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Over the past several years, I have struggled to identify small, measurable ways to improve my fitness on a daily basis. For a while, I made the mistake many others do, by setting too large a goal (work out every day for three hours, for example), sticking to it for a few weeks, then giving up in exhaustion/annoyance when I didn’t feel any improvement.

However, I have been able to figure out what works for me without taking all my time and energy, and I want to share these (probably obvious, but quite effective) small ways to improve fitness with you!

  1. Avoid electronics after waking up/before going to sleep

I love my phone, iPad, and computer like my children, but I realized that using my computer/phone (or both) before going to sleep negatively impacted my rest and made it more difficult to fall asleep. It wasn’t just me; studies show that using devices with screens before bed can negatively impact hormones that promote sleep. iPads are not exempt, and experts suggest that if you must read before bed, do so with an actual book so as not to suppress melatonin, the chemical that plays a big role in sleep cycles. Even light from some television screens can negatively impact sleep, so the best alternative (which I still struggle with) is to avoid screens before bed. In fact, it’s best to sleep in total darkness , or as close as possible, to avoid suppressing melatonin. To “wind down” before bed, I try to either read a book or write in a journal, then shut off the lights. It has helped my sleep, and hopefully it will help yours too.

I also avoid screens in the morning after I wake up. I try not to turn on my phone until I arrive at work, and don’t start using the computer until then either. This is more for my mental health then physical health, so I can start the day off without feeling mentally cluttered and overwhelmed.

2. “Yoga Squat” every few hours

This is something I started fairly frequently (about three months ago) but it has helped tremendously.

I often suffered from back and hip pain, and never made the connection to my posture until I realized that I was slouching over my computer for what probably amounted to eight hours a day (I told you I love my computer). As a skater, I tend to stretch without thinking about it, so one day I started doing this squat and realized how tight I was in my back and hips. Every few hours I did the pose, and noticed that as I did, my lower back and hips slowly started to relax and stretch. I thought I stumbled upon an amazing secret, until I saw this mindbodygreen article about the importance of this stretch.

So I recommend doing this stretch every day, at least once at night and once in the morning. Whenever I’m standing too long (which I do a lot, as you will see from the next list item) I take a yoga squat for a few moments and feel much better.

3. Stand while you work

A few months ago, shortly after realizing my hunchback posture over my computer was negatively impacting my entire body, I made the decision to stand while I worked on the computer. It was tricky at first, since I had to relocate my entire “desk” onto the selling floor of our business and I had to get acclimated to standing for extended periods of time. The stretch in list item two helped significantly, as did improving my posture by standing up straighter, tucking my hips under me instead of arching or rounding my lower back, and relaxing my upper body. Now, when I have to sit to use my computer (as I am doing now), I feel much tighter and less comfortable than I do standing.

I realize this is a tough rule to adopt if you work at an office or somewhere where you are expected to be sitting all day. But just standing every hour or so, taking a few (discreet) stretches, and being conscious of your posture will help in that case.

4. Walk more

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It sounds obvious, but taking more opportunities to walk (or bike, if you prefer) can improve fitness. It isn’t typically enough on its own, according to sources like Dr. Joseph Mercola, a well known nutrition and wellness doctor, but walking can be a good start to a regular fitness routine.

Walking can be a great part of your fitness routine, especially if you do so briskly and on a path that involves hills. It’s also an ideal exercise if you’re very out of shape, just starting an exercise program or obese, as it’s low impact and suitable for all fitness levels…The problem with using walking as your sole form of aerobic activity, however, is that for most people it simply is just not intense enough to induce a training response. In most cases, even if you’re out of shape to begin with your body will quickly adapt to your walking routine and will require a greater challenge to reap the most benefits.

He goes on to remind readers that the heart rate must be increased to “get you out of breath with a higher level of intensity”.

So if you are really out of shape, just beginning to work out, or obese, it’s a good idea to take it slow and start with walking. But if you are hoping to improve your fitness and/or lose weight, walking is a great addition to your fitness regimen, but you must do other types of exercise as well.

Personally I try to walk/bike at least twice per week. To challenge my muscles a bit more, I try to vary the locations as well; sometimes I will walk around the lake or a shorter distance on the sidewalks in Lake Placid, while other times my mom and I will go hiking on one of the many trails in the area. When the roads are dry, I take the mountain bike out again and cruise around Mirror Lake, or loop through residential neighborhoods (and up hills, which are impossible to miss in the Adirondacks), incorporating intervals of faster speed if I can. I used to be able to ride the 25 mile round trip to Whiteface mountain from Lake Placid, but I have to work my way back to that level of fitness. 😉

5. Stretch and or start a yoga practice

Since I started my “training” of sorts for skating at 2 years old with ballet, I have been stretching. I’m fairly sure that’s all I did the first several years of ballet, since most toddlers/young children can’t learn too much technique at that time. I was bored silly then, but now, I am grateful that I had this foundation. When I started skating at age 7, I was already able to understand stretching and how the body should move, as well as how to extend and control my movements.

So I take my habit of stretching for granted, but I realize many people simply don’t stretch. Whether it’s because they don’t have time, don’t know what stretches they should focus on, or they don’t think it matters, many people (including athletes) don’t stretch enough. I was guilty of it for years, until I started stretching again before I skated. Then I stretched afterwards, and started to notice an improvement. Maybe it’s because I’m not a teenager anymore, but I realized over the last few months that I absolutely need to stretch to prepare for training or any athletic activity. Even if you’re not an athlete I believe it’s important to do this, even if it’s just a few basic stretches every day.

That’s also why I do yoga. I’m not going to say I LOVE yoga and it’s my favorite thing to do, but it helps me so I try to take a yoga class at least twice per week. If there isn’t a class nearby, there are many different options, including Youtube yoga, Dailyburn’s yoga videos,  yoga dvds, and yoga infographics like this one.

These are my five small ways to improve fitness–do you have any items to add to the list? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

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