I’ve spent a lot of time with people of different fitness levels, with their own set of challenges and preoccupations.
Some people identify the connection between exercise and the feeling of being fit, and form lasting habits that mean they can sustain their fitness; they naturally associate physical fitness with overall wellbeing. Others struggle to get into a rhythm and find themselves exercising and dieting in a rollercoaster cycle of up and down, which can be quite mentally exhausting.
Having spent a few years running a personal training company, as well as following a fairly disciplined exercise regime myself, I’ve observed the traits and behavioural patterns that consistently fit people display. It’s important to mention that it’s not about any individual thing, but more about how you can blend these traits to develop that consistency.
Here are my seven habits of consistently fit people:
1. They don’t rely on guesswork
There is now a wide range of wearable technology that can tell you how you’re performing in different types of exercise. There are also apps that enable you to track what you’re eating, and ensure you’re getting the right amount of nutrients within a balanced diet.
A DNA test can tell you what your requirements are for key vitamins and minerals; your sensitivity to lactose, gluten, carbohydrates and saturated fat; and what the best type of exercise is for you based on your genes. The test will also tell you what your recovery, injury risk and VO2 Max trainability is.
Training according to your genetic profile, and monitoring results, helps to maintain a consistent training program with minimal risk of injury and setbacks.
2. They know when to increase training and when to rest
This is really important. You must listen to your body, and learn to read the signals it sends you and then have the discipline to respond to those signals and messages.
Some of my most notable improvements to strength and fitness have come after a period of reduced training and increased rest. To some this might seem paradoxical, but many of us now are living, working and training under quite extreme stress. We’re juggling with different facets of our lives, and sometimes we can become overwhelmed without realising it. The body keeps the score, and ignoring the warning signs can be counterproductive to your health and fitness.
3. They have an active body and an active mind
I have yet to meet anyone who has a consistent diet and exercise program who isn’t a very active person, mentally and physically. They read, whether it’s online or print, novels or newspapers. They question, and are naturally curious about things. They want to move, to explore, and to challenge themselves. They will instinctively take the stairs instead of the escalator.
In a previous blog post, I encouraged my readers to set themselves an annual or biannual challenge; something that terrifies you. It’s really healthy to take yourself out of your comfort zone every now and then and see what you’re capable of. Get comfortable being uncomfortable as they say. Your self-esteem and self-confidence will soar.
4. They are used to setting SMART goals
SMART goals are Simple, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. I often see people fail because the goals they set themselves were too tough. Start small, then build on your progress. This applies to dieting and exercise. Any diet that cuts out a key food group or involves a dramatic calorie reduction for example, is doomed to failure. We advise our clients to identify three aspects of their diet to work on, and take the time required to interweave those changes into their lifestyle. Once that’s achieved, look to another three things. I have many examples of where that strategy has been a roaring success.
Set SMART goals and ask someone else who knows you well and is supportive of what you’re doing to review them for you.
5. They see the bigger picture
A sustainable (and therefore successful) diet and exercise program requires you to see the bigger picture. People who achieve consistent success in this area understand that good health comes down to many different things.
To give you an idea, some of these things include: managing stress; getting into a good sleep routine; having rules around your smartphone and computer at night; maintaining healthy relationships; hydration; having good self-esteem; eating a balanced diet; knowing when to train and when to rest; walking regularly; remembering to laugh; doing a job you like (if not love) and that is authentic to you.
6. They know when to enlist help
Everyone has times when they need a boost, a bit of motivation, and maintaining the consistency sometimes means enlisting outside help. Hiring a personal trainer to retain focus wouldn’t be unusual for this type of person, nor would recruiting the services of a nutritionist or a life coach. All these things cost money, and usually the really good people will be expensive, but what price do you put on your health?
I consider myself to be a very disciplined and motivated person; I co-run a very successful and rapidly-growing personal training and wellbeing company; planned, wrote and published a book in six months, and launched a new brand of personal training to help executives recover from burnout. Despite this, I still have the same personal trainer I had nine years to keep me motivated and put me through my paces three times a week. Why? Because we all need help sometimes, and you simply don’t push yourself as hard as someone else will.
7. They know what works for them
Are you a lone wolf or pack animal? People who manage to maintain a consistent diet and exercise regime understand what kind of exercise works well for them (and it isn’t a chore). If you love classes, and get a buzz from working out with others and pitting yourself against them, don’t set SMART goals which mean you’re spending a lot of time on your own. If you prefer a long, solitary run, build your regime around that. If you’re getting a buzz out of what you’re doing, your brain will naturally propel you into repeating that activity. That said, never be afraid to try something new, but if you’ve giving it a few tries and it’s not working for you, then move on.