Do you find yourself repeatedly trying to get back in the groove of exercise and creating better habits? Many times, it is because the goals and habits you're trying to create are too broad or too grand. The best way to attack something is to start small and achievable. Here are 5 simple ways to improve your mental and physical health:
1. Bring Mindfulness Into Your Meals
Mindfulness is your mental ability to be fully present and aware of what you are doing and act accordingly to how you're feeling. When we bring mindfulness into our food and nutrition, we create space to consume what and how much we need. A few ways to create mindfulness with eat are to remove distractions, remove guilt, and add gratitude.
Oftentimes, we consume our meals while sitting and catching up on the latest episode or scrolling our phones instead of being fully present with our plates. Sounds corny- I know, but by removing distractions, it creates space for thoughtfulness and senses when it's time to eat. An awareness thought to habitual have when sitting with a plate is. "How is this going to serve me?". This simple thought will create space for you to choose what on your plate is going to bring you the most nutritional satisfaction or soulful satisfaction (because sometimes we need that too!) and prioritize that. A common thing I follow with my meals is to eat what I need first and finish with what I want. As you are working through your meal, frequently check in with yourself and your fullness. Have you eaten the things that are going to make you feel good and are in line with your current goals? If you're close to the end of your meal, have you eaten enough and would feel satisfied to walk away now?
2. Be More Active
I know, I know. In the fitness community, this is heard endlessly because it is true and one of the easiest ways to improve overall health. This doesn't mean 2 a day workouts and making everything exercise-related, it means getting up and doing things that get you moving and feel good.
Let's get a little science-y. The chart above shows the daily energy expenditure. There are two main contributors to how our bodies burn energy: resting metabolic rate and non-resting metabolic rate. These are the amount of energy (calories) burned by just existing and the energy burned your movement and activity throughout the day, respectively. Looking deeper into NREE, we see three categories: EAT (energy used for exercise), TEF (energy used to process and digest food), and NEAT (energy used for your non-exercise daily activity). We can see in this chart that NEAT has a larger contribution to our daily expenditure than EAT. This is because it is likely you spend more time walking, doing housework, taking care of your kids, etc. than exercising daily. When we spend more time on our feet doing typical daily tasks, it requires more energy bodies to sustain those activities. By going out on more walks, taking the stairs, parking a little farther, and doing those chores we've been putting off. By being more active not only may we see physical changes, but improved mood and motivation, improved posture, and improvements in heart health. You may think, "I don't have time for walking or house cleaning, etc, why can't I just spend more time doing cardio?". Would seem reasonable right? There are two things here that I can expand on more another time but to sum it up, health is based on sustainability over your lifetime. While spending more time at the gym sounds like a good trade-off, the likeliness of a person spending extra time daily for cardio is low throughout their lifetime and as our bodies adapt to the stressors we put on them, it'll take longer cardio sessions to burn the same amount of calories.
3. Track your food intake
Let me preface this one by saying that this is not a method made for everyone nor is it sustainable in the long term. This, tied in with the first point here, will help with food awareness by what portion sizes look like according to your body and goals. Protein is the common macronutrient that is under-consumed but plays a greater role in satiation, remember that chart up there? Protein has a higher thermic effect than fats or carbs, meaning your body uses more energy to digest protein which makes it a "fat-burning" macro. There is so much to learn when it comes to weighing and tracking food. You can begin to understand how your weight fluctuations are impacted by the nutrition you're providing. I recommend trying and tracking for 2 weeks to a month. Don't overthink it, simply weigh out the portions you're planning on having per meal and be mindful of how full and energized, as well as how it has impacted your weight the following day. Food scales are relatively inexpensive (Amazon) and there are many tracking applications like MyFoodPal and LifeSum for inputting. If you find that tracking creates an unhealthy relationship or stress around food, take a step back and work towards having more balanced thoughts and feelings with food.
4. Find a gym or fitness facility that suits you
To me, this is one of the most important factors in pursuit of being more active and exercising regularly. Showing up to a place that reinforces your discipline and motivation will make all the difference in how you show up for yourself. There are a variety of options available at your access depending on what your interests and preferences are. For some, going to a "meathead" gym where everyone is powerlifting may feel more empowering, whereas others may find that a quiet, quaint gym is more suitable for them and having the confidence to show up there. If weight-lifting isn't your vibe, look into fitness classes where you can join as a member and attend regularly like lagree, cycling, yoga, boxing, F45, the list literally goes on and on! No matter what it is, you should choose a facility where you walk in feeling comfortable and authentic being you and aligns with your fitness goals. If you find yourself in a place passing judgment, comparing yourself, or feeling uneasy, this is not the one for you! I love free passes, not only do they provide you access to a new place to discover what it has to offer you but you also get to see the dynamic of that facility and if it's suitable to you and your needs. Take advantage of them in your area!
5. Hire a personal trainer
Yeah, this probably sounds like it will be a little self-promo, bare with me. In conjunction with the last tip, many fitness facilities will offer you a few free sessions with a trainer in their facility upon membership sign up. This is a great opportunity for new gym go-ers to learn how to use equipment and also get a few lessons in proper form and weight selection from someone familiar with the space. Sometimes, the hold back on exercise is the lack of a workout partner which is another reason to hire a trainer. You get companionship from someone who is also there to support your specific goals with their knowledge. A good trainer, like a good gym, will empower you and boost your self-esteem. As a trainer, the most gratification for me comes from a client who accomplishes something they once thought was unattainable, like creating a regular exercise routine or a deadlifting PR. It is a symbiotic relationship, where both trainer and client get to learn from each other.