Small Things That Have Helped Me Get Fitter

by Anne Dorko

Truth be told, there’s no magic wand to wave that suddenly gets you in shape. The fact of the matter is it takes a lot of little consistent behaviors that all add up in the end.

However, it's something I've struggled with and I know others have, too. Here are the things that have helped me the most to stay consistent in my goal to be more physically fit.

  1. Post signs around that house reminding you that you need to exercise.
  2. Create some house rules such as “No showering until you exercise.”
  3. Make it easy to exercise in the morning. Set out your clothes & shoes the night before.
  4. Sign yourself up for a challenging event several months into the future. Something that you’re gonna hurt for if you don’t train. I’m signed up for the 2013 January SoCal Spartan Race.
  5. Don’t disallow everything "bad" - food has no moral value.
  6. …but "bad" food should be the exception, not the rule.
  7. Find an activity that you enjoy that naturally involves movement that you can do within 3 blocks of your house by yourself (safely).
  8. Wait at least 20 minutes before going in for seconds when you’re eating.
  9. Substitute corn tortillas for flour tortillas.
  10. Keep a healthy but easy-to-eat tasty option available for those random munchies. I like fruit & nut bars and yogurt.
  11. Eat more meats, eggs and vegetables.
  12. Try out your local farmer’s market for fresh, unprocessed food.
  13. Pick something a little easier to have self discipline in. I started by establishing a regular habit of cleaning the house in the morning. Adding in exercise was a natural next step.
  14. Watch less TV. I’ve avoided having a TV screen altogether, but even my online TV watching has been reduced greatly in the last month. Fact: Just the act of not watching TV burns more calories than watching TV. link
  15. Try to eat in smaller portions than you’re used to. We tend to overestimate what we need and this can exacerbate health issues if it's not nutritious food.
  16. Don’t keep junk food into the house.
  17. Stop drinking your calories... it doesn't help nourish your body.
  18. Try drinking more water. Dehydration can make you think you’re hungry and stops your body from processing what you eat correctly.
  19. Drive less, walk more.
  20. Alternative: Can’t walk the whole way because it’s too far? Park within brisk walking distance instead of driving all the way. Carrying your groceries 3 blocks and around the corner does wonders for your grip and arm strength.
  21. From my desk jockey days: If you have an office job, go for a walk on your lunch break. When I worked at an office, this was one of my life savers — you feel more energetic after the fact, and you feel like you actually took a break instead of stewing in your own misery.
  22. Since I don’t have A/C, I have a tendency to open up the windows to let fresh air inside. My standard is now “No fresh air inside till you’ve had fresh air outside.” It helps me get over that first mind block of stepping foot outdoors.
  23. Find an activity partner to do something fun with for at least 30 minutes once a week. Lately, I have made it a habit to boogie board every Sunday.
  24. Spend at least 15 minutes in the sun every day. Vitamin D, baby!
  25. Invest in a cheap lacrosse ball to work out those sore spots.
  26. Don’t overcommit. I never go outside thinking “I’m going to do ALL THE SQUATS and ALL THE RUNNING.” I go outside thinking “I’ll walk down to the beach, run a couple laps if I feel like it, and from there I’ll do what feels good.”
  27. Keep your shoes by the door. Who wants to be searching for their shoes when they hardly want to go outside in the first place?
  28. Prioritize sleep. I’m the sort who will stay up all night long when I’m excited about a project. That gets me all off schedule for at least three days while I try to normalize again. I’ve made it a huge priority to go to bed before midnight and wake up by 8am, and those precious off-limit hours make all the difference in my mental performance during the day.
  29. If you’re having a hard time sticking to one fun activity, make a list of interesting things to try and rotate through them — one new idea per week.
  30. Prepare a list of unique and fun exercises before you leave the house to workout. Whether you write it in pen on your hand (guilty) or on a sheet of paper, getting “creative” on the fly just isn’t going to happen. Be prepared. (Reminder: You’re not committing to the exercises you pick, you’re just giving yourself a menu to choose from if the mood strikes.)
  31. …on that note, you should spend some time picking out exercises that aren’t boring to you. Sure, it’s good to include your basics like squats and pushups, but how much more fun is it to pretend you’re an animal and play around with bear crawls and broad jumps?
  32. On your mental attitude: Remember that looking good comes as a byproduct of being badass, not visa versa.
  33. Make sure at least one of your workouts per week is simply playing rambunctiously. Since I live near the ocean, I like to make up games like “Hop Over the Waves”, “Seaweed Piles Are Obstacles” and “Chase the Waves Out, Then Beat Them Back to Shore”

