You know the feeling: the mounting dread, the creeping anxiety, the little voice in your head that scoffs, that says you can’t.
Well, say sayonara to all that!
Whether you want to lose weight, get strong, run your first marathon or just feel better every day, getting fit can help you get there. So lose the self-doubt, push aside procrastination and get ready to crush your goals. You’ve got the desire and the drive, all you need is the information. And that’s the easy part.
Below, five steps that will not only help you achieve any fitness aspiration, but will also have a positive 360-degree ripple effect on your health as a whole. Get started. You’ve got this.
5 Steps to Getting Fit, Feeling Fab and Achieving all Your Goals
Step 1: Develop Healthy, New Habits
Habits can be tough to break—especially the bad kind, but it’s worth the effort to trade them in for better ones. According to a new study from Harvard Medical School, good habits may be a factor in reducing the incidence of cancer cases in the US. And research shows the risk of certain cancers is much higher for those who smoke, drink heavily, have an unhealthy BMI and don’t exercise regularly.
Ready to make a change? Here’s how to start the process.
Set smart goals. Research shows that people who set goals are more successful. But not all goals are created equal. “You need SMART goals,” says Amy Lukowski, PsyD, Clinical Director of National Jewish Health’s Health Initiatives Programs, citing an acronym she uses in practice. Each one needs to be: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewardable and Timed.
Maybe you commit to hitting the gym immediately when you wake up—but not every day, perhaps 3 days a week is more realistic for you. Then you keep track by logging your exercise and active minutes in the Fitbit app, and reward yourself with a Saturday night trip to the movies for nailing all your workouts. And after a month of success, you plan to increase your goal to 4 days. Now that’s SMART!
Identify your triggers. Perhaps you get too little exercise on days where you get less than six hours of sleep. Maybe you always derail your workout routine during PMS. Make note of the things that throw you off track and then get creative. You might need to schedule a workout with friends during your period. Or get to bed earlier. Think, adapt, change.
Create cues and be consistent. A good cue is impossible to ignore. For example, planning to take a walk after lunch every day makes that midday meal your reminder to take action, says habit-theory researcher Benjamin Gardner, Ph.D.
Every time you encounter the cue, do the action you’ve settled on. If you’re worried about getting bored, take heart: Gardner says you don’t have to do the same workout every time you put your sneakers on or follow the same route on every midday walk. “You should definitely vary your behavior,” he says. Just make a habit of taking action when you get your cue.
Step 2: Get Your Sweat On
According to the CDC, 80% of Americans don’t get the recommended 150 minutes of weekly, moderate exercise and a review of studies revealed a whole host of possible reasons why: Some people feel exercising is difficult, confusing or complicated, gyms are boring or intimidating, and, of course, there’s never enough time.
So how can you seamlessly incorporate fitness into your lifestyle? Shift your perception of what fitness involves—and keep it simple. Fitness can be as easy as logging an extra 3,000 moderate-intensity steps in a park, taking the stairs or running with your dog. Whatever your fitness goal or exercise preferences, try these three tips to stay on track.
Get outside. Stepping outdoors has been proven to boost happiness and even cause positive thinking. And researchers at Stanford University recently found 90 minutes of walking in a natural environment can quiet the negative thoughts in your head.
Buddy up. One study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise revealed that sticking with an exercise plan is related to perceived support—so knowing your friend has your back can help you show up and sweat.
Be efficient. If a long run seems daunting, get outside for three brisk 10-minute runs during the day. Research has long shown that three shorter bouts can have similar calorie-burning benefits as one 30-minute session. Strength training doesn’t have to be complicated either. Basic exercises like squats and lunges can burn a ton of calories because they work larger muscle groups.
Step 3: Stay Active Outside of Exercise
Americans sit way too much, and, unfortunately, all that sedentary time can’t be offset by daily workouts alone. A 2015 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, for instance, analyzed data from 47 studies to find that a 45-minute workout didn’t seem to be enough to significantly reduce the risk of conditions like heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
For most people, it’s not only unrealistic to try to spend the entire day on your feet (shout out to the desk jockeys!), but it may also be unnecessary. A study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology found that adding two minutes of walking each hour might be enough to improve your health and increase your life expectancy.
