Like most people, you resolved to dive into a healthier lifestyle this year. But you may already be doomed for failure if you’ve set goals that are too lofty. To prevent that, we asked experts to recommend monthly mini-goals that are easy to achieve—motivating you to take on more.
Quit exercising to lose weight or “get healthy.” Most people abandon that plan because achieving these goals are too far down the road, according to new research from Michelle Segar, associate director of the Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center at University of Michigan. “We’re more motivated to do anything in life that gives us immediate satisfaction,” says Segar. “Think about how exercise makes you happier, less stressed, and more energetic now. That’s what you want to focus on.”
Set your sights on a charity event scheduled during the fall. Whether you’re interested in running, biking, swimming, or walking, you can find a fun activity that benefits a cause close to your heart. “Knowing your efforts are helping others is the ultimate motivator,” says Jeanette Soloma Hale, a healthy living and fitness coach in St. Paul, Minnesota. Invite friends or family to participate (and start training) with you.
Most of us don’t get our daily recommended three servings a day, says Jae Berman, RD based in San Francisco, California. They’re rich in antioxidants and fiber, low in calories, and keep you feeling fuller longer. “The best way to increase your vegetable intake is to always have a container of them on hand to munch on. So cook them in bulk: Roast peppers or squash, saute greens or asparagus, steam broccoli or cauliflower,” says Berman. You can also add your favorite in-season veggies to a fruit smoothie.
Whether you decide to power walk down your local streets or bike along a wooded trail, the distractions of your surroundings can make exercise feel less like a chore and more like a gratifying daily habit. “As a result, you’ll end up going a lot farther than if you’d been walled in,” says Kristen Anderson, a personal trainer in West Hollywood, California. Stimulation from nature also impacts your brain in positive ways. Researchers at England’s University of Essex analyzed more than 1,200 people and found that even five minutes of “green” exercise (any activity within nature) boosted one’s mood and self-esteem.
A study from the journal Obesity found that obese dieters who drank two cups of water before each meal lost five pounds more than a group of dieters who did not increase their H2O intake. A year later, the water-drinkers had also kept off more weight. The same researchers had previously reported that older adults who drank two cups of water 30 minutes before breakfast ate about 75 fewer calories—or 13 percent less—than the non-drinking group. Researchers speculate that water consumption may spark the body to produce more heat, boosting metabolism and burning more calories. Another explanation: Drinking water may help people stave off sipping high-calorie, sugar-filled beverages.
Research conducted by Segar found that women who work out with friends spend an average of 40 percent more time exercising than those who sweat solo. One reason: Teaming up with a friend can turn a walk, run, or cycling session from an activity once regarded as tedious into something you look forward to. “Many who have stayed active for years say it’s either because of the friendships they’ve created around fitness or the accountability working out with friends instills,” says Segar.
Logging what you eat keeps you accountable and also helps you zero in on ways to improve your diet you may not have realized before. Maybe you’ll note that you never eat breakfast on Wednesdays because you have a standing early morning appointment. Or, perhaps you always grab a cookie or sweet treat to get you over the afternoon slump. If an old-fashioned pen and notebook isn’t for you, consider downloading a free app, such as Lose It and My Plate.
Based on what you learned from your food journal last month, pick a nutrition goal you can easily reach. For instance, pack a snack of carrots and celery to avoid mid-afternoon sweets. “We often fail because we set unrealistic expectations or we try to change too much at once. Instead, make a small but healthy difference in your diet that’s achievable,” says Berman.
“I had a client that went from getting no exercise to swimming an hour a day because I showed him waterproof headphones,” says Berman. At the top of Soloma Hale’s list of go-to tech buddies is the new Striiv Playsmart Pedometer. “Games that have you scoring points in a series of challenges as you walk throughout your day are super motivating. It also has a walkathon feature, where Striiv will donate money on behalf of its users’ movement,” says Soloma Hale. According to the company, 60 percent of users lost at least 13 pounds.
Sex is an important part of your total picture of health and wellness, yet it’s rarely mentioned in that grand scheme. “If you’re fit, two important things happen,” says Anderson. “It boosts your body image and you’re in better condition to have passionate sex.” Research also shows a roll in the hay lowers blood pressure and stress, which is good for your ticker. Try a set of hip raises to get started: It will tone your lower half and tighten the muscles in your pelvic floor at the same time. Just squeeze the muscles you use to hold urine when you’re doing the exercise. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
You dedicated last month to trying one new exercise. Ready for more ways to stay fit in winter? While sitting and watching your favorite TV show, place two 3- to 5-pound dumbbells (or two bottles of water) on either side of you. When a commercial starts, do 12 reps of one of these moves until the show starts again: shoulder presses, tricep kickbacks, bicep curls, alternating leg extensions, lateral raises, bent-over t-rows, heel presses. During the next break, do another exercise and repeat. (See Soloma Hale’s demonstration video.) If you watch commercial-free programming, just set a timer and perform a move every 10 minutes.