Habits shape every area of your life. If you are overweight, pre-diabetic, and at risk for developing heart disease, your habits are counterproductive for good health. On the flip side, if you are fit and healthy, you have implemented habits that support a healthy lifestyle.
However, you don’t need to hit the gym every day or turn yourself into an athlete to stay fit and healthy.
In fact, what you do outside your structured exercise sessions is what really counts. Daily lifestyle habits that lead to developing a healthy body and mind are vital if you want to achieve lifelong fitness.
And what are those lifestyle habits? The ones you can easily implement and adhere to day after day.
For me, the following seven non-gym habits have proven to be the most powerful. You can adopt them too, to achieve fitness and health outside the gym.
1. Eating healthily
Eating a healthy diet is a cornerstone habit for good health. When you subsist on junk and processed foods, all other healthy habits will have little to no positive effect.
Your body and mind need the proper nutrients to function well. Nutrient density is vital.
View your body as the vehicle you use to go through life and provide it with the best fuel to ensure it functions well.
When your body and mind are well nourished, you have more energy to realize your dreams and experience more joy. You can cope with life’s stressors and challenges better.
My own diet pattern has shifted several times since I caught the fitness bug 17 years ago. I went from eating vegan for several years to keto to carnivore and back to vegan again. Throughout this journey, I have always focused on whole, unprocessed foods.
Some people may say it’s a boring way to live without smoking, drinking, or enjoying burgers, pizza, and ice cream daily. However, I prefer to feel energetic and positive and rarely be sick over the short-term pleasure of indulging in drugs or junk foods.
Journaling has been one of the three keystone habits that helped me overcome social anxiety.
When I started to put my thoughts on paper in 2006, it was merely to document my running journey and my stay in South Africa as an exchange student. However, it quickly morphed into a way to observe and process my thoughts and actions.
When you journal, you learn to access your subconscious. You make your thinking visible to you. This can lead to profound insights about how you lead your life, your desires and dreams, and the self-doubts and self-criticisms you need to overcome.
For example, through journaling, I discovered that I didn’t want to continue my science career, psyched myself up to attend social events and connect with people, and encouraged myself to quit my stressful job in a toxic work environment and pursue a career I am passionate about.
A gratitude journal is one unique form of journaling I recommend above all others.
You can make it as elaborate or simple as you want. Take 10 minutes and write out everything you are grateful for today, or take 2 minutes and quickly jot down the 3 things that first come to your mind.
Practicing gratitude has been shown to improve mental health. Focusing on the good in your life reduces your feelings of worry, stress, and anxiety. You feel calmer and more at peace.
It has also been shown that people who engage in regular gratitude practices tend to exercise more and visit their doctor less often.
3. Learning something new every day
Just like you need to keep challenging your muscles to stay strong and muscular, you need to challenge your brain to keep a sharp intellect.
I am obsessed with learning and feel blessed that I live in an age where information from credible sources is widely available.
Reading books and listening to experts’ podcasts taught me critical social skills, handling my finances, and managing my time. I also learned about various approaches to eating, nutrition, exercise science, and human psychology.
Last but not least, I started my spiritual journey by reading books.
Exposing yourself to different and opposing ideas helps you to keep an open mind and to change your habits when you feel that your routines aren’t working for you anymore.
This could mean testing different eating approaches, trying new exercise routines, sports, or various meditation styles.
By constantly learning, you avoid becoming someone who preaches that one diet is the best or that specific exercises are must-haves in your program.
When you keep exposing yourself to different ideas, you avoid falling into the trap of developing myopic viewpoints.
4. Getting Inspired
Motivation is fickle.
If you want to make fitness and health a part of your life, you must stick to good habits even if you don’t like them.
It doesn’t matter how motivated or inspired you are when you set a new fitness or health goal. Your motivation will fade eventually.
When you have yet to see results as quickly as you had hoped.
When you are tired and prefer to sleep in instead of going for that 5 am gym session.
When you get laid off, finding a new job seems more important than making time for your fitness routine.
And because your motivation levels will ebb and flow, you must implement strategies to re-inspire yourself regularly.
This could mean listening to motivational podcasts where people who have already achieved what they want to achieve report about their path. This could also mean reading a book written by someone who has undergone the transformation you wish to experience.
Research has shown that seeing people who are similar to us successfully achieving a goal we want to achieve strengthens our self-belief.
So go ahead and search out stories from people who view fitness as a lifestyle. If they can do it, you can do it too.
Getting inspired also could mean setting up your workspace to keep you motivated and aware of your goals.
My desk, for example, is decorated with trophies and prizes from various ultramarathon races. Those remind me to keep going and keep exploring my potential. A map and guidebook of the Southern Upland Way remind me to stay focused on completing the 215-mile Race Across Scotland this year.
And a picture of my girlfriend reminds me of what truly matters.
A relatively new addition to my fitness and health routine is daily meditation.
I have been trying to implement a meditation habit for over two years but made it a daily practice only in the past 2 months.
However, I am already reaping its benefits.
Instead of firing up my laptop and diving straight into work after getting up, I meditate for 10-15 minutes.
As a result, I start my day with way less anxiety. When I meditate again before bed, I sleep more soundly and wake up less often at night.
And meditation can also improve your physical health.
Among other things, meditation can reduce symptoms related to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), can reduce depressive symptoms in people dealing with chronic pain, and can improve symptoms in patients with dementia.
Meditation comes in various forms, and you can practice it anywhere. The critical aspect is practicing mindfulness and being present. You also don’t have to take an hour or more out of your day to meditate.
In fact, a lack of time was my main excuse for not meditating regularly.
However, meditating for only 10 to 15 minutes daily is enough to reduce stress levels and improve my mood. Be open-minded and try different types of meditation until you find one you enjoy practicing.