Looking to jump-start your fitness routine? Autumn just might be the right time.
Maybe it’s the brisk weather. Maybe the traditional start of the school year. Or maybe a touch of regret over summer excesses.
Whatever the reason, many of us get the urge to start anew in the fall, training a careful eye on nutrition and exercise habits.
It’s a bit like New Year’s Day, but without the resolutions.
“It’s just a different vibe,” Kristina Rich, a health coach for Spectrum Health Lifestyle Medicine, said. “We are almost excited to get back into the swing of things. We are eager and motivated.”
Rich encourages fall fitness fans to consider what they’d like to change about their wellness. After vacations and unpredictable summer schedules, some may be eager to eat healthier.
For those looking to make changes, she encourages you to recall times when you’ve been successful in the past.
“Remind yourself of how it felt when things were going well and you were really motivated,” she said.
“That is probably where the confidence will come—that feeling of, ‘I know I can do this.’ Focus on things you feel most confident with first.”
Kristi Artz, MD, medical director of Spectrum Health Lifestyle Medicine, reminds patients they don’t have to tackle a lot of big changes all at once.
“A lot of people talk themselves out of starting a new exercise or way of eating because it feels overwhelming,” Dr. Artz said. “They don’t realize the benefit of small incremental changes sustained over time. It has the potential for enormous impact on their health.”
Making small changes and mastering new habits can build confidence, preparing you for additional changes.
While many people want to lose weight, Rich advises focusing more on lifestyle changes. Eat more whole foods and plants. Increase your activity level.
“Weight loss becomes an outcome of those lifestyle behaviors,” she said.
If you want to up your activity level, accountability may be the key to maintaining motivation, Rich said.
Some helpful suggestions:
- Find a workout partner.
- Take a group fitness class.
- Learn a new sport or join a club.
“When you are exercising with other people, whether it’s in a group fitness class, playing pickleball, doing water aerobics or joining someone for a walk, it always generates a lot more excitement around the activity in general,” Rich said.
Dr. Artz suggests using behavioral cues to help you stay motivated:
- Put your sneakers by the door.
- Schedule exercise times on your calendar.
- Set out exercise clothes in advance.
She encourages patients to link an episode of activity to a behavior they do every day.
For example, take a 10-minute walk after a meal. Use a TV commercial break as a cue to add an activity—try lunges, wall push-ups or exercises with resistance bands.
“If you link that activity to something you do every day, it is more likely to happen,” Dr. Artz said
You can meet a goal of 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity five days a week by breaking the activity into smaller segments throughout the day.
Wear comfortable clothes to work and take a walk at lunchtime. Consider commuting by bike to work. Arrange walking meetings with colleagues.
“A lot of us do our best thinking and connecting when we are doing activities with others,” she said.
Aim for healthy—and easy
Many people would like to eat more vegetables, but it’s not always easy. Proper planning and food preparation can help you reach that goal.
“Prioritize 30 minutes on a day off to cut up vegetables for the week,” Rich said. “Or make a batch of soup that you can reheat throughout the week.”
When you need to make a quick meal, the chopped vegetables or pot of soup will make it easier to make a nutritious meal, even when you’re in a hurry.
“We want to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” Rich said.
School, sports and fall activities make life busy in the fall. But most people can find time for food preparation once a week or every few days, Rich said.
Think about the time spent scrolling on your phone or watching TV.
“We could do something in that time that will help us achieve our health and well-being goals,” she said.
As you work to change your diet, Rich advises focusing more on what you will add—like more plants—and less on what to give up.
Make fruits, vegetables and whole grains the star of your plate, with meat as a side dish.
You also could add meals to your routine that are entirely whole food and plant-based. Adopt a meatless Monday tradition. Make breakfasts or lunches plant-based.
Smoothies can be a great way to add nutrient-dense foods—greens and frozen fruit—in a quick and convenient way. Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed to boost your intake of omega-3, which can help reduce blood pressure and lower your risk factors for heart disease.
“It’s easy to throw a bunch of stuff in a blender and press start,” Rich said.
She also recommends adding nourishing bowls to your meal plans. Combine vegetables, whole grains and a healthy protein. They are a good way to use leftovers to create a quick meal.
“If you batch cook brown rice or quinoa ahead of time, and if you have beans and leafy greens, you can put all that into a bowl,” she said.
Add corn and salsa for a Mexican flavor, or add edamame, broccoli and tamari sauce for an Asian flair.
Spectrum Health Lifestyle Medicine is uniquely designed to help people on their wellness journey.
Patients can schedule a medical visit with a Lifestyle Medicine specialist and receive help from the team’s health coaches. They can help patients develop individualized plans, as well as promoting a deep understanding of how important changes can improve health.
The culinary medicine team also offers recipes online, as well as a wide range of cooking classes.
Fall may also be a good time to consider a fasting program, Rich added. Lifestyle Medicine has designed a five-day supervised, at-home fast in which participants eat a fasting-mimicking diet.
“This might be a great time for people to say, ‘I’d like to rest my body and palate and get back on track with my eating,’” Rich said.