Exercise. Get sleep. Keep a balanced diet. We are bombarded by various versions of these generic tips in fitness magazines, flyers, posters, and commercials that all urge us to do one thing: Live healthily (and by extension, live happily).
Of course, these are all easier said than done. It takes a great deal of motivation and commitment to put any one of these tips into action.
Not everyone is meant for the gym – though everyone is certainly welcome – whether because of scheduling conflicts, discomfort or disdain for the gym environment, or simply a lack of desire to be active. Sleeping can also be unexpectedly difficult to obtain, particularly for college students.
There is so much to do in a given day that sleep often falls behind in an ever-growing list of other priorities. Finally, cultivating an awareness of what we eat (not to mention when and how often) and resisting the temptations of sweet treats and decadent desserts requires constant self-control that most of us struggle to maintain on a daily basis.
Though these pieces of advice are said with the best of intentions, the aforementioned challenges that pertain to each tip are critical deterrents for individuals who may legitimately want to live healthy, but do not know how to overcome such obstacles.
This essay aims to better guide readers on their journey for fitness by explaining in greater detail how to exercise correctly in addition to techniques that can be done without access to any equipment or machinery, suggestions for easy tweaks to any diet to improve the quality of meals, and strategies for obtaining a more restful sleep.
How To Get Fit & Live Happily
Physical fitness is one factor that contributes to our overall well-being and ability to function at our optimal levels. Contrary to popular belief, being physically fit does not directly translate into a toned body, extreme muscle mass, or cardiovascular endurance. True, these all come with being in shape, but for the average individual physical fitness can be achieved even before these milestones. The American Council of Exercise uses the FITT principle to determine the Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type of exercise for an individual. If the goal is general fitness, the ACE recommendations are as follows: For cardiovascular health, the frequency of exercise should be between three and five days per week, with a minimum of 20 minutes of continuous aerobic activity (for more deconditioned individuals) and a maximum of 60 minutes of continuous aerobic activity.
Range of Intensity
Individuals can choose any exercise ranging from light intensity activity (i.e. walking/jogging, cycling, jump-roping) to medium intensity activity (i.e. swimming, team sports, dance) to high-intensity activity (i.e. sprinting, competitive sports, kickboxing). Some of these activities may require some prerequisite knowledge/skill, but learning how to successfully perform in these areas will only benefit the individual – one major benefit is the opportunity to become a part of the various communities that comes with each sport or activity.
The modality, location, and environment of the individual’s workout is completely up to them; as long as the minimum frequency and time recommendations are met, the results will take the individual one step closer to being physically fit. A gym membership is not needed at all. Another part of physical health concerns muscular strength of rest after training one specific muscle group.
The exercise program should include eight to ten different exercises for the major muscle groups, beginning with those exercises targeting larger muscle groups and that utilize more than one muscle group (called a compound exercise) and finishing with exercises targeting smaller muscle groups and utilize only one muscle group (called an isolated exercise). An example of a compound exercise would be a pull-up while an isolated exercise would be a bicep curl. Popular major muscle groups to strengthen include the biceps, triceps, abdominals, quadriceps, hamstrings, and the gluteus maximus.
Of course, there are many more muscle groups that could and should be incorporated into an exercise routine to introduce some variance and prevent the body from adjusting to the routine. ACE recommends performing one to three sets and eight to ten repetitions per exercise, with one to two minutes of rest between sets. Always ensure that proper technique is executed and that appropriate breathing cues are followed.
Though bodyweight exercises (exercises that use the individual’s own bodyweight as the source of resistance; i.e. squats, push-ups, crunches) can be included in a strength training regime, it is unfortunately difficult to obtain much variability in one’s routine without going to a gym or fitness studio. If such an environment is daunting, do not hesitate to bring a friend or even a family member to exercise with! Eating healthy is another part of physical fitness that is often highlighted but rarely explained. Yes, vegetables are good for you. Yes, too much sugar is bad for you.
Yes, you should make sure to watch the sodium content of snacks. But how does one put together all of these pieces to create a healthy diet? After all, too much of anything is detrimental to one’s health – and too little of things can have devastating effects too. So many factors play into a balanced diet that it is nearly impossible to nail it down to simply a ratio of healthy to unhealthy, vegetables to meats, etc.
No diet is perfect, but here are some general rule-of-thumbs to keep in mind when deciding the next meal: If eating before exercise, make sure to load up on carbohydrates. Because carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and stored as glycogen in the muscles, these nutrients are crucial to muscle performance – whether the individual is simply walking around or training hard at the gym. Avoid too many sugary drinks by substituting in water mixed with flavored powder, or even just water by itself. Juice is also a healthier option than sodas or coffee. Try and follow the suggested serving sizes for the different food groups as closely as possible. Vegetables and fruits together should make up approximately half of one plate, proteins should consist of a quarter, and grains should make up the last quarter. To obtain a better metabolism, space out meals throughout the day and eat smaller quantities at one time. This way, the body will not be overloaded with too many calories at once.
Avoid Self-blaming & Self-disgust
Out of all of these tips, however, the most important thing to remember is to avoid self-blaming and self-disgust if one is unable to follow such guidelines. Guilting oneself for failing to eat healthily will only lead to more unhealthy eating habits. It is necessary to realize that any progress, no matter how small, is significant and can be applauded. Sleep is the last ingredient in this recipe for physical fitness. Sleep has many psychological implications that directly impact physical aspects of performance.
When we sleep, our brains are essentially “cleaned” and debris is filtered out of the extracellular space in our heads. This cleaning process is what helps us feel refreshed and revitalized after a good night’s sleep. If we do not receive the proper amount of rest, for example when an all-nighter is pulled, our brains are still “dusty” and thus we are unable to properly function until we fall asleep again. Furthermore, sleep allows our body to rest: During Stages 3 and 4 of sleep, muscle activity declines significantly, giving the muscles rest after an entire day of use. Lack of sleep seriously impacts one’s physical health, making the individual more prone to conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Other more immediate effects include inability to concentrate, react quickly and exhibit self-control.
Maximize the amount of sleep
Because sleep plays a central role to proper, healthy functioning, it is best to maximize the amount (and quality) of sleep we receive. One of the simplest ways to gain more sleep is perhaps the hardest to implement. Many of us are guilty of lying in bed for hours on our phones before finally disconnecting and actually falling asleep. If we only turn off our phones before crawling into bed, we might add an hour or two of needed rest to our nightly counts. If increasing the number of hours of sleep is unrealistic (for instance, late night studying), other methods may improve the quality of sleep and thus help the individual even within the time constraints.
What Should You Avoid before going to sleep for a sound sleep?
One technique is to ensure that the room is completely void of unnatural light when falling asleep, and then to maximize exposure to natural light when waking up. It is also suggested that big meals, smoking, and alcohol should all be avoided before bedtime in order to more quickly fall asleep and to simultaneously fall into a deeper sleep.
Hopefully, this piece has provided some guidance for individuals eager to become physically fit, but who lacked the knowledge to actually reach an adequate fitness level. There are many components of physical fitness that must be individually addressed before achieving a healthy lifestyle. Implementation of the ACE exercise guidelines, making small adjustments to one’s diet and realizing the necessity of sleep are all steps to becoming more physically fit. If these steps are all achieved and more is desired, there are absolutely other techniques out there to live a healthier and happier life. All it takes is motivation.