Need a push to move more during the day? Create a calendar notification, set an alarm on your smartphone or turn on Reminders to Move in your Fitbit app so you never forget to get extra steps.
Step 4: Eat Like an Athlete
There’s a lot of nuance when it comes to nutrition—especially for athletes. No two sports are alike and no two people are the same. How much you burn depends on your age, weight, intensity and active minutes, and if you’re cycling, running, weight lifting or doing yoga, you’re going to have unique needs. But there are 4 rules that should apply to nearly everyone, no matter what your fitness goal:
Pinpoint a calorie goal. Personal needs differ massively: If you’re a 6-foot-tall male Olympic swimmer, you might need an outrageous 10,000 calories a day, but if you’re a 30-year-old woman and working in an office, you might only need 1,800. The most accurate (and expensive) way to find out your ideal daily calorie allowance is to get into an insulated chamber to measure how much heat your body is producing. A much simpler way is to put your personal data into the Fitbit app, which takes your weight, height, age, gender and activity level into account and calculates your daily calorie target.
Eat breakfast. Eating within a couple of hours of waking up works with your body’s natural rhythm, jumpstarts your metabolism, and, in the long term, may protect you from developing diabetes and heart disease.
Stay hydrated. Eight glasses of eight fluid ounces of water per day is a great place to start. But to be super-specific, tip back between a half-ounce to a full ounce of water for every pound you carry, depending on your level of activity and how much you sweat. (So, if you’re 150 pounds, somewhere between 75 to 150 ounces is perfect.) And then add about 10 to 30 ounces per hour while exercising.
Recover smart. After a tough workout, try to eat within a half hour or hour. Grab a small snack—a combo of carbs and protein that is quick and easy to digest or roll straight into your next meal. There are lots of tasty options to help maximize your workout recovery—find one that works for you!
Step 5: Prioritize Sleep
Sleep may seem like the complete opposite of activity, but you can’t reach your fitness goals without it—for multiple reasons.
On the physical side, sleep is involved in almost every physiological process. “Lack of sleep is stressful, causing higher blood pressure and heart rate—and it can also alter metabolism, leading to spikes in blood sugar that can cause insulin resistance.” says Michael Smith, PhD, Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Johns Hopkins University and a sleep insights consultant for Fitbit. Skimp on sleep and you’re more likely to gain weight.
Your brain depends on it, too. “Sleep helps to regulate emotions and mood,” says Smith. “It’s essential for attention, concentration and executive function, which helps us make good judgments, remain flexible and creative.” All faculties you need in order to get the most out of your barre class, run, ride or anything else.
But sleep is also critically important after your workouts—regardless of whether you’re a beginning exerciser, regular gym rat or hardcore athlete. “During sleep, we recover and prepare for the next day” says Michael Grandner, PhD, MTR, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. “It’s critical for rebuilding and repairing muscles and other tissues. For example, human growth hormone is almost exclusively released during the deepest stages of sleep,” explains Grandner. “Also, the REM stage represents the peak of protein synthesis in the brain, which helps regulate many body functions.”
The average adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, but according to Fitbit data, most are missing the mark. If you’re one of those people, it’s a good idea to start tracking your sleep so you can improve it. Many Fitbit devices use movement and heart rate to detect your sleep stages (light, deep, REM) and time spent awake and/or restless. Take a look at your sleep logs for a week or so and you may start to see a pattern, which can help you get a sense of your personal sleep needs.
Try going to bed when you’re feeling tired and allow yourself to sleep until you naturally wake up (no alarm Saturday, yay!). Monitor how much sleep you get each night and how you feel the next day. Then, set a bedtime and wake time schedule—and stick to it! “A consistent wake-up time sets your circadian rhythm, which regulates your sleep cycles and ensures you hit all the sleep stages your body needs,” says Grandner.