Growing up, I was always an athlete. It was never hard for me to find time for fitness because I was always running off to soccer practice, going on runs for track, playing in a soccer tournament or conditioning in the offseason to make sure I would be in the best shape when tryouts came around.
Finding time for fitness was never an issue because it was built into the schedule of my everyday life. For most of us, that is the fundamental difference between maintaining physicality in our adult vs. adolescent lives: time.
Contrary to popular belief, the freshman 15 doesn’t just exist because you’re chugging a 24 pack of Keystone Light at frat parties on the weekend (although that might be a contributing factor). It exists because you have transitioned from a time in your life where physical fitness was built into your schedule to a part of your life where you need to schedule time for it.
Spoiler alert: Exercise only gets increasingly harder to find time for the further into adulthood you venture. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however, and it isn’t just obesity and death. There are several things you can do to stay fit in your busy and daunting adult life:
1. You have to make time for fitness.
Life can turn into one endless list of tasks if you let it. You have to wake up early, manage to look human (because unlike college, you can’t go to work in pajama pants), go to work, somehow survive the day, go home, take care of the kids, cook dinner, clean the house, walk the dog, prepare for tomorrow and go to bed so you can wake up at the butt-crack of dawn to relive it all again.
So, where the hell are you supposed to find time to exercise? As it turns out, you have to make the time. I know reading that sentence is going to elicit eye-rolling, but it is factual and it is possible.
In fact, this is the best advice I was ever given during graduate school. I was complaining that the grueling hours left me no time to go to the gym, and a senior graduate student in the program told me it was up to me to make the time. These words have stuck with me throughout my professional life, and I assure you, if you want to stay in shape, everybody has 30 to 45 minutes to spare.
2. You don’t have to go to the gym.
A lot of people I know complain about being out of shape, and they can’t get into shape because they don’t like the gym environment.
Newsflash: Not liking the gym is not a valid excuse to let yourself get out of shape. There are hundreds of activities you can do to get into shape, only one of which is attending a gym. The best thing you can do for yourself is to find the type of activity that best suits you and your needs.
If you are the type of person who needs others to motivate you, join some sort of activity with a class setting. If you like to work out by yourself, there are plenty of workout videos and routines that are very successful, require little equipment and can be done outside of the public eye.
You can use your pursuit of fitness to be adventurous and go with things you love to do. Join an intramural team, take Zumba classes, take a dance class, rock climb, swim, hike or learn martial arts. The possibilities are even more endless than your excuses.
3. You are what you eat, so cook for yourself.
Fitness and health don’t just take place in the gym. They also take place in the kitchen. Professional life can be hectic and exhausting, and the chaos of it all makes it very easy to make easy food choices. This is where a lot of us fall victim to unhealthy decision-making, and it's a big reason for added weight.
If you are eating pre-prepared easy foods, fast foods, restaurant foods or dining in your company's cafeteria, you really have no idea what you are putting into your body. Even if you think you are making a healthy choice, you honestly don’t know what is in your food. You may think you are being healthy, but in actuality, you are not.
A good example of this is the fact that some salads at McDonald's are actually worse for you than Big Mac. If you are more of the processed food type of person than a fast food type person, I hate to inform you, but pre-prepared foods are equally as bad. (Ramen, why are you so good?)
This is because processed foods are a hot bed for hidden preservatives, salt and sugar. The only way to ensure you are eating healthy is to cook your own food. You can leave the excuse of how time consuming it is at the door. All you need to do is take time one day a week to meal prep (I like Sundays, myself). This way, you sacrifice a little time one day of the week, and you have an artillery of healthy, home-cooked lunches for the entire week.
You will have higher energy and not need to snack as much. As an added plus, your body will thank you for the nutritious food instead of the unhealthy Insta-lunch.
4. Be realistic.
You might want to sit down for this one. Your body is never going to look the same as it did in high school. There, I said it.
Your fitness goal should not be measured by a number on a scale; it should be measured by the health of your body and how you feel. There are skinny people who can be just as unhealthy on the inside as obese people. A certain size should not be the ultimatum of your success.
If you set ideals as your goals, you are setting yourself up to fall short, fail, get frustrated and give up entirely. If you choose to be healthy and begin to make healthy choices, a healthy weight and figure will follow.
5. Be patient, and work hard.
Don’t watch the seconds tick away and worry about how many pounds per minute are melting off. It doesn’t work like that, and the road to fitness is an uphill climb. Making a new physical routine an accepted part of your life can take some time. You are going to want to be lazy, to stay on the couch (Yes, Netflix. I'm still watching) and to skip a day.
These are the moments in which you need to get your butt up and move. If you want to see results, you have to work hard for them, and you can't quit. Nobody got the right kind of six-pack by sitting on the couch.
Remember, although it may seem like a lot of work, it’s also a lot of work to keep making excuses for your poor fitness in your adult life. It is even more work to be miserable with your body and yourself. The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step on a StairMaster and a homemade spinach and grilled chicken salad.