Here you are-the woman who has it all or is at least well on her way. Unfortunately, however, you’re also doing it all. You’re committed to looking good and being fit, and to get the body you want, you know you need to put in some serious time at the gym, on the bike path, on the tennis court, wherever.
Problem is, your life doesn’t stop to allow you to do so, at least not easily. Fitness is a big priority, but not your only one–there’s your job, important papers, your husband or boyfriend, kids, pets, social obligations, car repairs, etc. With all this vying for your attention, it’s all too easy to blow off a workout here and there. Before you know it, your good intentions to maintain a serious exercise program and healthy diet could be out the window.
Take heart: If you want to overcome rather than succumb to stress and/or couch potatohood, try these nine habits for highly effective fitness.
- Determine What’s Important
This may seem like a no-brainer, but we often just don’t take the time to see the forest for the trees. Tom Bay, a time-management consultant and author of the soon-to-be-published Look Within or Do Without: The 13 Qualities Winners All Have(Career Press), challenges you to ask yourself, “What are the 3-5 things in my life that are really important to me?” Whether they’re religion, family, career, fitness, money or something else, spend your time on the activities that support your core values.
Bay explains: “The further your behavior strays from your core values, the more stress you will feel. There are 1,440 minutes in every day; this never changes. Remember that everything comes down to 1) factors you control and 2) factors you don’t control. You must take care of yourself before you can take care of others.”
As a reader of M&F; Hers, you know how important health and fitness are. But if you don’t make your fitness goals a top priority, the multitude of demands in your life will make it all too easy to shrug off exercise just for today, then the next day and the next.
Celebrated fitness guru Kathy Smith observes in her book, Getting Better All the Time: Shape Up, Eat Smart, Feel Great! (Warner Books, 1999): “The truth [is] that people who’ve succeeded [with fitness] don’t have more time or fewer problems. It’s just that they’ve chosen to make good health a high enough priority; they’ve discovered ways of adjusting their schedules and lives in order to exercise and eat right.”
- Eliminate Time-Wasters
Do you really need to be on three church committees? Bake instead of buy cookies for the PTA meeting? Answer the phone every time it rings even though you’re busy and the answering machine is on?
Think about what’s already on your schedule before you try to squeeze in yet another thing. As Bay says, even something as seemingly innocuous as adopting a pet can represent a significant chunk of time in feeding, cleanup, vet visits and arranging for pet-sitters.
- Shoot For Sixes
Do you expect too much of yourself? Smith offers a novel approach to simplifying: “Shoot for sixes. I’m a firm believer that we need to lower our expectations. We can’t always score tens in life nor expect those around us to be perfect either. Lower the bar.”
Too often, we beat ourselves up for not getting everything done that we set out to do in any given day. Instead, take a realistic look at your endless to-do list, then throw it out. Go for a short list–two or three things you really want to accomplish that day. Maybe this sounds too easy, but it works. You’ll feel good because you’ve accomplished your goal, and you won’t have all those lower-priority items to distract you or perhaps serve as excuses for not tackling your major project.
Still can’t stand to see all those empty spaces in your day planner? Rather than overbooking yourself and trying to fit something into every unplanned minute, remember that if things don’t go the way they should, your whole schedule will get backed up. Give yourself a break and factor in some cushion to your activities so unexpected events don’t wreak such havoc. In fact, given that we’re humans and not machines, it’s a good idea to set aside some downtime in your schedule, allowing you much-deserved moments (hopefully, hours) to rest, relax and rejuvenate.
- Know Yourself
Consider your own personality, needs, likes and dislikes when you set your fitness goals. “Examine your own rhythms,” advises Claire Walter, co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fitness(Alpha Books, 2000). “If you are a morning person, schedule your workouts early in the day so you’ll have the best chance to succeed. Some people get up early for a walk, run or swim to jump-start the day.
“Do you like to load activities at the end of the workday? If so, evening is the time when you can make fitness a habit that will stick. Can you break away at lunch to get some outdoor exercise or to spend time at the gym? Just as it is important to know your body, it is important to analyze your patterns and see how you can make them work for you.”
