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 strategy 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 often is 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.
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. Mix it up, variety is great when it comes to exercise. But the key is to do workouts that 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 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 or possibly a training app. 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 total 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 restaurant and take-out meals 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 add those items to your list.
Here are links to previous posts with helpful tips for 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 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.