The Essential Guide to Living Well
How to Build Healthy Habits (and Stick to Them)
Here’s the problem: humans aren’t very good at thinking ahead. Sure, we’re alright at making plans for tomorrow, or dreaming about where we want to travel in the next year. But as far as the science goes, we’re pretty bad at thinking say… 50 years into the future. We can’t be faulted for that too much – It’s in our genes! Cavemen didn’t need to plan 50 years in the future. – but having a little foresight can actually help us in the long run, especially when we’re thinking about our health.
There are good and bad sides to having bodies and minds that are malleable. The good side is that we can shape them into something we’re really happy with. We can be strong and get stronger, we can lose or gain the weight we need, and we can even change our thought patterns. But the bad side is that our bodies and minds react to negative input, too, like our stress levels, what we’re eating and drinking, or our poor form in the gym. These negative reactions add up overtime, doing things like forcing our blood pressure to spike, letting plaque collect in our blood vessels, and creating injuries that never fully heal. All of these things will affect us 50 years from now… which means that it might be time to start looking ahead.
At Jersey Strong, we believe in a wholistic approach to health. Put simply, we believe that leading a healthy lifestyle is simply about making a series of healthy choices each day. Going to the gym is an amazing start, but it doesn’t stop there. So, we made this HUGE two-part healthy living guide just for you.
In it, you’ll find:
- Steps to Build Good, Sustainable Habits
- Success Stories from Jersey Strong Members Who Took the
- Wellness Plunge
- Foundations of a Healthy Lifestyle
- The Habits You Need to Form Now to Live Better
- We want to live a long, healthy life. If you’re here, we’re betting you might, too. Let’s start living well!
Part One: Developing Sustainable Habits and A Balanced Lifestyle
So, you’ve decided to start a diet or a workout plan. You’re excited about it, and you dive in headfirst. You try out a gym, you buy the right foods, you meal prep and you write down your workouts. But no matter how hard you try, the habit doesn’t stick. You either get partway through and life gets in the way, or maybe you reach the end of your program, but fall right back into the eating and fitness habits that you had before… and pretty soon, you’re back to square one.
Sound familiar? No worries. This happens to a lot of people (especially beginners) and it happens for a few reasons.
Your Diet Was Unsustainable
Dieting as we know it isn’t designed to be sustainable. On the contrary, many diets are designed to get you quick results. And while results are great, you can’t restrict your food for the rest of your life – which is one of the reasons why so many people find that they settle back into old habits when their diet is over.
Your Fitness Plan Wasn’t Made for You
Maybe you followed a plan that promised a beach body in a few months. Maybe you followed a plan that was meant to get you ripped after 8 weeks. Plans are a great place to start, but a lot of the time, a life-changing fitness plan requires a bit of research and needs to be tailored to you. That’s why we (and so many other individuals and gyms alike) believe in personal training. Trainers will help you outline the steps you need to take on the way to your goal.
You Hadn’t Taken Yourself Out of Your Personal Cycle of Bad Habits
This is so crucial. When we’re trying to make new habits, we often forget that the process requires us to break old habits, too. Maybe you fell off your plan because you snack when you’re bored or stressed. Maybe you fell off because you often stay late at work or snooze your alarm multiple times in the morning, cutting down on viable workout time. Bad habits and self-doubt can occasionally be what stand in the way of our goals most.
At the end of the day, bad habits are just our excuses rearing their ugly heads. So how can we break out of these negative behavior patterns? And how can we create newer, better ones?
We’re so glad you asked.
Tip: Identifying (and Breaking) Your Bad Habits
This is much easier said than done, but if you’re looking to form good habits, you’re going to have to let go of some bad ones. The trouble is that there is a thin line between a bad habit and an addiction or dependency, like:
- Smoking cigarettes
- Drinking every night
- Binge eating (or restrictive yo-yo dieting)
- Tech or social media dependency
Others, like sitting with poor posture or sitting at a desk all day without moving, are easier to fix and address. For the above bad habits and addictions, we recommend speaking with your doctor. But for things like eating poorly, sitting poorly, or skipping your workout routine, there are more obvious paths forward: and that mostly has to do with letting your good habits override your bad ones.
