February’s Small Step: Plan Ahead

Just as we can’t “wing it” when it comes to work, parental obligations and important appointments on our calendars, so it is true with fitness.  To say, “I will go to the gym 3 times a week and eat 3 healthy meals a day,” without a concrete plan for how you will accomplish that is to set yourself up for failure.  We must have a concrete plan for exercise and healthy eating if we are to have a realistic chance of living a lifetime of fitness.  Planning ahead is this month’s Small Step strategy.

Planning Ahead for Exercise

Here’s the tricky thing about converting yourself from a person who doesn’t exercise to one who exercises regularly: exercise usually isn’t enjoyable until one is doing it regularly.  What happens many times is that motivation is high for the first two weeks and then a workout or two are skipped.  Eventually, an entire week goes by without an exercise session and the person gives up.  But, if a person can get into a regular routine early on and, in the process, find a few types of workouts that speak to her, the positive workout effects begin to kick in and then it is much less of a struggle to get psyched up for the next workout.  (You can read about this phenomenon in my That Elusive A-ha Fitness Moment.)

Therefore, the first month is critical to setting this groundwork.  You must: come up with a concrete plan for when you will workout, how long the sessions will be and what you’ll do for your workouts.  Most importantly: schedule them on your calendar.  Schedule them at times when they’re not likely to get bumped.

Aim for a workout every-other-day.  It may seem like a lot but this regularity will jump-start your exercise routine and you’ll begin to see and feel positive results in short order.  These results are what converts the sedentary to regular exercisers.  Any type of exercise counts as a workout: brisk walking, yoga class, strength training workout, martial arts, dance.  Do exercise that you enjoy, you’re more likely to stick with it.

If you already have one or two go-to workouts that are enjoyable and accessible for you, you’re way ahead of the game.  But, most who aren’t working out regularly haven’t found something they enjoy.  This is the month to treat this like a buffet.  Try one or more of the following this month: get a one-month or week to week access to a gym that offers classes or equipment that you’d like to try; schedule a session or two with a personal trainer; take advantage of a nearby studio that may offer specific classes such as yoga, mat Pilates, Spin or Zumba; try some online or DVD workouts that interest you; and be sure to schedule a couple of walks in your neighborhood or over your lunch break at work – walking is an underrated excellent form of cardiovascular exercise.  The more different options you sample, the more likely you are to find at least one – preferably a few – that you enjoy and can use to begin to build a lasting fitness routine.

Remember, you don’t have to do this alone.  Recruit a friend to sample with you.  Having a workout buddy (or two) greatly increases your chances of sticking with it.

Planning Ahead with Your Diet

What diet and health studies have shown is people tend to consume fewer calories and eat more nutritionally balanced diets when they prepare their own meals at home.  Our busy lives make it very difficult to accomplish this on a regular basis.  Which is probably why Americans eat a large percentage of pre-made meals at restaurants and from take-out and store-bought processed foods.

A little planning and effort done on your least-scheduled day of the week (Saturday or Sunday for most people), can go a long way to accomplishing a full week of home-based, healthy meals.

Plan out meals, especially for the evenings that are your family’s busiest.  Create a shopping list based on your plan and stick to your list at the grocery store.  Be sure to plan quick and healthy foods for breakfasts, snacks and lunches (including those that need to be portable) and include those items on your list.  See my list of healthy pantry items and original recipes (including kid-friendly ones) to give you some ideas and help you get started.

When you do have the time to make a healthy meal from scratch at home, make extra.  Leftovers can be refrigerated and saved for a super-busy weeknight, packaged in one-serving sizes and frozen for a quick meal in a pinch, or packed for lunches the next day.

This month is a tall order but I know you can do it.  If you can plan out your exercise and meals each week this month, it will be easy to keep doing it week after week throughout the year.  The more thorough your planning, the more likely you’ll be able to follow through with your plans.

Remember to keep your plans realistic.  These should not be pie-in-the-sky wishes.  They should reflect your abilities, likes and dislikes and, most importantly, your unique family schedule and lifestyle.  What works for someone else may not work for you.  Make a plan that works for you.

If you’re new to the Small Steps series, you can read about the philosophy and strategies of the series here.  Know the Small Steps strategies don’t need to be done in any particular order and are independent of one another.  So, you can begin the series with this post, continue throughout the rest of the year and pick up what you missed next year.

Previous Small Steps posts: January’s Portion Control.

Author’s Note: I am an exercise professional, not a nutrition professional.  My diet recommendations are based on the most current science-backed information provided by nutrition professionals in the fitness industry.  Mine are general recommendations that are in line with the guidelines published by the US Dept of Health and Human Services for apparently healthy individuals.  If you have a health condition that requires dietary restrictions, I recommend consulting a medical doctor or registered dietician before making any changes to your diet.  Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.

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