As adults our lives can get busy pretty quickly. You may find yourself trying to gain a competitive edge in your career, which calls for long days at work or sitting in meetings or in front of a computer for hours. You may have a growing family and find yourself cluster feeding a newborn through the night, an ongoing schedule of doctor appointments and activities or squeezing in homework between dinner and bedtime. Or all of the above. Either way, your days are full of things to get done and places to be. Finding time to workout or be active may be challenging, and unless there is an immediate threat to your health, it may not seem like a priority.
Based on my experience physical activity comes in two main forms for most people. Either an active lifestyle or a regular gym routine. Both can be effective for weight loss, improving or maintaining health and more. Ideally they would coexist in your everyday life, but realistically there are seasons where it is either one or the other. So here are some tips to help you choose between an active lifestyle and a gym routine during this season of your life.
First, lets talk about active lifestyles. As a health coach I recommend this to be the goal for everyone. When it comes to long-term health, an active lifestyle is a great way to maintain good health and wellness. The great thing is that this can and will look different for each individual. For one person it may be daily walks and for another it can be a recreational sport. The idea is to find an activity you enjoy doing and can do on a regular basis. It should get your body moving and elevate your heart rate. Some things to consider when looking for an activity to incorporate into your life:
- Tie the activity to an action you do regularly. If your activity is walking then schedule it to happen before or after a meal. If it is a sport, plan to do laundry after. Having your activity tied to a task you have to complete anyway causes the activity to be a prerequisite to the task or for the task to be a trigger for the activity. This increases the likelihood of you maintaining the activity. If you need help with fitting in a new activity I highly recommend this free e-book by James Clear called Transform Your Habits. It is hands down one of my favorite e-books! It is a really quick read, but is full of useful nuggets and steps that will change the way you view your habits.
- Have accountability. Sticking with our walking or sport examples, you will be encouraged to follow through if people are expecting you to meet them to walk or play on their team. If you have an activity that you do alone, then tell someone about it and ask them to follow-up with you to see how you are progressing. Accountability can serve as encouragement to continue maintaining an active lifestyle.
The benefits of having an active lifestyle are many. You can look forward to maintaining a healthy weight, losing weight, decreasing stress, improving blood pressure, clearing mental fog, maintaining mobility as you age, etc. Think long-term “maintenance” when it comes to an active lifestyle. The more activities you have up your sleeve, the closer you will be to creating an active lifestyle that you can maintain for a lifetime, no matter what season you are in.
Let’s look at gym routines now. Although you can certainly go to the gym long-term, for those of us who have trouble fitting the gym in, it might be easier to break our goals down into chunks of a few months at a time and in between we can continue our active lifestyle activities to maintain the progress that we made with our gym routine. If your goal is to lose weight, increase strength, endurance or speed, then you can develop a gym routine for 3-6 months that will help you reach those goals. I think it is important to note that I am not saying you can’t workout at the gym year round. For busy people, however, it may be more practical to build on short-term goals.
Some ideas to make the best out of a gym routine:
- Try HIIT workouts. High Intensity Interval Training can allow you to get the maximal benefit in a short period of time. The great thing about HIIT workouts is that you can do them at home, but if you choose to do them at the gym you know you don’t have to expect to spend hours in the gym at a time just to get a good workout in. Visit Ace Fitness and the American College of Sports Medicine for more information on HIIT workouts.
- Do a mix of cardio and resistance training. If your goal is weight loss it might be tempting to do a ton of cardio, but building muscle actually helps make your cardio much more effective as your muscles help burn fat. More muscle, more fat burning.
- Pace yourself. Do not try to go from 0 to 100 in the name of challenging yourself. Yes, pushing yourself is important, but as you progress it is important for you to slowly increase your intensity (whether it is weight or speed) so you can protect yourself from injury and burnout.
So in reality it doesn’t have to be an active lifestyle vs a gym routine. You can have a balance of both that meets your needs and helps you reach and maintain your goals. This is great news for someone who dreads going to the gym, but goes because they have physical or health goals to reach. You don’t have to expect to drag yourself to the gym for the rest of your life, but you will want to find lifestyle activities that will allow you to maintain yourself. And if you enjoy the gym, but can’t manage to find time to get there, you can incorporate an active lifestyle to help you maintain yourself between periods of going to the gym regularly. So we have options! No matter what season you’re in you can work toward your goals or maintain your health.