How You Can Stay Fit When Life Happens

Got a busy schedule? Arm yourself with a virtually fail-proof fitness backup plan.

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Life happens. When it does, your workouts are often one of the first things to suffer. But you can safeguard against derailing your workout routine with one simple solution: fitness planning.

Having a fitness backup plan will help you stay on track even when you’re running on fumes. There’s no scrambling to figure out how you’ll fit in a workout because you’ve created the plan in advance. Knowing your workarounds before an unexpected meeting at work or childcare emergency happens can keep you from emotional and physical declines. A backup plan also allows you to maintain consistency, which is arguably one of the most important parts of establishing a fitness habit.

Why you need to back that thing up

Staying active isn’t just about reaching a weight loss goal; it’s also super important for your overall health and well-being. That’s because your body is designed to move.

A sedentary or inactive lifestyle causes your body to lose the health benefits you receive from exercise. In as little as two weeks after you stop exercising, “muscular detraining” occurs, which can negatively affect your endurance levels and send your blood pressure soaring. After about six to eight weeks, you may even start to gain fat. Too much sitting around also reduces your flexibility, increases inflammation and weakens your muscles, bones, and connective tissues.

Falling out of your fitness routine affects your mental health, too. Physical activity releases endorphins, the famous “feel-good” chemicals in the brain, potentially fending off depression and anxiety.

Even light activity beats no activity. Don’t feel bad if your backup plan is a quick at-home workout or a 15-minute walk instead of an hour-long sweat sesh. You’ve still increased your heart rate and engaged your muscles more than you would have.

Advance planning puts you in the driver’s seat. Feeling that you’re in control can jump-start your self-confidence and boost your internal motivation. It also helps work another muscle: self-accountability. The more you follow through on self-made promises, the likelier you are to stick with the plan when other demands crop up. In time, you may find your mindset changing from seeing exercise as a “have-to-do” to a vital part of your overall well-being.

5 steps to creating a fitness backup plan

Here’s how to create a virtually fail-proof fitness backup plan in advance of a busy schedule:

1. Make a contingency plan

The basics of any backup plan start with “if this, then that.” For example, if you can’t get to the gym, then you’ll squeeze in a walk around the neighborhood after dinner. You can also create a plan based on your energy levels: If you’re too exhausted to do 45 minutes of high-intensity interval training, then you’ll replace it with a 10-minute restorative at-home yoga sesh. More often than not, you’ll feel like doing more once you get started.

2. Get an accountability partner

Knowing someone else is counting on you to be active can be a huge motivator. According to one study, two-thirds of those who enrolled in a weight-loss program with friends were more successful at keeping the weight off six months after the sessions ended. Tracking and sharing your workout activity with a buddy can help ensure both of you find the time.

3. Be flexible

Not having time or access to equipment is a common barrier to working out. But it doesn’t have to be. Allow yourself the flexibility to make changes. If you don’t have time for a full 30-minute workout class, create a shortened “do-it-yourself” 15-minute workout you can repeat twice in one day.

4. Mix it up

Find an activity that you enjoy and that works for you. As you establish your routine, alter the length of time or the number of times per day or week that you work out. Then, as your fitness level increases, add variety and intensity to your workout regime so you build strength, endurance, and flexibility to attain long-term wellness.

5. Go streaking

Our brains tend to favor routines. Being able to “predict” the future helps your brain feel as if it’s keeping “future you” safe, even if that future is three seconds away. You can tap into that power by tracking your activity on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Whether you use an app, a digital journal, or good old-fashioned pen and paper, mark down every time you’re active. Research suggests that measuring your physical activity helps encourage you to keep doing it: You will want to maintain an unbroken streak, and the visual representation of predictability will satisfy your brain’s natural preference for consistency.

Despite our best-laid plans to stay fit and healthy, random disruptions can sometimes get in the way. Arm yourself with a fitness backup plan to stay prepared for anything life may throw at you.

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