Photo courtesy of Francois de Halleux
Currently, everyone I know falls neatly into two categories: those who kept up with their New Year’s resolutions and those who didn’t. Regardless of category, nearly all of my closest friends and family members want to get in better shape this year. Don’t we all? Every year?
If you find yourself struggling to get and stay fit, you’re not alone. According to Reuters, 36% of adult Americans are substantially overweight, and 17% of American children are, too. These figures mean that we need to make changes as a nation in order to get and stay healthy. Luckily, the changes can be subtle and still make a huge difference.
Perhaps you’ve merely put on an extra 10 pounds because you’ve reached that stage of your romantic relationship where everything becomes more relaxed – including your formerly strict diet and gym schedule. On the other hand, you may be looking to get fit for the first time in your life.
No matter what the reason, if fitness is your goal, you’ve got to have a doable plan that you feel good about. Otherwise you run the risk of burning out, getting bored, or never getting started in the first place. The following tricks have been recommended by some of the nation’s fittest, like Martin Rooney, an internationally recognized pioneer of strength:
- Treat exercising like brushing your teeth. It’s unavoidable, and if you don’t do it regularly, things are going to get bad in a hurry. If you make exercising into a (good) habit, chances are really high that you’ll stay fit for life.
- Take it to the playground. Let’s face it – no one’s overly motivated to do something they hate. Make your workouts fun again! Playing on playground equipment, joining a recreational sports team, riding your bike around the ‘hood, jumping rope with your kids – these are all great calorie busters while being fun at the same time.
- Make it a two-fer. If you’re more of a straight-laced guy or gal and prefer walking or running to the monkey bars – at least take your workout outside. Time flies by when the scenery is constantly changing, and you’ll burn more calories than on any treadmill. The varied terrain of the outdoors coupled with variable temperatures and wind conditions mean that your body will have to work harder, burning up to 7% more calories, according to Women’s Health magazine. Oh, and the two-fer? Vitamin D, of course!
- Mix it up. The saying “Variety is the spice of life” applies to exercising, too. Routines are beneficial (See #1) but as soon as your workout routine becomes overly strict, you’ll get bored. Experiment with different activities, even some that you’ve never tried before.
- Chat it up. By finding someone to work out with, you’ll not only avoid workout boredom with conversation, but you’ll also have instant accountability.
- Make a workout playlist. As humans, we naturally want to move to a tempo. As far back as 300 B.C., the rowers on the Roman Galleys were led and coordinated by a man banging on a drum. Something in the way our brains work makes us naturally want to walk, run or pedal a bike in synchronization with the music we’re listening to. Somehow, music reduces the perception of effort and can also increase our endurance by up to 15%, according to Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., from London’s Brunel University.
- Break it up. So many of us are bogged down by the notion that we have to spend a continuous amount of time exercising (and only exercising.) For people with a busy schedule, that can get stressful. It’s perfectly ok to work out in small bursts throughout the day, even combining exercises with other daily activities. Try doing crunches while you watch TV at night, or use your break at work to run up and down the stairs several times.
- Set goals. While it may not be essential for everybody, most people will benefit from a goal and reward system. This gives you a sense of accomplishment and will encourage you to stay motivated.
- Take a stand. Your friends may give you a hard time about your dedication to working out while on vacation, or eating healthy at a sporting event. Staying fit for life requires the courage to stand up for what it takes to get and stay there, even when faced with opposition.
There’s no doubt about it, getting in shape is something that requires commitment and effort on your part. Small changes add up to big consequences, though, so what starts out as baby steps today can easily turn into a life-long love affair with fitness.