Just as we can’t wing it when it comes to work, home and personal obligations, so it’s true with fitness. To say, “I will go to the gym three times a week and eat three healthy meals a day,” without a concrete plan for how you’ll accomplish that is to set yourself up for failure. We must have strategies for exercise and healthy eating if we’re 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.
Often, 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’s much less of a struggle to get psyched up for the next workout. (You can read about this phenomenon in That Elusive A-ha Fitness Moment.)
Therefore, the first month is critical to setting this groundwork. You must:
- Devise a concrete, specific plan. Outline in writing: when you’ll workout, how long the sessions will be and what you’ll do for your workouts.
- Schedule workouts on your calendar. Schedule them at times when they’re unlikely to get bumped.
To start, aim for a 15-20 minute workout at a moderate pace or beginner class of any length every-other-day. Regularity is more important than duration or intensity in the beginning. Consistent workouts with recovery days in between will jump-start your exercise routine without over-taxing you and you’ll begin to see and feel positive results in short order. These results are what converts the sedentary to regular exercisers. You can, and should, add to frequency, duration and intensity with fewer recovery days as your enjoyment level increases.
Any type of exercise counts as a workout: brisk walking, cycling, yoga, strength training, martial arts, dance. Mix it up, variety is healthy. If you do exercise you enjoy, you’re more likely to stick with it. If you already have one or more 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 two or more of the following this month:
- Get a one-month or week-to-week pass to a gym that offers novice classes or equipment you’d like to try
- Schedule a session or two with a personal trainer
- Sample a local studio that offers specific classes at beginner levels such as yoga, Pilates, Spin, Zumba or martial arts
- Try online exercise streaming or borrow DVD workouts from your library (select beginner level)
- Explore a few training apps or test run a fitness gadget
If you try something and don’t like it, move on, try something else. And be sure to schedule walks in your neighborhood or over your lunch break at work – walking is an underrated, excellent form of cardiovascular exercise.
You don’t have to do this alone. 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 total calories and eat more nutritionally balanced diets when they prepare their own meals at home. Our busy lives make it difficult to accomplish this on a regular basis. Which is probably why Americans eat a large percentage of restaurant and take-out meals and store-bought processed foods.
Plan meals, especially for your family’s busiest weeknights. 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 add those items to your list.
Here are links to previous posts with helpful tips on planning, shopping for and preparing nutritious meals at home:
- Healthy Grocery Shopping
- Building a Fitness Friendly Pantry
- Fit & Happier Recipes
- Kid-Friendly Fit & Happier Recipes
When you do have 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 portions 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 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 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.