- Cook Up a Storm
Many pro bodybuilders and fitness athletes prepare nutritious foods–turkey and chicken breasts, yams and brown rice–in advance, often for the entire week. They usually choose Sundays, when the pace of the day is generally more leisurely and they don’t have to worry about work. Amanda Doerrer, a criminal defense attorney and fitness competitor in San Diego, actually brings a 5-pound bag of lettuce, salad dressing, tuna, etc., into work once a week and stores them in the refrigerator so all she has to do on other weekday mornings is pack her prebagged chicken breasts. If you won’t be eating your precooked food for several days, you may want to freeze individual servings in lunchbox-ready packages.
For the sake of ease and expediency, don’t try to do anything fancy. Doerrer admits that she breaks up the monotony and, ultimately, allows herself to stay on track as an overall lifestyle by indulging in one meal a week, on Saturday, when she and her husband eat out and don’t worry too much about the fat and calorie content. “If I have a craving for pizza on Tuesday, I know that I can have it on Saturday, so there really are no forbidden foods,” she notes.
- Set a Time
Mark “train” in your day planner or Palm Pilot for a specific time and days. Schedule it before or after work or, if you have job flexibility, during your workday. Doerrer simply puts the word “appointment” and the time into her schedule. “No one ever questions it,” she says.
Going to gym classes, such as aerobics or Spinning, that start at a particular time and day can also help you fit in your workouts if you need that kind of structure to keep you on track.
- Multitask Sensibly
As most of us in modern society know, the explosion of technology is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the amazing convenience of computers, e-mail, fax machines and gadgetry that can do everything but slice your bread and walk your dog at the same time allows us to do more, in less time, than ever before. Yet it also creates the pressure to do more in less time, essentially speeding life up to a pace that can cause us to burn out and self-destruct.
Multitasking–doing more than one thing at a time–may seem de rigueur, with multitaskers and their cell phones, notebook computers and kids in tow everywhere. But don’t think you have to do it. Many of us go to the gym to just train; we want to get away from the electronic interruptions. In fact, training may be your great escape. If so, unplug and enjoy your freedom.
Need to multitask at the gym just to fit everything in? Doerrer reads the legal publications necessary to keep abreast of developments in her profession while she does cardio. Cynthia Bridges, a personal trainer and fitness competitor in Simi Valley, California, makes calls on her cell phone while on the treadmill; listens to the music for her choreographed routines while driving; and chooses a gym with daycare and activities for her kids so she can check on them between sets. Fitness competitor-turned-personal trainer Theresa Hessler used to work out, then eat her oatmeal and egg-white breakfast at the gym while drying her hair and getting dressed to go to work as a legal assistant.
Still, common sense dictates that you shouldn’t go overboard with multitasking. In and of itself, it can stress you out and make you appear scatterbrained. All three women monitor their heart rate while doing cardio, so any secondary activities don’t have too much of a negative impact. Even so, they say it’s important to give wind sprints and serious cardio sessions your full attention. The key is to know when to multitask and when to focus on just one activity at a time.
- Be Consistent
“What’s the secret to health and fitness success?” asks Smith. “The answer: Be consistent. Be consistent. Be consistent. Exercise and self-care are not an on- and off-again proposition. It’s a daily one. If you don’t have time to do your regular workout in its entirety, you don’t abandon the whole thing. . . [you do what you can.]
“The hardest aspect of exercise is starting again after not doing it for a while. Once you choose to make exercise a daily part of your life, you start to see opportunities for it where before you saw only barriers.”
- Have Fun
Variety is the spice of life, and this certainly applies to your workouts. It’s crucial to do different things in your exercise routine and up the ante periodically to not only garner greater health benefits and visible results but also to keep yourself challenged and interested while boosting your self-esteem. Says Walter: “After you get into workout mode, it’s important to keep pushing yourself to reach your goals. If you get to a certain point in your program and don’t increase the challenge and/or duration, it’s like putting your car into cruise control. You’ll be making a journey, but you won’t be revving up the engine.” The lesson here, as any serious fitness enthusiast knows, is to push beyond the comfort zone.
Keeping these nine points in mind will remind you that your fitness goals are indeed attainable and can help you stay motivated and on track. As Bridges observes, “Women shouldn’t feel guilty about taking time for themselves; it will boost self-esteem and help them be a better person, wife, mother, everything.”