How to Develop Good Habits (and How to Make Them Stick Around)
Science these days says it takes about 66 days on average (that’s just over two months) to form a new habit. (21 days was the previously accepted number… except it was never based in fact!) It does, however, get a little more complicated when you talk about forming fitness habits (the study linked about says that fitness plans take a little longer to stick).
But there is good news: building new, healthy habits doesn’t require you to upend your entire life overnight. The process should be slower, take some time, and allow for you to adjust to your own balanced lifestyle.
Down below, in Part Two, we outline the habits you should form for living well. But first, up here in Part One, we’re helping you figure out how the heck to form good habits in general.
Lifehacks to Form Good Habits
Write Your Goal (and Habits) Down
To record your goal is to actualize your goal. But when you start to break that goal down into steps, you’ll notice that a lot of the steps are part of habit building (a goal of being able to lift 200 pounds, for example, requires you to go to the gym three to five times a week… that’s the start of a gym-going habit).
Don’t Overcomplicate It
Making huge, routine-and-life-altering changes are hard to sustain from the get-go. If what you want is to eat well, don’t expect yourself to make a new, healthy recipe every night. Instead, break it down: decide on one meal you want to make that week and prep it for lunch. Start slow – this is not a zero-to-sixty situation.
Give Yourself a Set Time
Commit to a time period – 30 days, 60 days, 90 days – to practice the habit that you want to form. This leads us to our next tip… having a set time period helps you see where you’re killing it and where you need work.
Be Kind to Yourself
During your first 30/60/90 days, consider what you’re doing as an experiment. That means you can withhold judgement – no punishing yourself if you skipped a day or two. Instead, like in tip number one, record why you didn’t accomplish what you wanted to. Our bet is that you will begin to find patterns in your behavior that you subconsciously lean into when you’re not focused in hard enough on your goals. These are the habits you’ll want to break as you move out of your experimental period.
Maybe you and your friend have similar healthy lifestyle goals, but neither of you have had success in accomplishing them. Make them your gym buddy. Or, if you prefer to work alone, alert your loved ones of your goals and ask that they gently push you in the right direction while you’re trying to form these new, good habits. When you have someone to hold you accountable, you’re more likely to succeed.
Remove Temptation BUT Have Stand-Ins at the Ready: Say you’re trying to stop having sugary drinks. Remove those temptations: get rid of all of your sodas, as well as BAD stand-ins (sugary juices or candy). Instead, have seltzer at the ready… so now, you can have a flavored drink that helps you get your carbonation fix without the harmful sugar and chemicals.
Consistency Is Key
When you’re starting out, practice your habit daily. (If consistent working out is your goal habit, build in at least one true rest day, and make sure to rotate muscle groups to prevent injury). The more you practice, the faster it will become an automatic process. The more you skip a day, the harder it will be to make your habit, well, a habit.
Developing ways to sustain healthy habits is the major foundation of leading a healthy
lifestyle. As the saying goes, “We are what we repeatedly do.” But what, exactly, do we
need to repeatedly do so that we can be healthier, more fulfilled, and live life well?
Part Two: The Pillars of a Healthy Lifestyle
Determining what’s healthy for YOUR body might look different than someone else’s health plan. But there are a few foundational principles that apply pretty much universally to every body – and we and the rest of the Jersey Strong family can attest to the fact that simple changes like these can make truly change your life. First, the easy stuff.
You Probably Aren’t Drinking Enough Water
Chances are you’re not getting enough water (you’re not alone!). You should be drinking about half-a-gallon (that’s 64 ounces) of water a day. There are plenty of reasons to do this: water lubricates our joints, it helps keep skin clear, it provides a cushion for our brain and spinal cord, it helps us regulate our blood pressure, our body temperature, and our personal waste, it prevents kidney damage and helps us improve performance in the gym; the list goes on.
