By Nicci Micco, March 21, 2011 - 11:35am
I’ve always considered myself “active”—I did track in high school and have danced most of my life. In the last decade I’ve run two marathons. I feel at home in a yoga studio. But even though I love to exercise, I’m not super-consistent with it, particularly now that I have two kids under the age of 3. I do yoga a couple times a year. I jog a few miles twice a week, tops. Recently, I went two months without exercising at all.
So when one of my EatingWell colleagues reported it takes exercising 40 minutes a day, 5 days a week, in your twenties and thirties to keep weight from creeping on in middle age, I felt even worse about my increasingly sedentary life. (How do you manage your weight? Weigh in at EatingWell’s diet community, Losing Well.) So far, I’ve been able to maintain my (healthy) weight with my sporadic exercise and mostly sensible eating. But if science has anything to say about it, that deal may come with an expiration date.
I need to figure out how to fit in fitness—and fast. But with two young boys (one who rarely sleeps through the night) and a full-time writing workload, I wasn’t sure I could meet this recommendation for even one week. But I wanted to try. So I asked my editor if I could blog about it, figuring that making exercise part of my job would help me get it done. (Find out how many calories you can burn in 10 minutes here.)
Did I make it? Yes and no. I only exercised four days and only for a little less than 30 minutes on three of them. But I’m considering it a success. (For one, my intensity was a little more than moderate: I ran 3 miles on the treadmill on three of the days and 4 miles on another. For two, this is twice as much as I exercise on a typical good week.)
I also want to note that this was a particularly hard week: I had to sidestep zero-degree temperatures, a couple feet of snow, my son’s doctor visit and daycare closures—which makes me feel hopeful that when the weather is nicer and flu season is over it will be even easier to meet these recommendations. For example, I can walk the boys down to the park in the double stroller. Down and back equals 40 minutes of moderate activity. Or I can jog with my younger son in a stroller while my husband pulls our older guy in the bike trailer. Everyone wins!
How did I make it work?
1. I set goals. As a behavioral weight-loss expert, I know that to accomplish your goals, you need to set ones that are small, specific and attainable. (Exercising 40 minutes, 5 days a week, is certainly specific and one could say that it’s also small and attainable.) But you also need to schedule the goals into your life. So at the beginning of the week, I sat down with my planner and wrote down when I would run and for how long (yes, I still use a paper planner). If it didn’t work out, I could reschedule—and this happened twice. But at least I had a Plan A. (Check out these cool tools to help you set fitness and weight-loss goals.)
2. I made myself accountable. No one was paying me to exercise, per se, but because I’d volunteered to blog about my fit-in-fitness week, I had to do it. I didn’t want to have to admit failure, but, more important, I didn’t want to be a job slacker. When it comes to work, I pride myself on always delivering what I promise. Figure out what drives you most—whether that’s saving face, loving the feeling of your muscles in motion or the shower after a sweat session, fitting into 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.
3. I asked for help. Two of my runs happened on a weekend and they wouldn’t have happened at all if my husband hadn’t agreed to take care of the kids so I could hop on the treadmill. It’s no wonder research links social support with weight-loss success. (For more tips for cultivating social support in exercise and weight-loss efforts, click here.)
4. I relied on my freezer. On a typical day, I stop working around 5 p.m. to “compile” dinner from ingredients I’ve chopped up the night before. Sometimes, I’ll start cooking—from scratch—earlier. Twice during this fit-in-fitness week, I pulled out ready-to-go meals I had in the freezer. One night it was chili; another, barley soup. My freezer currently isn’t stocked to support this habit long-term, but it’s big enough to accommodate lots and lots of meals, so a Sunday’s worth of cooking might hook me up for a whole week! (Find yummy healthy recipes that freeze well here.) I’m thinking I can call upon my slow cooker to buy me some exercise time too. I’ll jog while dinner cooks in a Crock-Pot. (What can you make—that’s good for you—in a Crock-Pot? Lots of great meals!) Good deal. Of course, if you like cooking every night, there are plenty of other places from which you can “borrow time” to exercise: for example, skip the coffee date with your girlfriends and go for a walk together instead; watch your favorite TV show only if you’re moving on a treadmill while you tune in.
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