It is that time of the year. Days are getting longer, the sun is getting shinier and that layer of winter fat around the hips is harder to conceal without a raincoat. Friends start getting on a diet, joining a gym, hitting the trail.
Diets do not work, or rather, they never worked for me. The gym is boring and the chances to stick with it, slim. Here’s what has worked for me, simple ideas for a healthier, fitter, less stressed life:
1. Rekindle your college passions
Remember how much you enjoyed participating in sports in college? As much as watching them, right? No need to reinvent the wheel. Whether it was soccer, synchronized swimming, karate or tennis, there is no better, easier way to get moving again than picking up where you left. No learning curve, no need for beginner lessons and plenty of old buddies to share your passion with. Plus the added psychological bonus of feeling free to pretend you are still 21, living in a dorm and without a worry in a world.
2. If you can only chose one, make it a team sport
This is a no brainer. Lonely pursuits are, well… lonely. There’s nothing like peer pressure and the expectation that you cannot let your team down to get you out of bed and into the court/rink/field/track. So if you can chose, chose a team sport.
3. Buy the most expensive athletic shoes you can
And put them in a place where you are going to see them every day (in front of your door, by your bed, in your bathroom!) The constant reminder of the need to amortize your shoes investment will help you find motivation. They are shiny and new and are screaming “show me around!” Note: it works also with any other kind of recreational equipment: skis, skates, tennis racquet, board, weights… even kayaks!
4. Never shop for groceries hungry
Research demonstrates that hungry shoppers tend to buy more and select more prepared meal solutions. Make a list and stick to it. The best time to shop is Saturday morning only AFTER a massive breakfast. You will gladly pass on those buttery cookies and creamy cheeses that you would otherwise jam into your grocery bag.
5. Dine at home
Studies show that meals eaten with others are, on average, 44% larger than meals eaten alone. In addition, meals prepared at home have an average lower caloric content then similar restaurant dishes. No tips required.
6. “Room for dessert?” No, thanks.
If you do eat out, pass on the dessert. I know it is tempting, the special menu and all, but remember that restaurant desserts easily pack in excess of 1000 calories. Also, you may want to note that restaurants make most of their profit margins from your armless guilty pleasures: wine and desserts.
7. Happy hour, fatty hour.
Talking about drinks, an average mixed drink contains easily at least 300 calories. And you tend to consume it at night, the worst time of the day for calorie intake. So a little restraint at happy hour time goes a long way. A friend told me once she only orders Vodka Tonic as it is the leanest of mixed drinks. Not sure about that, but feel free to take her advice.
8. Never take the escalator
Stairs (walking upstairs, but also walking downstairs) are an excellent low-impact cardio-vascular exercise. They are everywhere so opportunities abound. You do not need equipment. Plus, they’ll get your endorphins going so you’ll be more energized and likable in that staff meeting.
9. Give up your cable subscription
I did this back in 2003 and never regretted it (well, maybe I do regret it come NBA Finals time…). As a complete sucker/addict for TV and videogames (I can spend literally days on end playing) I had to force myself to the pace of Netflix’s mail delivery. It is hard to overstate how much time a television-less lifestyle frees up. And while you can replace TV time with the other screens in your life, you can also chose to go out, walk, workout, meditate, cook and many other pursuits that better your existence.
10. Sell your car
This is the hardest one, and a bit hypocritical of me, since I do own one. But I have conducted a car-free existence for long stretches of time, a total of 4 years over the past 10, and I can attest to the fact that, for some combination of factors, all things equal, this action alone is the one that can have the biggest impact on your overall health and fitness. You walk more, carry your grocery bags, start using a bike for commuting, become more disciplined with your schedule (least you miss the last bus home). Take two people with the same genes, the same jobs, the same family, the same hobbies, one owning a car and one not. I bet I can tell you which one is which just by looking at them.