Life-hacking the new year
Easy ways to boost your fitness, health, and happiness
How much exercise do I really need?
Ideally, you should spend at least 150 minutes a week doing moderate-intensity aerobic activity—such as taking a brisk walk or a gentle bicycle ride. But if you’re pressed for time, you might be able to get the same benefit from much shorter but more extreme blasts of activity. Scientists have found that even a few minutes of training at your maximum possible intensity can trigger molecular changes inside muscles that are comparable to several hours of running or bike riding. A team at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando designed a seven-minute circuit workout incorporating 30-second bursts of 12 different exercises—including planks, push-ups, and jumping jacks—that is equivalent to a long run and a weight-lifting session. One warning: Even the creators say that on a scale of discomfort from 1 to 10, the workout makes for a fairly punishing 8.
How do I keep up my motivation?
If you really want to make staying fit easier, don’t go it alone. Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal recommends “outsourcing” your willpower and exercising with other people. If you feel tired after a busy day and just want to slump at home, having someone around who says, “Hey, aren’t we going for a walk now?” will help you stick to your exercise goals. Also, bribe yourself. “If you hate exercise but truly, truly want the consequences of exercising,” says McGonigal, “you should give yourself permission to do whatever you don’t want to let yourself do, like download a whole series of a TV show that you can pop on in front of you on the treadmill.” Creating an exercise schedule in writing also is proven to help.
Why is that?
It establishes your intention in a tangible way, making you more likely to follow through. Scientists at the University of Bath in the U.K. recruited 248 people who wanted to start exercising and divided them into three groups: One group was asked to track how often they exercised, the second to track and to read about the benefits of exercise, and the third group to do the same but also fill out forms detailing where and when they would exercise. Over the next two weeks, just under 40 percent of the first two groups exercised at least once a week, compared with 91 percent of the participants who wrote a workout plan.
What about mental workouts?
Research suggests that meditating for just a few minutes per day can boost your mental acuity. Today, you don’t need a guru to learn how to meditate. Mindfulness apps such as Buddhify and Mindfulness Daily will guide you through the process and offer micro-meditation sessions that last as little as three minutes. But the more meditating you can do, the greater the mental lift. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that 25 minutes of meditation daily made people noticeably more resilient in stressful situations. But if sitting meditation really isn’t your thing, then you can learn to be more mindful in everyday life—even while driving or walking, says life coach Shannon Bindler. If you’re behind the wheel, just focus on the road and keep the radio off. If you’re on foot, Bindler says, “bring your attention to the ground beneath your feet, the sky, and the people/sights around you.” The goal is to be fully present in the moment, as opposed to ruminating about the past or the future.
Are there other ways to curb distraction?
The average American now spends four hours a day staring at a cellphone. If you want to cut that screen time, first disable notifications on your email and every social media app. That way, you won’t get annoying pings that make you whip out your phone every five minutes. Just turning down the brightness of the display will make checking your phone feel less compelling. You can also use apps to help wean yourself from apps: Programs such as Freedom and Offtime can be scheduled to block access to social media, games, or other addictive apps at specific times of the day. If you’re someone who likes to be on your phone in bed, avoid temptation by putting your device in another room or a storage box overnight. And never take your phone into the bathroom. That’ll help you avoid device-meets-toilet calamities and speed up your restroom routine, freeing up more time for short workouts and meditation.
What about healthier eating?
It’s easy to raise your fruit-and-vegetable game. If you think that cooking and eating vegetables is labor intensive and boring, try throwing together salads with flavor boosters like zingy homemade dressings, nuts, seeds, and soft herbs. And if you’re determined to eat more raw produce, the quickest way to make it more pleasurable is to serve it at room temperature rather than fridge cold. Aim to eat eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day, which along with improving your overall health may also boost your mood. An Australian study that followed the eating habits of 12,000 people found that those who added eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day experienced an increase in life satisfaction equivalent to moving from unemployment to employment. ■