If you’re used to subbing coffee or soda in for water, getting half-a-gallon of water in your system each day can be surprisingly hard… but there are a few ways you can make it happen.
Get a dedicated water bottle (or two!). Make this part of your essential checklist in the mornings… keys, wallet, phone, water bottle.
Set some hydration time goals (We’re serious!). Try, for instance, to drink the whole bottle by noon, and then refill it.
Not good at self-management? There are apps to help remind you to drink water! Try this one to help you get started.
Nail Down Your Morning Routine
Seize the Day!
Unless you’re one of the lucky few true morning birds out there, mornings can be tough. And we get it – we snooze alarms, too. But especially for busy people, creating a morning routine can be the difference between a good day and a bad day. Plus, in theory, it’s simple: it requires us to nail down about an hour’s worth of good habits. To get an in-depth breakdown of creating a morning routine, go here, but we’ve outlined some quick tips for you here:
Stick to the First Alarm
If you’re a serial snoozer, this is going to be the hard part. Instead of giving into the admittedly-cozy-but-otherwise-unhelpful “five more minutes,” simply set your alarm for a realistic wake-up call, and open the curtains when it chimes.
Hydrate & Eat
You’ve gone 8 hours (ideally) without drinking or eating anything. They don’t call it break-fast for nothing! Drink a glass of water right when you wake up (some studies show that this has the same affect as coffee) and eat your meal-prepped food at your table, not your desk.
Carve Out YOUR Time
Whether that’s exercise, reading, or simply sitting still to gather your thoughts for the day ahead, make sure you have time dedicated to you and your own goals. Make your mornings time that is dedicated simply to you.
Set Your Goal for the Day
Having just one thing that you can accomplish each day will help make your daily work week routine feel less like a grind and more like a journey. Set your goal and shape your day around it.
Even if you’re the spontaneous type, having a morning routine that doesn’t deviate day-to-day makes it easier to implement. The rest of the day will be unpredictable. Make your morning your safe time.
Rethink Your Sleeping Patterns
Finally, an Excuse to Go to Bed
Sleep is one of THE most important aspects of our health. Scientists still haven’t nailed down exactly why we sleep so often, but they HAVE determined what happens if we don’t get enough sleep. None of them are good:
- Your immune system weakens
Count on that winter cold, especially if you’re not sleeping enough.
- Your heart health worsens
This goes for both too much AND too little sleep, but consistent nights of five hours or less greatly increase your risk of heart disease or stroke.
- You gain weight
One study followed over 20,000 people over the course of three years... and it found that people who slept five hours or less a night were more likely to eventually become obese.
- Your skin gets worse
Less sleep = wrinkles, loose skin, uneven skin tone (The term beauty sleep is more than just a cliché!).
Of course, getting sleep is dependent on a whole host of other factors: your stress levels, your mental health (depression and anxiety, in addition to making you sleep too much, can prevent you from sleeping at all), your work-life balance, how much you exercise, screen time before bed. If you’re finding that you are having difficulty sleeping, try:
Banning screens in the bedroom
Moving your body once a day
Create an evening routine to help your mind shut down
How to Create a Workout Routine
Work It Out
Fitness habits form through routine. Once you’ve got that routine down pat, you’re in the clear. But making that routine is a whole other story. Still, if you’ve got the drive, there are small hacks that you can take advantage to put you on the right path. Here are some of them.
Schedule Workouts in Your Calendar
You take calendar meetings seriously. Why should scheduled workouts be any different? Scheduling out your fitness goals in your calendar helps in a number of ways: it lets you visually see how your personal life fits in with your professional one (Yes, it’s possible for them to live side-by-side!), it helps you plan ahead and around other “life” stuff, and handy-dandy calendar pop-ups hold you accountable.
