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Most people would like to improve their overall fitness level, whether they are morbidly obese or whether they are simply not quite as spry or strong as they’d like to be. But working a fitness routine into an already busy day can be challenging, and going “on a diet” is not most people’s idea of fun.
What if there were some way you could work toward your weight management and muscle maintenance goals, without going to the gym or dieting? Here are few easy tricks that can make a real health difference without even trying.
1. Carry your lunch to school or work. Instead of being at the mercy of whatever your local fast food joint, corner deli, or in-house cafeteria is serving up, you will do better to control the ingredients and portions yourself. Not only that, but carrying your own lunch saves time—no waiting in lines or going out—and can potentially save a ton of money. Packing your own lunch is an absolute win, all the way around.
2. Park further out in the parking lot. Walking those few extra steps every trip will add up, and will be good for you. A brisk walk from the car to the door won’t take much more—if any at all—time than it does to circle the parking lot two or three times looking for a spot close to the building or to wait for someone else to pull out of the spot you want.
As a bonus, this method might help reduce stress—no rising blood pressure when someone cuts you off, no worries about door dings, and no sqeeeeeeezing into a narrow spot beside someone parked crooked. Just park out in the north forty by yourself, and boom—no worries.
3. Keep snacks in the car. We’ve all been there: running late from work, or stuck doing errands that take forever, rolling right past mealtime and unable to stop ourselves from stopping somewhere for a quick candy bar or order of French fries to stave off hunger pangs. The problem with grabbing junk food on the run is that it’s just empty calories—a quick fix that doesn’t hold us for long. Instead, try carrying sensible food that can be eaten out-of-hand when you head out for the day. Take a few minutes before leaving to cut up a few chunks of cheese, core and slice an apple or raw produce, grab a home-baked muffin or slice of bread, or toss some nuts and dried fruit into a zip-top bag or plastic container. These make great alternatives to expensive and often-unhealthy single-serving food purchases.
4. Read labels. So-called “health foods” can be misleading. Foods like energy drinks and granola bars can be full of calories and sugar. What’s really in there, and is it doing you more harm than good to eat it? Remember that unpronounceable ingredients are probably not good for you, especially if you wouldn’t find a container of it in your kitchen cabinet or grocery store aisle. A few minutes spent educating yourself can pay off big.
5. Don’t buy junk food in bulk packages. Sure, it’s cheaper per chip and per candy corn, but is it really your goal to spend the least possible money to increase your blood sugar and cholesterol? Once it’s in your house, you have to continue to say no to it until it’s gone. Maybe you are not tempted by a bowl-full of candy on the coffee table or at your workstation, but most people buy the kind of snacks they like best and have the hardest time refusing. Don’t torture yourself by keeping it around. Instead, make a special trip out to the store for a single serving of corn chips or chocolate on days that you just can’t live without it, and keep your home and workplace free of temptation the rest of the time.
6. Brush and floss your teeth right after your evening meal. This accomplishes two things. First, it will help you say no thanks to snacks later. When my husband dips into the cookie jar after I’ve already done my teeth and I have to choose between foregoing a sweet or brushing and flossing again, I almost always say no to the cookie. Second, it will make you more apt to be diligent about dental hygiene. For me, if I get overly comfy on the couch in the evening, it becomes all too easy to skip flossing, “just this once.” Doing it before I relax ensures it gets done.
7. Pay attention to portion control. Just a handful of healthy pecans or dried cranberries—what can it hurt, right? Nothing, as long as it’s really just a “handful.” I tend to over-graze, and just a nibble here and there can add up to a lot of food. Instead of returning to the snack stash for just one bite again and again, I do better to portion out a little dish of snacks ahead of time. And for those snack packages that announce low calorie counts on the front, be sure to check out the fine print on the back and to see if that number was for the whole package—which of course you are going to eat—or just a small fraction of it.
8. Take the stairs. Every. Single. Time. Unless you are injured or sick or carrying a heavy load, opt for the stairs. If there are more than two or three floors in the buildings you frequent and you are not in shape for that, you can start by taking the stairs down and the elevator up and then gradually increasing your efforts. Riding the elevator for three floors and walking up just one, is still better than riding the elevator up four floors. Once you get into the habit of taking the stairs, you’ll find that just those few extra steps can really become a fitness routine in itself.
9. Take every pound and calorie seriously. Nobody goes to bed one night in medium-sized pajamas and wakes up the next morning tipping the scales at 500 pounds. It goes on one pound at a time. People often say, “Oh, what’s a few cookies?” and tell me not to worry about a few pounds because I “can afford it.” But they are wrong. While there might be some people who stay thin no matter what they eat, most of us have to work hard to maintain a healthy weight. I do allow myself plenty of treats, but I say no thanks to excess. And while I don’t panic over a few pounds, I know that ignoring them is folly.
These simple strategies are great ways to incorporate fitness and health into your everyday routine. Once started, they will soon become habits that can bring about measurable results with barely noticeable effort.
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