have fun working out

  1. Get over your so-called dignity. If you want to get in shape without shelling out hundreds per year for private sessions, people are going. to. see. you. suck. at. exercising. Chances are that they are so concerned with their own petty lives that they won’t remember you by lunchtime.
  2. Stop talking so much about your efforts. Sure, it’s OK to let in one or two trusted souls in… but stop telling everyone on social media. It sounds counterintuitive, but you get so excited just talking all the cool things you’re going to do, that you forget to actually be effective and work hard.
  3. Remember that the best workout plan is the one that you follow.
  4. Stop making it such a big deal. If you want fitness to be a regular part of life, treat it that way. If you make it a big deal, it takes more mental effort to get yourself to do it.
  5. Try to cook more often! Preparing your food connects you with it more.
  6. Eat the bulk of your carbs and protein right after sweating it out. You’ll recover harder, better, faster, stronger. If you’re not careful you may even become Daft Punk. I like to have a protein shake and a half a fruit & nut bar.
  7. Streeeeetch! Stretching is something that I never plan on doing, but somehow it’s the one thing I always do, every day, even if the only other thing I did was walk a few blocks out and back. Stretch your legs, stretch your arms, stretch your torso. You should feel light and limber when you get back.
  8. Know the difference between how to stretch before and after a workout.
  9. …for that matter, read up on sites like NerdFitness to educate yourself about proper training techniques.
  10. Remember that for every failure you make, you’re going to have way more wins. Giving up altogether when you make a mistake working for your health would be like never drinking liquids again because you accidentally inhaled down the wrong tube one time. Accidents happen, we suffer a bit, and we move on.
  11. Don’t spend a lot of money when you’re getting started. Invest time & energy first — then splurge on equipment if you really need it and you’ve been active for over a month. When I spend money on equipment, my brain tells me that THAT was my investment… when really it’s the commitment to activity I should be investing.
  12. For those of you wondering how to get equipment without spending a lot of money, ask friends and family if they have any gym equipment they’re not using that you could borrow. Somebody almost always does. Otherwise, get creative with your own DIY weights and accessories. Or stick to body weight exercises.
  13. Know whether you need consistency or variance. If you need consistency, train in the same area almost every time. You’ll start associating it with being active, and you’ll feel more energetic just by showing up. If you need variance, Google local paths you can walk/run/hike on. Explore your city!
  14. Other than signing up for a challenge, you can have a personal aspiration that inspires you to get off your butt and more more.
  15. Remember that health is year-round. Your body is a beach body no matter what it looks like, and your health follows you no matter what time of year it is.
  16. Fresh food is satisfying and as a rule of thumb going to have more nutritional value than its unprocessed alternative. Eat more of it!
  17. If you are hungry all the time, try eating smaller meals more often.
  18. Eat because you’re hungry, not because you’re bored. If you’re bored, you have the time to do 20 jumping jacks, 30 squats, and 40 lunges. Do those instead. If you really can’t stay away, seriously make yourself do 25 squats first — that way your food will get processed more efficiently.
  19. Run through sand. It’s harder and you get a better workout.
  20. Run through water. It’s harder than running through sand and you get an even better workout.

baby steps challenges Incline pushups, for the win!

  1. Try jumping up on to things with both legs (a.k.a. box jumps). It’s harder than it looks, and it’s a ton of fun. Do 10 of them whenever you see a stray bench sitting around. You’ll be a ninja before you know it!
  2. Work on your weaknesses in baby steps, every day.
  3. If you feel like you can’t even get out of bed, put your shoes on and go stand outside for 5 minutes. Make sure to close the door behind you. Don’t commit to anything else, and you can go back to bed after that if you really want to.

Fun, naturally energetic activities to try:

biking for exercise

  1. Hiking *
  2. Biking *
  3. Running around in the ocean waves *
  4. Ultimate frisbee
  5. Jump rope *
  6. Swimming *
  7. Martial arts *
  8. Yoga
  9. Pilates
  10. Kickboxing *
  11. Basketball
  12. Dancing like crazy
  13. Kayaking
  14. Gymnastics
  15. Hopscotch
  16. Hula hooping
  17. Juggling
  18. Rock climbing
  19. Skateboarding
  20. Roller blading
  21. Trampoline
  22. Boogie boarding *
  23. Surfing

The starred activities are the ones I’ve been trying. The rest are on here for me to continue experimenting with as I get tired of the ones I’m already doing!

Resources for Health & Fitness

These are the resources and sites that have kept me in-the-know and motivated.

  1. NerdFitness — I highly recommend you subscribe to this one, I love Steve Kamb’s take on fitness.
  2. Marks Daily Apple — This is where I go when I really want the science behind food.
  3. Beast Skills — This is where I go when I want to learn the progressions to really awesome moves. (Note: It looks like his site is down right now, but I’m going to leave it here in hopes that it gets resolved. Check out Trampolinea for trampoline moves while we wait.)
  4. Mobility WOD — Remember how I said stretching was important? This is kind of a go-to for hacking your stretching into high gear.
  5. The Happiness Project — Gretchen Rubin has been a big inspiration for me (and my friend Rachel even got to meet her at her recent book signing in San Diego). While her blog isn’t about fitness, per se, it is about behing happy and doing things that work for YOU. Happy = healthy.

In all of this, focus on your health and happiness over arbitrary ideas like "weight loss." Physical fitness is part of the eight dimensions of wellness and should be taken seriously - but it looks different for everyone depending on your needs.

First published October 19, 2012 • Updated September 11, 2022

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