Get a Friend
We already talked about the benefits of having pals in on the fun with you. If you aren’t a self-starter (there is no shame in this!), having a buddy along for the ride will help hold you accountable and motivate you on the days you’re feeling low.
Sign Up for Fitness Classes
Alternatively, you can hold yourself accountable by committing to fitness classes throughout the week. If you don’t have a workout buddy, these are a great alternative (and a great way to meet people). Check out our fitness classes at any one of our Jersey Strong locations and see why they can help you stay on track.
Get a Personal Trainer
Obviously, we love personal training. But especially for beginners or people who have hit their fitness plateaus, a personal trainer can help get you out of a rut and into a plan. You can read more about our personal training options here!
Take Active Rest Days
You’ve reached a rest day! Congrats! But in the habit-forming stage, it’s best NOT to just sit on the couch all day if you can help it. Go to yoga, go for a walk with the dog, go for a light, easy run… moving every day is good for you AND your habits.
How to Make Healthier Food Choices
Reboot Your Diet
Healthy eating is a series of compounded habits (what’s sometimes called “habit stacking”). When we’re habit stacking, it means that we’re layering good habits over good habits. These stacks basically create a chain of healthy choices and help us think about those choices in terms of steps.
For example, a great habit stack or chain might be: Look up healthy recipes write down ingredients in a grocery list go to the grocery store come back and meal prep for the week Here are a few quick tips to help you move towards making those healthy choices:
Many Americans have a pretty negative relationship with food. We use food as reward to celebrate milestones like holidays and birthdays; we use it as a crutch if we’re feeling sad or depressed; we use it as a way to deal with boredom. But food started as necessary fuel to keep us healthy and active. Reset your thinking around food: think of it as a fun way to add value to your day, not as a reward.
We already went over this a little, but when you’re trying to develop healthy eating habits, remove foods that pull at your weaknesses. You can add these back in later when you have the self-control to moderate.
It’s the simplest way to guarantee that you will eat right. Meal prep every meal – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – so that you have no reason not to eat right.
Yeah, we said it. Especially in the beginning stages of forming good eating habits, allow yourself to cheat in tiny (and we mean tiny) ways. Eat a cheat meal on a Saturday, or eat one square of dark chocolate as dessert each night. Restrictive eating won’t help you in the same way that binging won’t help you. You can think of habits as bad or good, but steer clear of assigning value to food. Instead, think of certain foods as ones that are warmer or colder in terms of how much closer they bring you to your goal… and allow yourself to get colder here and there.
Make Self-Care a Priority
It’s Okay to Make It About You Self-care has been a bit co-opted these days, especially by the wellness industry. It’s a phrase we usually target towards women, and that we associate with beauty and indulgence. But self-care isn’t about facemasks and a bowl of ice cream after a long day (and it’s definitely not just for women).
It is, put simply, acts of putting yourself first.
So much of our lives is about other people: shepherding the kids back and forth to school or activities, making sure you’re meeting goals at work to impress your boss or hit the bottom line, taking care of your dog or cleaning the house. Sometimes it can seem like there truly IS no time for you, and when we feel like we’re in autopilot simply to get through the week, that’s probably an indicator that we need to take a step back and make time.
What Self-Care Is:
- Taking alone time when you need it.
- Going outside for a walk if you need sunshine.
- Sleeping in on the weekend or getting up for a run.
- Learning to say no.
What Self-Care Is NOT:
- Consistent acts of indulgence under the guise of “I need this,” like drinking or binging.
- External stimulus like facemasks (though, never underestimate the power of a spa day!).
- Turning away from challenges that can better you as a part of practicing saying “no.”
The Benefits of Calming Your Mind (and How to Do It)
Meditation is not fluff. It can help you improve your gym routine, heighten your focus, and either start your day or shut down from a long week. It also has pretty impressive health benefits, including altering your brain chemistry to help you deal with stress, improve your memory, and possibly even prevent genetic damage from things like chemotherapy. Start with these four simple steps:
Dedicate One Spot to Your Practice
Make it quiet, private, comfortable, and not your bed. Dedicating one spot to your practice helps your brain switch into meditation mode once you’re there.
