When it comes to your health and fitness pursuits, it’s safe to say that you have found yourself stuck in a rut at some point — it happens to the best us. But have you ever taken a moment to look back and wonder what happened? Chances are, you might be slogging away at the same routine and forcing yourself to work harder — not smarter.
We get locked into certain habits — in fitness and life — because they are comfortable and we enjoy the status quo. You may be holding on to the same exercising principles you read in a bodybuilding magazine when you were younger or still be doing that workout program you learned from a friend in college.
Over time, these habits become second nature: You consider these patterns beneficial without much thought. But if you’re looking to become the best version of yourself — fit, healthy and happy — you need to change the three following habits.
1. Instead Of Spending Hours On Cardio…Try HIIT To Shed More Body Fat
If you are logging hours on the treadmill every week thinking you are going to drop weight and body fat, it’s time to change your mindset. The truth is that very few calories get burnt during a bout on a cardio machine. All it takes is one sports drink and you end up taking in more calories than you’re actually burning.
You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: Start doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This type of training alternates short bursts of high-intensity exercise with moderate-intensity recovery periods. Pick your activity of choice and try going all out for 30-45 seconds. Do 90 seconds at a more moderate pace. Repeat between three and ten times. This type of workout is a huge calorie burner and the studies back it up: Young men and women who engaged in a 15-week HIIT program lost significantly more body fat than those who completed a 20-week continuous, steady state cardio program.
The good news is that you don’t even need a gym to do this. You can do HIIT with moves such as burpees, mountain climbers or sprints. In the gym, I like doing sprints on the stationary bike. Just keep a big towel around to mop up the inevitable waterfall of sweat you’ll be producing.
2. Instead Of Trying To Be Ultra Productive…Try Making Sleep A Priority
Many people seem to wear their ability to function on minimal sleep as a badge of honor. But if you have any interest in being as fit and healthy as possible, it’s time to ditch that mindset. When you deprive yourself of sleep, you put your body in a chronic state of stress.
Your body can’t tell the difference between fighting off famine and predator attacks and being up all night binging on Netflix. All your body knows is that something intense must be happening to keep you up and prevent you from getting rest and recovery. A lack of sleep spikes your stress hormones, specifically cortisol. A little of this is OK but over time, these elevated stress hormones can lead to a laundry list of problems including heart disease, stroke, IBS, panic disorders and diabetes.
It’s time to get your sleep on point. Shawn Stevenson, sleep expert and author of the best-selling book Sleep Smarter, says sleep gets neglected because it’s considered a passive activity — and we often would rather be active and “crushing it”. He refers to sleep as a “force multiplier” and says that it is actually more important than exercise and nutrition. A force multiplier is something that can accentuate either positive aspects of your life or negatives ones.
So, how do you get better sleep? Start tonight by going to bed an hour early. Get your body ready for sleep by starting your winding down process at the same time each night and making your room as dark as possible by investing in blackout curtains. And here’s a big one: Try to avoid being exposed to blue light from screens at least an hour or two before bed. This blue light can suppress your natural melatonin production, causing disrupted and lower-quality sleep. If you need to be working late on your laptop, try downloading a screen dimming app like f.lux, which reduces the blue light emanating from your screen.
3. Instead Of Counting Calories…Try To Focus On The Quality Of Your Nutrition
We are thankfully getting past the days of counting calories to meet our muscle building and weight loss goals. There is a greater understanding that not all calories are created equal. When you focus on eating real, unprocessed foods, your body will take care of finding its perfect balance.
Jonathan Bailor, New York Times best-selling author of the book The Calorie Myth, shared with me that we need to stop treating our bodies like calculators and start recognizing that they are biological organisms. Bailor shares that when deprived of calories, our metabolism slows down to a halt — making any attempts at weight loss extremely difficult. The calories in/calories out way of thinking needs to be removed. When you understand that foods such as refined flour and added sugar cause a hormonal disturbance, you’ll want to turn to foods that work in your favor and keep you fueled and energized for longer.
If you are in the pursuit of a lean, muscular body, ditch the white bread, rice, flour pasta, sugar and all other manufactured and processed garbage and focus on the foods found directly in nature instead. Power foods contain protein, water, fiber and healthy fats. Bailor calls these the S.A.N.E foods — in that they assist our body’s ability to thrive. These foods allow for Satiety, they aren’t hormonally Aggressive, they contain essential Nutrients and they are Efficiently used and stored.
What makes a healthy meal, then? Focus on non-starchy vegetables, nutrient-dense protein and natural fats and occasionally throw in some low-fructose fruits and legumes. To keep it simple, if you buy something that has a list of ingredients, it’s not for you.
Wrapping It Up
There’s a lot of confusion out there about what it takes to be healthy and fit, but if you replace these habits you will be on your way to taking back control of your health.