As a strength and conditioning coach, fitness takes up most of my daily life, between coaching my clients and writing about fitness; however, a busy schedule doesn’t always allow much time for me to focus on my own workouts, so I keep five habits in rotation to ensure I stay in shape. FYI: “In shape” means feeling your most energized, strongest, and healthiest—not a number on a scale or what you can lift in the gym. Whether you’re a trainer, an athlete, a weekend warrior, or just someone trying to improve their fitness, give these five habits a go. Spoiler alert: They’re easy than you think.
1. I walk, run, or bike to my destinations as often as possible
No matter what it looks like, movement is paramount to health. On days when my schedule calls for a lot of sitting or doesn’t give me enough time to dedicate to a workout, I make sure to utilize my commute. There are so many ways to get steps in and get your heart rate up before, during, or after work, as long as you’re willing to get creative. For example, try biking to work if you can (look for a shared bike program like CitiBike). If you’re able to leave your work essentials and a change of clothes at work, wake up early and run there. Too far? Try running halfway and utilizing public transportation the rest of the way. As someone who has every intention to go for a run before work, I’ve found that incorporating my run into my commute has had a way better success rate. Pro tip: Leave some shower wipes in your gym bag so you can freshen up!
If all else fails, a good old-fashioned walk on your lunch break is a great way to accumulate movement throughout the day. I live in New York City, and the moment someone referred to my walk home from work as an “urban hike,” my whole attitude about walking changed. We consider hiking great exercise, so why isn’t walking to or from work, the store, or a friend’s house just as valuable? Bottom line: Movement is always a net positive no matter how we can get it.
2. I eat whenever I’m hungry (and get plenty of protein)
One of the detrimental effects of diet culture is the idea that hunger isn’t the one and only factor to dictate when we eat. Your body is a complex capable machine, and it knows exactly when it needs fuel. One of the most important ways that I stay in shape is by eating when I’m hungry and getting plenty of protein in my diet. I don’t count calories or macros—I simply eat what I know makes me feel good. I also write down my meals, because it helps me identify which foods made me feel good throughout the day and which didn’t sustain me, or simply made me feel tired or sluggish.
In order to get enough protein for my body and lifestyle, I have two servings of protein powder every day and try to consume plenty of protein from whole foods, such as beans, legumes, tofu, lentils, nuts, and seitan. For people who consume animal protein, eggs, chicken, turkey, and salmon are other excellent sources of protein. Make sure to also eat carbohydrates and fats for a healthy, balanced diet, and remember that every body needs different things. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist about the amount of protein that is right for you.
3. I take the stairs every single time
Whenever possible, I take the stairs. Instead of spending time on the Stairmaster at the gym, skip the elevator and climb your way to your destination. Taking the stairs will get your heart rate up (even if you take it slowly) and puts your quads, glutes, and hamstrings to work. Going up to the 10th floor? Start with a few flights of stairs before you opt for the elevator. Building up the number of flights you can climb is a great way to improve your fitness with measurable results.
4. I drink plenty of water and limit my caffeine intake after 5 p.m.
Hydration is a tremendous part of fitness. If you are dehydrated, you’re likely to feel fatigued, confuse thirst signals for hunger signals, and have blood sugar spikes, headaches, and poor mental and physical performance. By drinking water as often as possible, you are helping your body stay at its sharpest and highest-functioning level, prevent false hunger cues, regulate body temperature, and replenish water lost in sweat.
As a coach with a packed schedule of early mornings and late nights, I do rely on caffeine to help me get through my day, whether it’s in the form of coffee, energy drinks, or pre-workout supplements. While everyone chooses to drink their caffeine differently, one thing we can all agree on is the way in which caffeine negatively affects our sleep when it’s consumed later in the day. For me, limiting caffeine intake after 5 p.m. has helped me fall asleep more easily and stay asleep throughout the night. Sleep is one of the most important ways to improve and maintain fitness, so limiting caffeine later in the day is a great way to make sure you get that much-needed, restful night’s sleep.
5. I make sure to break a sweat at least once a day
Let’s face it: Life happens and things out of our control can get in the way of getting our sweat in. But my one and only hard-and-fast rule? Break a sweat somehow, some way, once a day. On an ideal day, I have the time to get a full workout in. Most days, however, I fit in what I can, when I can. For example, I’ll opt for a quick sweat session, like 100 burpees in my kitchen before I hop into the shower or a half-mile run around the block at an all-out effort (after a quarter-mile warmup, of course!) while my coffee is brewing.
As long as I break a sweat once a day, I’m satisfied, even if it’s not a full workout. In the long run, keeping up the habit of incorporating fitness into our daily lives is more important than the details of each workout. Remember that we are a product of our daily habits, not the things we do occasionally, so keep making fitness a daily habit and you will feel results.