Make It Part of Your Morning Routine
Make it the very start of your day: before breakfast, before you wake up your roommates/family/partner, make meditation what you do when you get out of bed.
Use Focus Techniques
Especially when you’re first starting out, you will probably find it hard to stay focused. Try using techniques such as a body scan – where you focus on relaxing every single part of your body from your toes to your forehead.
There’s an App for That
Meditation apps like Headspace help beginners focus in on their practice. This is one of the few cases where technology can actually benefit your mental health!
Everything You Need to Know About Today’s Top Diets
And How to Choose the Best One for You
One big part of choosing a weight loss diet is learning to respect what your body responds to. Did you try that (insert name here) detox and lose 10 pounds, only to gain it all back a week later? Did you give keto a go but find that it wasn’t sustainable for you? Did you get on Weight Watchers only the fall off the bandwagon? It’s totally possible your heart wasn’t in it—It happens!—but it might also be true that that diet simply wasn’t the one for you. Here, we’ll outline some of today’s most popular and visible eating plans so that you can choose the one that will work best for your preferences and body. We’ve broken them down into two categories: dieting methods and the nutrition plans themselves.
In some cases, a weight loss plan might not be in what you eat, but in how you eat it (or how you track it). Still, it’s about a balance: intermittent fasting won’t work if the only thing you’re eating is junk food when mealtime comes. With that in mind, here are a few ways you can structure your food plan:
- Intermittent Fasting. The research on whether or not this method of eating—which requires you to go certain long-ish periods of time (anywhere from 16 to 24 hours) without food—is actually good for your health long-term is sparse. But fasters swear by it, and some studies show that it can be good for your heart, help you lose weight, knock down your blood sugar levels, and increase cellular repair processes. The most common form of fasting is the 16:8 method—16 hours of no eating between 8 hour periods of eating as normal (i.e., lunch and dinner and a snack).
- Calorie Counting. Calorie restriction used to be the classic way to lose weight. There is a right way to count calories, and that’s to calculate the base amount of calories your body needs to lose weight according to your goals—without starving itself. When you eat too little, your body will react the exact opposite way you want it to: in starvation mode, your body hangs on to weight and stores fat. If you’re tracking calories in a healthy way, you should be losing no more than 1-2 pounds a week. Apps like My Fitness Pal can help you determine what a healthy goal should be.
- Macro Dieting. Macro dieting is a more food science-y way to look at your diet. It’s mathy like calorie counting, but more informed in terms of the makeup of your food. On a macro diet, you count the grams of protein, carbs, and fats in each food and calculate the ratios you need to meet your weight loss goals. One of the benefits of this diet is you know the molecular level of your food…which helps you understand exactly where your calories are coming from. It also helps you ration out your food in a more positive, informed way, because it helps you determine exactly what kinds of nutrients your body is getting Collapse
The Mediterranean Diet
What is it:
The Mediterranean diet is meant to help you build healthy eating patterns that will last a lifetime. It’s consistently rated as the healthiest and easiest diet to adhere to on the market right now. That said, it allows for some fattening ingredients—avocados and olives, oils, the offhand glass of red wine, etc.—so it’s worth noting that weight loss on this diet requires a little bit of planning. That said, it blocks processed foods and sugars and requires recipe experimentation (and cheat meals—like the occasional whole grain pasta dish or dark chocolate—are not only allowed, but encouraged on occasion).
- Vegetables & Fruit (including starchy ones!)
- Seeds & Nuts & Spices & Legumes
- Seafood and Poultry
- Eggs & Dairy (in moderate amounts)
- Whole Grains
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Who it's Good For:
Someone who wants to ditch processed foods without ditching flavor or sugar entirely. While paleo is similar to the Whole30, it allows for natural sugars like honey and maple syrup. Whole30 doesn’t allow for any sugar at all. And while paleo cuts grains, it does let you have nuts and seeds, and encourages you to cook with herbs (but to go easy on the salt).
