Welcome to week 4 of The Year of Happy‘s month on the body. The Year of Happy is a free online course in the science of happiness. Not signed up yet? Enter your email here and you’ll get a weekly dose of readings and videos to further your happiness education.
Chances are, eating or exercising healthily is something you’ve worked on in the past, and something you’ll continue to grapple with for years to come. There is no secret formula – just science-backed tips that will improve your chances of hitting your goals, and inspiring stories of people who are achieving theirs.
Below are some suggestions for overcoming three of the biggest obstacles to better health: a lack of motivation, time, and knowledge.
Problem: I’m not motivated
First things first: Is exercise just harder for some people than others? Researchers looked at the Big Five personality traits and exercise, and found three correlations: neurotics were slightly less active, while extroverts and conscientious people were more active. If you fall into any of those categories, you can use your personality to your advantage (or try to mitigate the damage). Extroverts, for example, can sign up for more social sports, while the conscientious among us can take advantage of our efficiency and organization to get into an exercise routine. As for neurotics? The irony is that a bad mood can deter us from exercise, but exercise itself can lift us out of one – just one more reason to hit the gym.
Still having trouble sticking with an exercise habit? Sports entrepreneur Michael Haddin explains the five musts of sustainable exercise: planned, fun, accessible, efficient, and effective.
Problem: I don’t have enough time
There’s no question that being healthier takes time, and, for many of us, it’s time we don’t seem to have. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s modest recommendation amounts to more than three hours a week at the gym. And avoiding fast food means that our food will literally be slower – more time-consuming to buy, prepare, cook, and eat.
Luckily (or not), this is a problem that almost everyone has – so there are lots of potential solutions out there. For example, check out:
- “12 Easy One-Pot Meals” (Real Simple): At least the cleanup won’t take long!
- “30-Minute Meals” (Food Network): It takes that long to drive to get pickup anyway, so why not cook at home?
- “The Scientific 7-Minute Workout” (New York Times): It will be unpleasant, but at least it’s short.
- “Deskercise! 33 Smart Ways to Exercise at Work” (Greatist): Instead of checking Facebook, why not burn some calories?
Problem: I don’t know where to start
Even with all the motivation and time in the world, the realm of nutrition advice is vast and confusing. Are eggs our best source of protein or little packets of artery-clogging cholesterol? Is yoga gentle or neck-breaking? Can we justify our coffee addiction or not?
Overhauling our diet overnight might not be possible. In the video below, Drew Ramsey (coauthor of The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body) explains an easy way to supercharge typical meals with brain-friendly nutrients.
The same goes for exercise, as well. Should your image of perfect health be the marathoner, or the Crossfit junkie? How do you even use those weight machines, anyway? Sometimes paying for one session with a trainer can give us the right blueprint to follow, even if one session is all you do.
If you take anything away from this month, remember this: the way we eat and move our body affects how we feel. It’s easier to think positive thoughts and regulate our emotions when our brains are functioning better, so diet and exercise should be part of any self-improvement equation. A healthy lifestyle can give us a better chance of finding the lasting happiness we seek.