Life happens. It’s inevitable. And one of the hardest things to do is maintain a healthy routine when life seems to derail you. Perhaps you were keeping up a steady exercise routine, eating well or cutting back on alcohol. Then you got an injury, hit a major work deadline or winter hit — you get the gist. Returning to good habits may not be as insurmountable as it seems, if you keep a few things in mind.
Cut yourself a little slack - but not too much
Maybe your healthy habits slid because you started an awesome new job at a tech startup where socializing over beers after work is the norm. Before you know it, you’ve packed on five pounds, then eight. You do your best to go back to your previous routine, but you keep slipping. If your immediate tendency is to give up when something like this happens, and then feel bad about it, you’re not alone. But guilt only gets in the way of progress. Don’t let a slip become a slide down the mountain, because with a little bit of planning, you can regain your healthy habits in no time.
Redefine exercise for the stage you are in life
And by “stage,” I don’t mean “age.” Things can happen in your 20s that affect your ability to focus on your health, just as they can happen in your 40s. Whether you’re recovering from an injury, facing a longer commute or taking care of ill parents, we all end up having to adjust our approach to health multiple times during our lifetime.
These transitions can be more challenging for people who were athletes or who devoted a lot of time to exercise.That certainly happened to me when I found myself short on time due to a busy career and a long commute. As someone who used to run distance, I had to mentally adjust my definition of a “good workout” to something shorter, less frequent, mostly indoors, and I added variation to keep up my interest.
This trap of focusing on what used to work may keep you from considering other exercise that could work right now. Shifting your mindset can certainly be challenging — and sometimes frustrating! —but it’s a worthy exercise in flexibility that will help you adjust and maintain a healthy lifestyle that fits your current stage of life.
Willpower is an enviable trait, but rather than focusing on a trait you may or may not feel you have, focus on a verb that you can keep up your sleeve: strategize. People who strategize are most likely to keep up a steady pace and find ways to meet their goals. Going out for dinner? Read the online menu and make your healthy choice prior to getting to the restaurant. Tend to lose motivation to exercise after work? Try exercising in the morning. Or, bring your gym clothes to work and change into them before you leave the office. Trying to cut down to less than one drink a night but keep finding yourself buying a second round at the bar with coworkers? Consider substituting the second round with a healthy non-alcoholic beverage (like sparkling water with lemon or water infused with cucumber). It may not seem as much fun at first, but when it’s easier to wake up and go to the gym the next morning, you’ll be proud of last night’s willpower. There are a myriad of ways to strategize for different things, commit to finding strategies that are right for you.
Schedule exercise — literally
This can be the key strategy for some people, particularly new moms. When the priority is on children, spouses or work, many parents put their own exercise last on the list. If you schedule exercise on your calendar, you give it the importance it deserves. Be as accountable to your own health as you would be to a work appointment. Will it mean juggling your partner’s schedule? Probably. Does it mean you can only get to the gym twice a week? Maybe. Give yourself the opportunity to be a healthy, confident parent to your children. Besides, studies show positive correlations between exercise and improved brain function, as well as reduced tension, anxiety and depression.
Start (or restart) somewhere. Don’t discount small steps.
Unless your doctor has indicated a need for a drastic lifestyle change, start at a pace that’s sustainable. If you feel overwhelmed by making three healthy meals a day, focus first on lunch. If you aren’t confident about getting back into running, don’t pressure yourself, but don't stall either. Begin with a comfortable walk for just fifteen minutes after dinner, three times a week. Strategize how you will slowly increase your pace or distance over the next few weeks to months.
Focus on the intangibles and your inspiration.
The scale or your waistline are only small parts of your story. Maybe you feel more confident in all aspects of your life, including at work, when you actively work to be healthy. If you’re a parent, consider how valuable it is to model healthy habits. It helps me personally to remember how much better I feel both physically and mentally when I keep up with exercise.
Try to look at health as a lifetime of awareness and a journey, so you’ll be better-equipped to manage it when life throws the unexpected your way.