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It's not easy to keep up healthy habits all the time—and for good reason. Everyone has a different fitness personality. "Our willpower is rarely strong enough to survive all the choices we encounter," says Traci Mann, PhD, professor of social and health psychology at the University of Minnesota and author of Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again. "Your best hope is to come up with strategies that help you avoid unhealthy temptations in the first place." Not every strategy, however, works for every person. Complete our one-question fitness personality quiz, then follow that fitness ID to take your health to the next level.
It's Saturday. How will you spend your day?
A. Following whatever my calendar says I have scheduled.
B. Taking a moment (however big or small) to treat myself.
C. Doing the same things I do almost every single Saturday.
D. Spending time with family or friends—or both.
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A. The Perpetual Planner
Between kids, work, home and volunteering, you'd never get anything done without a schedule—and a knack for multitasking. You want to improve your health habits, but squeezing in a gym visit is daunting and cooking from scratch generally takes a back burner. You like checklists, so follow this one to fit it all in.
Don't cook, assemble. Chef skills aren't a requirement for healthy eating. "There's no shame in pairing store-bought rotisserie chicken with steam-in-bag vegetables," says Rebecca Turner, MS RD, author of Mind Over Fork. Or try precooked salmon fillets with deli quinoa salad and bagged greens. Really pressed for time? Instead of pizza, treat your family to a meal-kit service like BlueApron.com or HelloFresh.com, which delivers recipes and ingredients to prep, cook, eat.
Get up a little earlier. Mornings are probably your only "free" time for some quick exercise. Try one of FitnessBlender.com's 10-minute HIIT workouts or "quiet" no-jumping workout videos that won't disturb your family (free), or stream a sweat session on Grokker.com ($15 per month), notable for its low-impact yoga options.
Avoid decision paralysis. Simplify breakfast to one or two healthy choices, mixing it up each week based on your family's input. It might be oatmeal with almonds and a banana one week and fruit-and-yogurt smoothies the next.
Double-book yourself. Examine your schedule for opportunities to combine exercise with errands, suggests Molly Galbraith, cofounder and owner of Girls Gone Strong. "Instead of waiting in the car for your daughter to finish soccer practice, walk intervals around the park," she suggests. Swap drinks with the girls for a fitness class. Watching a commercial? Knock out 10 push-ups.
Skip the supermarket—and its in-store temptations—by ordering groceries online. Consider healthy snack delivery services such as NatureBox.com (from $20 per box) or LoveWithFood.com (from $10 per month). Get fresh produce delivered to you with FarmboxDirect.com ($36 per box) or via a local CSA (community supported agriculture) program—find one at localharvest.org.
Do a fitness challenge. Perfect for a lover of schedules: Try 30 Day Fitness Challenges (Android, iOS, $1.99) or an Instagram challenge from your favorite celebrity trainer.
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B. The Joy Seeker
Your motto: You only live once! The mere suggestion of giving up a single favorite food is a nonstarter for you (let alone your family), and you're not much for getting sweaty for sweatiness' sake. You know you should make some healthier choices, but it just sounds so dull to actually do it. Use these six tricks to appeal to your senses without sacrificing your happiness.
Trick #1 Don't make any foods off-limits—you'll crave them even more. Modify instead of banning: Use butter but halve the amount. Or make more healthful choices Monday through Friday and take the weekends off. "Most people don't binge on the weekend, just because they can," says Rachel Beller, MS, RDN, author of Eat to Lose, Eat to Win.
Trick #2 Serve vegetables before the rest of the meal. "Your family will eat more of them because they're hungry," Mann says. "People who do this tend to eat fewer calories overall."
Trick #3 Avoid comfort food after a rough day. A science-backed shocker: "It doesn't improve people's moods more than other foods, or compared to no food at all," Mann says.
Trick #4 Revamp your exercise environment. The basement or a no-frills gym may be seriously uninspiring, says Luci Gabel, exercise physiologist and founder of MindBodyBlast.com. Find an exhilarating space—and ditch ratty old tees for clothes that make you feel powerful.
