Exercise, physical activity, fitness — these terms have reappeared time and time again as one of the key ways to care for your health. Whether you want to increase your strength or just meet the activity recommendations for your age group, exercise can help your cardiovascular health, blood glucose levels and more.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only about 50% of Americans are getting enough physical activity.1 So, though we may understand that exercise is essential for our health, finding the motivation and inspiration to keep it up is challenging. Here are four different health hacks that may help you stick with it.
1. Setting goals
Achieving goals can boost your sense of accomplishment, self-confidence and self-esteem while generally making you feel great. This pleasurable feeling is thanks to the release of dopamine — one of the feel-good hormones and an essential part of our internal reward system.2 Goals can work as powerful motivators, but the trick is setting the right fitness goal for yourself.
Goal-setting theory, presented in the 1960s by American psychologist E. A. Locke states that challenging, specific goals have a higher performance rate than easy, general goals.3 This theory, with further development, is considered the initial idea for the widely utilized goal-setting framework called SMART goals. To set a SMART fitness goal, start thinking about what your goal might be, then refine it as you move through each letter below:4
- Specific: Your goal should be more than simply getting in better shape. Consider one activity you hope to improve and what would be necessary for you to enhance your ability.
- Measurable: Keeping track of your progress will keep you away from vague goals while highlighting your accomplishments. Increasing distance or time are easy ways to measure endurance goals; tracking weights and reps can be useful if you are working on strength.
- Achievable: You want to be challenged and still believe you can reach the goal. Unrealistic goals lead to fewer rewards and higher levels of frustration.
- Relevant: Not only does the goal need to be realistic, but it needs to align with what you are working towards in the long run, which, in this case, would be improving your health or fitness.
- Time-Bound: Having an end date will keep you on schedule and prevent you from putting it off. Timelines can be altered as needed, but setting a realistic timeline is another vital part of making it achievable.
2. Track health metrics
Setting a health or fitness goal is a great first step, but tracking your progress along the way may be what keeps you going. It can be hard to rely solely on yourself for accountability, but regular check-ins are a great reminder of why you should stick to your goals. With tracking, it is easier to know what works for your body and where you may need to alter your plan for improved results. Plus, results tracking is the best way to see clear proof of personal progress!
There are many ways to track your health metrics; your choice will depend on your overall goal. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Record your run time or resting heart rate. Measuring stuff like this over time is particularly useful if you are trying to improve your cardio capabilities.
- Check your body composition. Beneficial for weight loss or gain goals, this method can help identify what percentage of your body is bone, fat or muscle.
- Measure your biomarkers. Want to check your blood sugar, cholesterol, nutrient levels, testosterone, thyroid hormones or a little bit of everything? imaware's health tests allow you to measure all your levels from the convenience of home.
3. Get your steps in
In an age where we can access various fitness trackers and fancy workout classes, one health tactic has stayed simple: walking. Regular walking can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other conditions by managing your blood pressure, weight loss, blood sugar and cholesterol.567 It can also bolster your immune system, keep your bones and joints healthy and boost your mental health.89
Recent studies found a strong association between daily steps and a decline in certain health risks, with 10,000 steps as the sweet spot. For example, one study found that individuals taking approximately 10,000 steps per day seemed to have lower cancer, cardiovascular disease and mortality rates.10 Though the speed and intensity in which you accomplish these steps factor in, aiming for a baseline of 10,000 steps a day is a great place to start.
Whether you're in the gym, heading to school or work, running errands, sightseeing, or walking the dog — they all count towards your steps target.
4. Gym productivity
If you want to focus on the gym, create a workout plan. Having a detailed outline before you hit the gym is beneficial as it helps you to:
- Even out your workouts. Scheduling workouts in advance allows you to plan what exercises you will be doing each day of the week. Variety balances out your workouts and ensures you target all the primary areas like cardio, upper body, legs, rest days, etc.
- Make the most of your time. Having a set plan lets you methodically move through your routine without wasting time figuring out what exercise to do next. If you struggle with a busy schedule, you create a workout plan based on the limited time you have at the gym.
- Build confidence. A lack of confidence at the gym is a huge deterrent for many people. A schedule can help increase confidence by guiding you through the exercises. You'll also be confident that you are doing the exercises correctly because you can look up instructional videos beforehand.
When developing your ultimate workout plan, don't forget to create playlists — music can increase your exercise performance by boosting focus, endurance and power.11
Getting enough exercise is a vital part of taking care of your health. Everyone has different needs, strategies and motivational techniques, and it can take a while to figure them out. Setting goals, tracking progress, creating plans and simply walking more are some of the best ways to set yourself up for success.