"We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” – Nelson Mandela
Most people want to get fitter, lose body fat, or get healthy, but it can be tough to form lasting habits. Such intentions can feel daunting if you have multiple goals or if you’ve tried to make changes but haven’t noticed results.
Often people don’t have all the information they need in order to use the most effective strategies. Fortunately, the following three principles will generally solve this problem:
- Do some form of training with weights and be as active as possible in your daily life.
- Eat a whole foods diet that optimizes protein and carb intake for your unique genetics.
- Do activities that are fun and help you reduce stress as much as possible every single day.
This article will give you 12 simple ways you can put these principles to work this week to get leaner, fitter, and healthier.
#1: Find a form of resistance exercise that you feel good about.
Training with weights is a tremendously effective form of exercise that will give you back so much more than the effort you put into it. Strength training fixes your metabolism because it requires the muscle cells to become more sensitive to the hormone insulin, which leads your body to use energy more efficiently.
Strength training with free weights is the ideal place to start because it allows you to strengthen the entire body in just a few workouts a week. It’s fun and motivating, allowing you to create challenges for yourself as you gain new levels of fitness.
If traditional strength training isn’t your cup of tea, try interval training against resistance. For example, do weighted sled sprints, cycle ergometer sprints on an Airdyne bike, or running sprints on a self-propelled Woodway treadmill.
#2: Eat a high-protein, grain-free meal for your first one of the day.
A high-protein, low-carb, grain-free meal is the best way to maximize energy for the day. Research shows that the amino acids found in protein will stimulate the cells that are responsible for keeping us alert and burning calories.
On the other hand, glucose, which is what grains, such as bread, cereal, and oatmeal are turned into after we eat them, blocks those same cells that keep us awake and energized.
Try sliced grass-fed beef, salmon, turkey slices, Greek yogurt, or eggs. Pair it with a handful of nuts, leafy or steamed greens, or a bowlful of berries.
#3: Reduce the time you waste on your computer, phone, and TV.
Besides getting SO much more done, reducing screen time is no longer just a productivity hack. It’s a lifesaver. Studies show death, disease, and obesity risk all increase the more time you spend in front of a screen.
The reason is that energy use and insulin sensitivity decrease dangerously quickly when you don’t move. In as little as 20 minutes of sitting, calorie burning in the body slows and gene signaling drops, blunting physiological processes like tissue repair.
Shoot for taking 10,000 steps a day. If you have an active job this won’t be a problem, but with a desk job, you will need to take regular brisk walks—even a few 5 to 10 minute walks will make a difference.
Reduce screen time by getting rid of your TV and replacing the time you used to waste on TV with cooking, reading, stretching, meditating, or socializing. Avoid screen time in the gym and put your phone away when you train.
#4: Add eccentric training to your workout.
Eccentric training occurs when you focus on the lengthening motion of an exercise, such as the down motion of a biceps curl or a squat. Eccentric training will help you get stronger and overcome plateaus.
The simplest way to add eccentric training is to slow down the speed with which you perform the “down” motion of exercises. To apply it to the squat, lower yourself on a 4 count. Pause for 1 second in the down position, and then come up as quickly as you can.
This can be done with the lowering phase of any exercise. Try it for the bench press, deadlift, chin-ups, and back extensions.
#5: Incorporate a different seasonal fruit or vegetable into your diet every month.
Trying new seasonal fruits and veggies is the perfect way to eat a more colorful diet so that you get a greater array of protective nutrients. One international study found that Brazilian and Spanish participants who ate a wider variety of colorful plants were leaner and had less chronic inflammation.
Besides health and body composition benefits of seasonal eating, local produce tends to be cheaper, it reduces your carbon footprint, and it funnels money into your local economy. Search out farmers markets or join a farm share program in which you get weekly deliveries of local produce.
#6: Don’t pollute your body.