Trick #5 Piggyback on your kids' activities and enjoy some quality time to boot. Volunteer to play catch or goalie when they're practicing in the yard, or ask them to show you some conditioning moves their coach taught them.
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C. The Routine Queen
You're in a rut. You default to the same meals and snacks even if they're not super nutritious because they're easy to make. And if you exercise, you have a go-to workout that you could do in your sleep. The good news: Your predisposition for routine can work in your favor. It's all about baby steps—and adding or subtracting obstacles so that any changes are easier to take.
Make Good Habits Better
1. Work more nutrients into healthy things you like to eat. Add avocado to your turkey sandwich, for example, or scramble baby spinach into your eggs, suggests Turner.
2. Sweat a tiny bit more. Before your usual walk, jump rope for a minute, or crank out a minute of squats once you get back, says Galbraith. Gradually add more time or exercises as you get stronger.
3. For produce that requires more than just washing, as soon as you get home from the grocery store, set a timer for five minutes to quickly peel and chop. If it's already prepped, it's far more likely to be eaten.
4. Push yourself effortlessly. Rather than a 30-minute, slow-and-steady session on the treadmill or elliptical, explore the machine's preset programs for interval training. If you're lifting weights, add instability to your moves (by balancing on one foot or sitting on a balance ball) to up the challenge.
Make Bad Habits Harder
1. Walk the supermarket in the opposite direction so your routine is interrupted and you can discover something new—and healthier—for a family dinner. Or try shopping at a new organic or health-focused grocery store to be inspired by a different environment.
2. Look for cues in your life to trigger an exercise habit, says Gabel. Take a brisk 15-minute walk after your morning coffee—that way the coffee becomes the cue. Or join that gym near your son's weekly music lesson, which will be the reminder.
3. If you find yourself skipping workouts, lay out your gym clothes or place your gym bag by the door the night before. They'll be that much harder to walk by in the morning.
4. When your kids leave leftovers on their plate, tell yourself you'll pack them for tomorrow's lunch. No, really: Say your plan out loud. "It sounds silly, but there's a lot of research behind thinking aloud to implement intentions," Mann says. This also works for cookies at the PTA meeting and fried apps at that restaurant you love.
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D. The Social Networker
When you have partners, you're game to try something new, but self-motivation isn't your strong suit. You love social media for the instant connection, and your smartphone seldom leaves your hand. Try getting by with a little help from your friends and family—just follow this offline and online advice.
Plan meals together. Ask your kids about healthy foods they might like to try—who knows what their friends' moms or the latest school lunch changes have got them eating? Ask for their help in the kitchen too, even if it's just plating. Kids can be less resistant to trying something new when they're involved, says Beller, author of Power Souping.
Be picky about workout partners. Start with your mate: A study found that almost 70% of couples who went to the gym together were still doing so two years later, compared to only 25% of marrieds who went solo. Or motivate yourself by enlisting a pal who's already dedicated to working out and is stronger or faster than you. Picking activities for which the other person depends on you to exercise, such as tennis or ballroom dancing, is a slam-dunk for accountability.
Don't dine with just anyone. Eat with healthier friends. "Our research shows their good habits will rub off on you," Mann says.
Get a digital boost. Fitness trackers push you to hit step goals and head to bed for a good night's sleep. Plus, if you're in the mood for some healthy competition, many wearables—including those from Fitbit and Jawbone— also let you compete with friends or members of the community who use the app for steps walked and more.
Make virtual friends. Check MeetUp.com for fun fitness activities in your area, or search Facebook's groups for healthy recipe swaps. Free smartphone apps like Strava (which lets you enter challenges to log miles) or Fitocracy (which enables you to compete against others while reaching fitness goals) might also be the wellness push you need.
Get caught in the web. It's hard not to lace up and go for a run when your Instagram feed is overflowing with #fitspo fitness inspiration (like photos of your friends' morning workout or motivational memes). Join Facebook groups (such as Nike+ Running) and Pinterest boards for local workout-minded groups, or consider joining a weight-loss site like SparkPeople.com, which has a very active community. Just posting your progress on your Facebook timeline—and enjoying the likes and comments—can be incredibly encouraging.
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