recipe for disaster. Mostly, we agree. Weight can fluctuate for a variety of reasons, and body fat fluctuations will often not account for the majority of day-to-day changes. But if you’ve got a weight loss goal in mind, weighing yourself is sort of a necessary evil.
If it has to be done, then it’s best to do it the right way. The most important key is to pick a consistent time to weigh yourself in the day. This will give you the most reliable picture of your overall progress, and you won’t be thrown off by the natural weight fluctuation that occurs during the day. We recommend weighing yourself in the morning before you’ve had anything to eat or drink. This will give you the most consistency.
4. Eat Before You Eat
Okay, this one sounds counter-intuitive. How will eating more help you hit your fitness goals? Here’s the key: By eating something healthy a few minutes before a meal, we eat much less.
One apple before a pizza dinner will go a long way towards mitigating the dietary damage. And eating the healthy food on the front end, requires much less willpower.
Okay, so these tips aren’t going to make you Jillian Michaels or Arnold Schwarzeneggar overnight, but they are relatively easy to accomplish, and over time will bring you to a healthy place. And who knows, as you see the results from taking these manageable steps, you may be inspired to go even further.