Motivation Articles

20 Ways to Stay on Track in 20 Minutes or Less

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We get it: Staying on the healthy train is hard work. It's easier to skip the workout, to order the takeout, to get sucked into the online drama, to succumb to the sweet treat—but the path of least resistance isn't conducive with that list of goals you made for yourself.
 
What if we told you that making the right choices could be easier…or could at least seem easier? Instead of focusing on big, overwhelming sacrifices—like swearing off french fries forever or getting up insanely early to work out every day—staying on the right path is more about taking small, smart steps in the right direction.
 
Research backs up the “little change, big gain” theory. A study conducted by the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University found that even tiny tweaks to dietspecifically, choosing different types of carbs and proteinshad a significant impact on weight management over time. And additional research has shown that even minimal doses of physical activity can have a big impact on health and longevity.
 
The beauty of this concept is that you get to choose which small changes to implement...or get started with some of our ideas.

For Your Fitness
  1. Stretch. Just a few minutes of daily stretching can work wonders: It improves circulation, boosts energy, promotes better range of motion, soothes sore muscles and reduces risk of injury.
  2. Take a walking break. No time for an early morning workout? Instead of using breaks to socialize or snack, lace up your sneakers and get in a quick walk around your workplace.
  3. Chase dust bunnies. Take 20 minutes and tackle a room you've been meaning to clean. You'll enjoy the satisfaction that comes with crossing an item off your to-do list, while also burning calories.  
  4. Do counter push-ups while cooking. Instead of checking your phone or paging through a magazine while waiting for the microwave or oven timer to beep, brace your hands against the edge of the counter, scoot your feet back until you're in a straight diagonal plank position and sneak in some push-ups.
  5. Bookmark favorite workout videos. When you have a library of SparkPeople TV videos just a click away, all of those exercise excuses become null and void. Even when it's raining, too hot or too dark outside, you can work out in the comfort of your living room.
  6. Choose action over idleness. Instead of waiting for the elevator, take the stairs. Get off the bus two stops early and walk the difference. Park farther away from the store entrance than you usually would. Throughout the day, look for these types of small opportunities to move—over the course of a day or a week, they'll add up to a big chunk of calories burned.
  7. Add five minutes. Whatever your workout of choice, tack on another five minutes at the point when you'd usually stop. It might not seem like a lot, but that extra half-mile of distance or a couple more sets of bench presses will add up to a significant calorie burn (and muscle booster) over time.
For Your Health & Nutrition
  1. Plan five meals. Cooking healthy meals every night sounds like an overwhelming prospect—but when you plan them five at a time, it becomes more manageable. Spend a few minutes planning a work week's worth of nutritious dinners, and make a list of the ingredients you'll need to make them. Get the whole family involved by inviting them to share suggestions.
  2. Stow bad foods out of sight. If you know that sugary snacks will derail your diet, but other family members won't give them up, clear them out of common areas and store them on a high shelf or hidden cabinet where they'll be less likely to tempt you.
  3. Keep fruits and veggies front-and-center. Instead of relegating produce to a hidden drawer in the fridge, store it in clear plastic containers at eye level. When you're on the hunt for a snack, the brightly colored fruits and veggies will catch your attention and make it onto your plate.
  4. Soak in the sunshine. Safe sun exposure is the most effective way to increase your vitamin D intake, while also boosting your mood, lowering blood pressure and preventing certain cancers. To get the FDA's recommended level of vitamin D, you'd need to spend 10 to 15 minutes in the sun per day.
  5. Do away with the "Dirty Dozen." Does your produce drawer contain any of the 12 fruits and vegetables that were found to be most contaminated by The Environmental Working Group? If so, consider purging them and purchasing their organic counterparts on your next shopping trip.
  6. Do a "white-out." Take a few minutes and purge your kitchen of any refined white products, including bread, crackers, rice, flour and pasta. These products have lost up to 25 percent of their nutritional value during processing. Instead, opt for whole grain products, which have significantly more vitamins, fiber, proteins and minerals.
  7. Stock up on spices. Adding natural spices is a great way to liven up your food's flavor without adding to the calorie count. Plus, some research has shown that hot spices could help promote longevity, weight loss, heart health and cancer prevention.
For Your Mind & Spirit
  1. Read something that will improve you. Instead of frittering away five minutes on the latest celebrity gossip or friends' Facebook statuses, spend it reading a substantial article or a chapter from a book that will enrich your mind and spirit.
  2. Take a catnap. If you're feeling grouchy or foggy-headed, try sneaking in some shuteye. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a 20- to 30-minute nap to promote short-term alertness.
  3. Make a positive/negative list. On the positive list, jot down the people, places and things that bring you joy, satisfaction and enlightenment. On the negative list, note the ones that detract from the quality of your life. Refer to these lists when choosing how, and with whom, to spend your time.
  4. Collect positive affirmations. Spend a few minutes finding or revisiting motivational quotes that inspire you to work toward a better version of you. Print out a few of your favorites and display them in a prominent place, like your fridge, bulletin board or gym locker.
  5. Help someone. According to Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant, author of the book "Give and Take," helping others is one of the keys to happiness. Each year, he says, we should strive for spending 100 minutes helping others. That might sound like a lot, but when you break it down, it's less than 20 minutes a day.
  6. Connect with Mother Nature. Even if it's just to grab the mail or take the dog for a quick walk, research shows that getting a dose of ecotherapy (a fancy name for spending time outdoors) promotes a more positive outlook, cultivates creativity and reduces depression.

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About The Author

Melissa Rudy Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.