By Nicci Micco, M.S.
Maybe you’ve always considered yourself “active” — you played sports in high school, and now you enjoy walking your dog, hiking and an occasional yoga session. But maybe you don’t have teammates or organized workouts to hold you accountable, and exercise has been replaced by other “must-dos” in your schedule. We get it: Life is busy!
But research suggests that it takes exercising 40 minutes a day, five days a week, in your 20s and 30s to keep weight from creeping on in middle age. So here are some ideas that might help you sneak in more exercise on a regular basis — even when your life is hectic.
Set specific goals
Behavioral weight-loss experts will tell you that to accomplish your goals, you need to set mini-goals that are small, specific and attainable. Exercising 40 minutes, five days a week, is certainly specific and one could say that it’s also small and attainable. But achieving your cumulative goal — exercising five days a week — probably means scheduling each individual workout into your life, particularly if you’re not currently setting aside that kind of time to work out. So at the beginning of the week, sit down with your planner and write down when you’ll run/walk/bike/hike and for how long. If it doesn’t work out, you can reschedule as necessary. But at least you’ll have a Plan A.
Hold yourself accountable
It’s way easier to exercise when you know you have teammates who are counting on you. Figure out what drives you most — whether that’s saving face on social media, where you may have put your fitness challenge out there for all to read; losing weight and looking good in your clothes; feeling alive and healthy; or material rewards (e.g., a new pair of jeans) for a job well done. Use that motivation to help you meet your goals.
Ask for help
If you’ve got kids, a job or other responsibilities (and that’s most of us!), you might need to ask for help. Maybe that means asking your partner to watch the kids so you can hop on the treadmill, or asking a work colleague if she’d be willing to turn your usual Monday morning work check-in into a walking meeting. Or maybe it means polling your other friends to see who would be willing to help hold you accountable for your goals–or better yet, join you on your fitness journey!
Get strategic about meal planning
Make friends with two strategic partners in your kitchen: your freezer and your slow cooker. Ready-to-go meals that you’ve made ahead and stockpiled in the freezer can be real exercise-savers when you have time to work out or cook dinner — not both. Soups and casseroles are the easiest way to use your freezer to your advantage, but you can also get a jump on prep time when you take the time to make burger-sized patties out of a pound of ground beef before freezing, or stockpile fast-thawing, fast-cooking chicken tenders in your freezer. And don’t forget about your slow cooker; it can buy you time to jog while it quietly does its thing on the countertop.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)