Pollutants are everywhere, and although we can’t completely avoid them, there are simple habits you can adopt that will radically reduce your exposure:
Choose whole foods over packaged, processed foods so that you avoid the iffy chemicals that leach into food from packaging containers.
Choose organic meats and dairy. Use the EWG guide to pesticide exposure when choosing organic produce in order to reduce both the hit to your wallet and your toxic load.
Avoid scented candles and air fresheners. Some may contain essential oils and are safe, but beware of the word “fragrance” because it may refer to hormone-altering chemicals.
Eat plenty of cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts) and seeds (sesame, flax, curcumin) because both contain compounds that help the body to metabolize estrogen, which is the hormone that toxins mimic in the body.
#7: Lift heavier weights.
Lifting wimpy weights gets you nowhere. To get strong and improve your lean muscle mass, you need to “overload” your body with weights you don’t handle on a daily basis.
Studies show people sell themselves way short when picking their weights—they tend to be 30 to 50 percent lighter than is necessary to build strength and muscle. Why?
People are either scared they’ll hurt themselves, have fallen prey to myths about what heavy lifting does to the body, or don’t know how. Here’s the real deal folks:
Heavy lifting will not make you big or bulky. It will just make you strong, help you move better, and may help you lose body fat.
If you learn proper lifting technique, training with heavier weights will strengthen your body in a balanced fashion so that you avoid injury and pain.
#8: Eat plenty of beneficial fats.
Eating foods that contain a variety of fat is a surefire way to have delicious meals, support health, and promote optimal body composition. The key to optimizing fat intake is to choose natural fat sources and think about fat within the context of the other two macronutrients, protein and carbs. Here’s how:
- Eat fish and grass-fed meats from beef, pork, chicken, and organic dairy frequently.
- Use butter, coconut oil, and palm oil to cook with because these fats are safe at high temperatures.
- Add avocados, olives, and tree nuts to meals—all have been called “anti-obesity” foods by scientists. Use olive oil for low temperature cooking or to drizzle on veggies.
#9: Socialize in healthy ways.
We are easily swayed by our friends’ food and activity choices. If they make unhealthy food choices, we will follow, both in terms of what we eat and how much.
Lead the way by planning a “whole food” potluck, cooking at home with friends and family, making work out “dates,” or going for a walk. Instead of going to bars or unhealthy restaurants, get together for tea or coffee, or plan a picnic with simple whole foods: Chopped colorful veggies, a blend of berries, pieces of fish, hardboiled eggs, or meat slices, and raw nuts.
#10: Enjoy your food more by doing a brief meditation before eating.
When hungry, doing a “body scan” in which one shifts attention to different muscles and their sensations before eating leads people to eat less, according to a recent study.
The meditation practice increased participants’ ability to sense fullness and feel more in control of their hunger. Other benefits of meditation include better brain function, less stress, and better hormone balance.
#11: Prioritize training the back side of your body with squats & deadlifts.
A big mistake in strength training is to focus on the “mirror” muscles like the upper arms, abs, and chest instead of the posterior chain on the back side of the body. Prioritizing the posterior chain allows you to build strength in the hips, back, and legs to protect against back pain and improve your walking and lifting ability.
It also trains the largest muscles in the body that have the greatest effect on your metabolic rate. This pays off: People with the most muscle mass in their legs have less visceral belly fat—the dangerous kind that surrounds the organs and gives you a paunch.
Put it in practice with squats, deadlifts, step-ups, rows, and lunges. Include single-leg training, hamstring curls, and back extensions to ensure balance.
#12: If your number one goal is to lose body fat, focus on diet before exercise.
The key to losing body fat is to create an energy deficit in which you burn more calories than you eat. Seems like exercise would do the trick, but studies show that people tend to inadvertently eat more calories when they are exercising to lose fat.
That doesn’t mean exercise can’t help: It improves insulin sensitivity, builds muscle, burns calories, and can kickstart other good behaviors. Just be smart about what and how much you eat.