I’m sure many readers might struggle with maintaining a particular exercise routine or diet regimen. Whether it’s running for 30 minutes 5 times a week or blending smoothies for breakfast every morning, we strive for health and wellness through controlled frequencies of behavior. As someone who has attempted and largely failed time and again to conform to these kinds of controlled routines, I can tell you that all too often these routines fail to last, especially when they consistently remove you from your comfort zone. I believe this is why yo-yo dieting is so prevalent: all too often, the stringent fitness or diet regimens we begin from New Year’s resolutions or beach body challenges can start off strong and end up fading as we lose motivation to continue that daily workout or cutting certain foods from our diet.
This is why I’m advocating for our approach towards fitness and food to focus on sustainability over stringency since long-term growth and lifestyle changes are going to be what makes a noticeable difference in a couple years’ time. Here are three ways you can make sustainable changes to your everyday routine that will make your journey to wellness as less of a chore and more of a fun process of both self-discovery and finding others with similar passions. This article is geared towards general fitness enthusiasts who are looking for ways to sustain their improvement – although it’s important for athletes with a particular training routine to question if the work they put into their sport is right for them and makes them happy!
- Don’t limit the type of exercise you incorporate into your workouts. Cross-training is important and often overlooked! If your exercise looks like a certain number of times a week of the exact same activity and it’s getting boring, you may want to change up your routine. For example, incorporate different ab routines and weightlifting days into your cardio if you find your workouts to be too repetitive. NASM certified personal trainer, nutritionist and cycling coach Selena Yeager recounts: “The godfather of fitness Jack LaLanne himself once told me that his secret to avoiding plateaus was religiously changing his workout routine every three to four weeks.” From my own experience in the cross-country off-season, I’ve definitely lost motivation from just doing distance runs every day of the week without much variety in the form of speed workouts or racing. Especially now that it is summer and that social distancing restrictions add more time to our schedule, there is definitely more room for exploration! If you like to run or bike, try exploring new routes, maybe at different speed intervals.
- Expand the variety of your diet instead of cutting out entire foods. Sure, it’s healthier to completely avoid fast food or a donut with your coffee, but it definitely isn’t a sustainable habit if those are some of your favorite foods. Rather than focus on what you can’t eat, look to a diet plan that will work out long-term by allowing you more flexibility. One way to start is to explore the vast array of colorful food that you may previously have overlooked in the produce section: namely, fruits and vegetables! Colorful fruits and vegetables “contain many of the vitamins and antioxidants we need – with few calories. Along with maintaining good health, the nutrients in vegetables and fruits work together to protect against cancer, heart disease, vision loss, hypertension and other diseases,” according to Mayo Clinic. Another accountability measure to try is the 80/20 rule in which you make healthier eating choices 80% of the time, with room for indulging yourself in the other 20% of your diet. The 80% portion of your meals is a great way to incorporate those colorful fruits and vegetables I mentioned into your eating, while also being able to consume foods higher in refined carbs, sugar, and saturated fat that you may enjoy with moderation.
- Be kind to your body, but firm: appreciate your rest days, but don’t overextend them! Balance is key. As a runner, I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum – I’ve definitely been guilty of overtraining by packing on too much mileage too early, which has resulted in several injuries that I could have prevented by being more careful not to overstep what my body could handle at the time. Likewise, as quarantine canceled my track season this year, I found myself making excuses to tack on too many rest days even as my shin splints recovered and I was perfectly capable of getting out to run more often than I was actually doing. That’s why we need to be kind to ourselves, knowing we need to take care of our bodies and avoid overexerting, but also firm. Sure, missing a couple exercise days won’t completely backtrack your progress, but if your injuries have recovered and you definitely have time in your schedule to work out, you are likely making excuses not to. Of course, I don’t know exactly what everyone’s personal situation may be like – sometimes, extended breaks are necessary to destress and focus on more pressing things in your life, so it’s definitely okay to take a step away from a rigorous workout plan. The most important thing is to get the ball rolling again, and do what you can to make sure it doesn’t spiral out of control but also does not come to a stop. TLDR: keep your rest days every week but don’t let them build up to take away from the fitness gains you have made so far! Rest days are just as important as your workout days.