Best Exercise for Weight Loss
As the old adage goes, weight loss is 80 percent diet, 20 percent exercise. To lose one pound per week, you need to have a deficit of 3,500 calories…and you can bet that’s made a whole lot easier when you’re combining what you’re eating with how you’re moving.
The key with weight loss workouts is simple: any exercise is good, but the best kind is the kind that will encourage EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption…otherwise known as afterburn. When you’re doing exercises that ramp up your EPOC levels, your body is in overdrive even after you’ve gotten out of the shower (And sometimes even full days later!). That’s good for you: your body will be burning through energy (food and fat stores) like there’s no tomorrow…and that puts you on a path to weight loss much faster than simply changing the way you eat.
Below, we’re outlining some personal-trainer approved fat-burning exercises geared towards helping you lose weight and tone up. Because EPOC is most encouraged by HIIT, we’re giving you exercises to mix and match for your next interval session and for when you need to pop in and out of the gym in a flash.
Best Fat-Burning Cardio Workouts for Your Next HIIT Circuit
HIIT stands for “high-intensity interval training,” and HIIT exercises are meant to kick your butt.HIIT exercises vary, but great weight loss workouts will include a mix (depending on that day’s fitness goals!) of compound exercises to engage all parts of your body.Here are some of the best HIIT exercises for weight loss.
Who knew that jump rope would come in handy in adulthood? Jumping rope is highly effective—you can burn up to 900 calories per hour (though to be clear, no one is expecting you to jump rope for an hour at a time). Pro tip: get a weighted jump rope to engage that upper body.
Your Circuit: 1 minute on, 30 seconds off for 10 minutes.
The kettlebell is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment you can work out with. It’s also consistently rated high on the EPOC scale, and can increase afterburn for dozens of hours. When you’re working with a kettlebell, it’s extremely important to hone in on your form—bad form will give you a bad time.
Your Circuit: 15 kettlebell swings, 15 kettlebell squats, 15 kettlebell push presses as many times as you can in 5 minutes. Have your personal trainer watch your form.
Cycling is a killer workout. Consider this your most major cardio partner. A riding session can be a HIIT workout in and of itself—adding resistance and bursts of speed will make your heart rate spike and help you burn off calories at a rate of up to 750 calories per hour.
Your Circuit: Feeling a hard cardio workout? Pop onto a bike for half-an-hour with 1-minute sprints every 5 minutes. Don’t forget to ramp up the resistance for a tougher workout. Work with a trainer to hold you accountable.
Treadmill Hill Climbs
Hill climbs target your glutes, calves, and thighs, and give you a cardio boost while you’re at it. Ramp up the incline on one of our treadmills and get ready to sweat. Just make sure you don’t rely too much on the handrails.
Your Circuit: Climb with intensity for 1 minute. Lower, recover for 2 minutes, raise, and repeat
Weight Loss Workouts on the Go
Sometimes you can’t fit in a full gym session. No sweat! Instead, pop in ready to do a quick circuit. Try rotating through the following four exercises three times and walk out of the gym quickly, without that no workout guilt.
Push-ups are another example of an exercise whose benefit you will feel more with great form. For your quick-hit workout, do 10, and move on to jump squats.
Jump Squats or Jump Lunges
They’re squats with a twist—cardio. Do three rounds of 15 squats with 30 seconds of rest in between.
Curtsy and Split Squats
Squat variations are a great way to target your lower body. Do two rounds of 15 squats each with a 30-second rest between.
Everybody’s favorite exercise! Do 10 burpees, focusing on the height of your jump each time you pop up.
Work your middle for all-day burn. Do 20 mountain climbers on a mat before you roll over and then get straight into push-ups for a bonus burn.