The world of health and fitness can be confusing.
Recommendations change. Studies conflict each other. A food is a super food, and then it’s to be avoided. A new exercise is the only way to health, and then it’s dangerous.
I’ve come to realize it’s not exactly which diet or exercise you choose, just that you commit wholeheartedly to something. There’s not one key that will unlock the door to health and wellness.
The secret to a healthier life is to find what works for you, then to stick with it.
Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to stay committed — and it’s way too easy to fall off the health and fitness wagon. It’s hard to stay on a healthy path for weeks, months, and years, but that’s what it takes to achieve real, long-lasting results.
Luckily, there are a few tricks you can use to improve your chances of sticking with a new diet and exercise plan. If you’ve had trouble with consistency, here are five tips for sticking with a healthy routine over the long haul.
1. Make an Appointment
An app like ClassPass, in which you pay a monthly fee and can visit a variety of gyms, is a wonderful tool for someone who has no trouble sticking with an exercise routine. If you are a fitness enthusiast who loves working out, bouncing around from class to class every week might keep things fresh.
ClassPass does have some accountability — once you sign up for a class via the app, you do pay a fine if you cancel within within hours of the class or don’t show up. However, it’s on you to sign up for a class in the first place. If you have trouble motivating yourself to work out, flitting from gym to gym is not a great way to establish an exercise habit.
Outside accountability is the best way to make sure you stick with a new routine. One way to create that accountability is to hire a personal trainer. Nothing will get you out of bed faster than knowing someone is waiting for you to show up. When I was still boxing, I had a once-a-week 6:30am training session with my trainer that I never missed, because I couldn’t stand the thought of him standing alone in an empty gym. Not to mention the wasted money from skipping a session.
If you don’t want to pay for a personal trainer, enlist a friend as a running partner or a gym buddy. Knowing you’ll get a “where are you?” text if you don’t show works wonders.
2. Plan Ahead
Before I figured out how to make exercise a non-negotiable part of my life, the biggest obstacle preventing me from becoming fit was my couch.
I’d work all day, come home, and flop down on the couch for “just a minute” — and then I’d never get up. One day, I had the bright idea to pack a bag in the morning and go straight from work to the gym. “They have changing rooms for a reason,” I thought. “May as well use them.”
It worked. Instead of going home, I pointed my car to the gym. Once there, I really had no choice but to work out. After exercising, I walked in the door of my house feeling victorious and energized, instead of listless and unmotivated.
The whole thing was a silly mind-game with myself, because there was nothing actually preventing me from going straight home after work. But something about having spent the time to pack a workout bag and then not using it was too much for me to bear. After a few weeks, I started to love my after-work gym routine, and from that point forward regular exercise became a habit.
A similar strategy works with nutrition. Sitting around thinking, “I really should eat better,” is not going to work, especially if your house is filled with junk food and you have no idea what good nutrition entails.
Pick a nutrition plan (and, no, starving yourself is not a nutrition plan) and commit to it. Fill your house with delicious food and prepare food in advance for when you know you’ll be short on time. I promise you, if you’ve put the work into preparing it and spent the money on it already, you’ll be more likely to eat it.
3. Pick Something Difficult You Enjoy
Unless you have a will of steel and a high tolerance for being bored, the treadmill is never going to be your path to fitness. It’s just too boring. There’s nothing to master and no skill involved.
The treadmill is fine as a supplement to your fitness plan, but the secret to sticking with an activity is to pick something you enjoy that also requires some skill. People become obsessed with golf because it’s difficult, often frustratingly so. There’s always something to improve. A sport like that gets its hooks in your brain and pushes you to keep working until you improve.
We all have different activities that light up our brains — for me, it’s surfing, but yours could be ballet or mountain biking or yoga or triathlons. If you don’t yet know what that activity is for you, keep looking. You’ll have fun in your search, and when you find your “thing,” you’ll never be short on motivation again. It’s worth getting off the treadmill and finding your passion.
4. Make It Public
Part of wholeheartedly committing to something is telling others about your new way of life. The Whole Life Challenge has teams for that reason. As part of a team, you have a group of people who can keep you motivated, on track, and accountable.
In addition to your online Whole Life Challenge team, or if you’re not currently playing the Challenge, ask a few people you see regularly to check in on your progress. Knowing your friend Joe is going to ask you on Friday if you avoided eating out all week may be the motivation you need to prepare your meals ahead of time on Sunday.
Making a post on social media, while very public, lacks the personal accountability you need to make this work. If it’s addressed to everyone, nobody has ownership. A better strategy is to choose a friend or relative and ask that person to hold you accountable with regularly scheduled check-ins.
If it feels like a burden to request this of someone, offer to trade healthy favors with them — you’ll ask them if they did their daily stretching if they ask you about your nutrition.
5. Spend Some Money
Money alone can’t buy good health, but investing money in your wellness can help you stay committed.
By spending money, you’re more likely to follow through and stay in the game, and the quality and results of your efforts will likely be better than when you do something for free. If it’s in your budget, a more expensive gym membership might be the thing that finally increases your attendance from sporadic to regular.
The investment does not have to be significant. As an example, the Whole Life Challenge is affordable — but not free. A small but not insubstantial financial commitment, along with the practice of logging your daily score, reinforces good habits. Putting money down may help you stay in the game for the length of the Challenge.
Taking the Reins of Your Health and Fitness Wagon
Good health is not achieved through only one lifestyle change — it’s not enough to change your diet, you also need to exercise, connect with others, and manage stress.
Creating lifelong healthy habits require a mix of strategies. One of these tips by itself may not make the difference, but employing all five is powerful. If you can make an appointment, plan ahead, find a difficult activity you enjoy, make it public, and invest some money, you have a high chance of success.