Maybe I was lucky: Mountains, stars, snow, and horses formed the bulk of my childhood, so day or night, I was usually on the move—and fitness was naturally part of my life. When I was 8 years old, I started competing in freestyle skiing, and as a teen, attended a unique high school where I studied in the mornings, and skied in the afternoons. I’d wake at 5 a.m. to run, and then after skiing, either ran again, swam, cycled, or worked out in the gym. Instead of detention, we’d get…push-ups—25 for every swear word. I’ll admit—my arms got pretty strong. It all paid off (and continued), as I qualified for the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team when I was 16, and competed around the world for ten years.
Thing is, while I exercised A LOT—fitness never felt like a burden. Instead, it was a training tool to help me reach my goals and truly, I just couldn’t feel happy without it. I was born with a need for nature and movement.
I realize I’m not the norm—and not everyone grows up doing jump squats after breakfast. In fact, according to the CDC, 80% of Americans don’t get the recommended 150 minutes of weekly, moderate exercise, and a recent review of studies revealed a whole host of possible reasons why: Some people feel exercises are too difficult or confusing, workout programs too complicated, gym environments too boring or intimidating, and of course, there’s the ubiquitous, lack of time.
So how can you seamlessly incorporate fitness into your lifestyle and even train like an elite athlete (if you want) in the process? One way is to shift your perception of what fitness involves—and keep it simple. “Fitness” doesn’t have to involve intricate workouts and tricky moves if that’s not your thing. In fact, several of my workouts as an athlete involved functional (albeit basic) strength moves, and anaerobic work, like hill sprints.
When part of a lifestyle, fitness can be as simple as logging an extra 3000 steps in a park, taking the stairs, or running with your dog. And making it happen can be as easy as finding a goal to train for, or just something that plain makes you happy—which makes it a whole lot easier to slip into your life.
Here are some other science-approved ways to keep fitness simple, so it sticks:
Whether it’s microbiomes in soil or the green of the trees, stepping outdoors has been proven to boost happiness and even cause positive thinking. Researchers at Stanford University recently found 90 minutes of walking in a natural environment can reduce repetitive, negative self-thoughts (rumination). In other words, taking a hike in a park-like setting can help you feel better about yourself—which can be pretty motivating and make you want more. More, more, more.
Solo exercise can help relieve stress, but for some, a partner makes workouts more fun. Research shows it can help keep you accountable, and one study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise revealed that exercise adherence is related to perceived support—so knowing your friend has your back can help you stick to your plan. The same study showed the buddy effect can make you feel more positive about your routine, too.
If a long run seems daunting, get outside for three brisk, 10-minute strolls during the day (and get your steps in). Research has long shown three shorter bouts can have similar calorie-burning benefits as one 30-minute session.
Strength training doesn’t have to be complicated either. In fact, basic exercises like squats and lunges can burn more calories than more focused moves (like leg extensions and hamstring curls) because they work larger muscle groups. You can also turn them into full-body exercises by incorporating an overhead press or biceps curl, to work shoulders and arms. Pro Tip: Focus on simple, multi-muscle bodyweight exercises, like push-ups or walking lunges when pressed for time, and perform them outside for an extra boost.