Sustainable Fitness: 4 Keys to Long-Term Success

sustainable fitness

Is your fitness sustainable?

As a middle school teacher, the word “sustainable” comes up a LOT. Our school district’s goal is to help all of our students learn to appreciate and take care of their resources so that they can be maintained for the future. We garden using recycled tires and pallets, we use worms to compost our green waste, and we participate in recycling drives and beach cleanups. Outside of school we hear of sustainable business practices, sustainable farming, and there are debates about how sustainable our economy is. There are even awards for the “most sustainable cities” in America. Sustainability is everywhere!

If you want sustainable fitness you are in it for the long haul, and living a healthy lifestyle is your goal. You’re not looking for a quick fix with imitation food, chemical drinks, or magic pills that melt your fat away. You need something more.

If you are ready to reach – and maintain – your fitness goals, changing your lifestyle is usually the way to get there. It does not matter how many short-term fixes you try, if you remain in the same lifestyle, you’ll likely remain in the same place (or eventually return to it).  And where your health is concerned, the key to lasting success is to make it sustainable.

4 keys to sustainable fitness:

#1: Exercise does NOT have to be agonizing or painful to be effective.

Think of reality TV weight loss shows, where obese contestants are being yelled at to keep pushing past the brink of collapse, often regardless of injury or physical illness. This is far from what a proper exercise program should look like, and in many cases, the short-term victories come with a price (a messed up metabolism being one).

Sure they get great results on the show. The contestants are in the gym with their trainers 4-6 hours a day, they have a very restrictive diet, and let’s not forget they are motivated by huge prize money (Ok, that would motivate me, too)!

Remember, in real life, becoming fit is not a race! Find a program that works for you (and that your doctor will approve of), make sure it’s something you will realistically stick with, and you’ll lose the weight over the appropriate time and keep it off much, much longer.

#2: Sustainable fitness is MORE than a number on the scale.

Our weight can fluctuate for different reasons – water retention, stress, time of day, or even the amount of sodium in your dinner last night. Relying solely on the scale to validate your progress can be misleading, so don’t let it discourage you!

Don’t be shocked to find (especially at the beginning of a new program) that you are experiencing a temporary weight gain. This is due to tissue breakdown (microscopic tears in the muscle) that occurs as you train and strengthen your body. The muscle becomes inflamed and slightly swollen with fluid retention, but don’t worry, this is normal. You may see a higher number on the scale temporarily, but if you stay the course with your nutrition and exercise, after a few weeks your body will begin to change.

If you must weigh yourself, try also including other ways to gauge your progress. You can use body measurements, how your clothes feel, periodic photographs, and your overall energy levels throughout the day. Together, they’ll tell the story better than a scale alone ever will.

#3: Sustainable fitness is NOT a diet.

A diet may give you short-term results, but proper meal planning helps you maintain healthy habits for life. Eating to be fit shouldn’t mean you feel so deprived that you wonder if your life is ever going to be the same again. After all, food is made to be enjoyed! Unfortunately, much of what we eat today is less and less real food. The overly processed “food” we eat lacks the most of the nutrients our bodies need, so we crave something more, and a chain reaction of poor eating habits develops.

Rather than beginning a “diet”, switch your mindset and follow a sensible plan – eat fewer processed foods, more whole foods, learn what proper portions look like, and remember to drink plenty of water and get your sleep. Go ahead and treat yourself once in a while, but arm yourself with a plan so most days you spend more time around the dinner table and less time in line at the drive-through.

#4: Accountability will help get you through the tough times. 

Especially during the honeymoon stage of a new workout program, most of us seem to do well fueled by our excitement and good intentions. Then we hit plateaus, get invited to parties, take vacations, and just downright begin to feel lazy, and we lack the self-discipline it takes to maintain our routines. We start making excuses like we have no time, no energy, or have to cart the kids to practice (speaking from personal experience here!).

Having some type of accountability is absolutely the key to avoiding the excuses and staying the course. You can enlist a friend, a coworker, spouse, or online community – choose what works for you. I also recommend having a checklist system to chart your progress – on an app, dry erase board, or just plain old paper and pencil. Tracking your progress keeps your head in the game. Accountability helps prevent you from slipping through the cracks. Make it non-negotiable. It’s a win-win!

Moving Forward

Merriam-Webster’s definition of sustainability is being able to continue or last for a long time.  Making your fitness journey sustainable shouldn’t have to mean you deprive yourself of everything you’ve ever enjoyed in the past, but it should be something you can see yourself doing for the long haul. The reality is that if you want to see some changes you’ve got to make some changes, even if you start small. With the right mindset and support along the way, you can make sure your healthy lifestyle is one of sustainable fitness, and you’ll have success in years to come.

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