There’s a lot to be said for sweat. In fact, I’ve made my career about getting people to sweat—profusely—during my workout classes.
But what happens in the gym or on the track is only part of the story. Real fitness isn’t about what you do for that 20 or 40 or 60 minutes you’re breaking a sweat. It’s about what you do during the rest of your life.
So when people complain that they can’t reach their fitness goals no matter how hard they workout, I usually tell them the same thing: Stop working out so hard, and try one of these utterly painless ways to get fit:
Pain-Free Fit Plan #1: Turn on the Bath
Feeling the burn may be a good thing when you’re actually working out, but feeling it for days after? Not such a good thing. In fact, being too sore to work out is a common problem for people who begin new fitness programs. Feeling good about yesterday's workout inspires you to hit it again today. And part of feeling good is not feeling sore. That's why a hot bath or sauna is more than just a luxury: in one study, researchers found that going into a sauna after a workout reduces oxidative stress, one of the sources of your day-after soreness.
Pain-Free Fit Plan #2: Get on a Roll
Foam rolling is one of the best ways to keep your muscles loose and your body mobile. It not only stretches areas that are hard to hit otherwise (like long tendons), but it provides a “dynamic” stretch, meaning one in which you’re moving. A recent study found that high-intensity, dynamic stretching improves strength and flexibility. Slow, relaxed stretching, not so much.
Pain-Free Fit Plan #3: Dig into a Steak
Protein-packed foods like steak up your fitness in two ways. First, protein has a high “thermic effect”—in other words, you burn a lot more calories digesting protein than you do carbs. That’s what causes your metabolism to rev. Second, protein provides the building blocks of muscle, so following a workout with a smart meal of lean protein helps to maximize your gains. When you’re ordering the steak, you’ll be in a safe zone if you look for the word “loin”—sirloin, top loin, etc. “Loin” is butcherspeak for “lean.”
Pain-Free Fit Plan #4: Take a Nap
Ok, this one takes 30 minutes, not 30 seconds—but it’s definitely pain-free. A study reported by the Endocrine Society found that losing just 30 minutes of sleep on weekdays raises your long-term risk of obesity. The reason: Insufficient sleep raises your levels of cortisol, the stress-related hormone that’s also known as the “belly fat hormone,” because it triggers the body to turn blood sugar into belly fat. Extra bonus: A recent study at the University of Michigan found that for every extra hour of sleep, a woman’s likelihood of having sex the next day increases 14 percent!
Pain-Free Fit Plan #5: Nosh Some Nuts
Like steak, nuts are high-protein foods that burn fat and support muscle. But it’s hard to snack on a sirloin while you’re taking a stroll. A recent study found that teens who snack on nuts daily have a lower risk of diabetes and other fitness-related disorders.
Pain-Free Fit Plan #6: Plug in Your Headphones
For two reasons. First, finding music that motivates you is a proven way to boost the benefits not just of a workout, but of a simple walk outside. Second, it makes a lot of sense to get your cell phone away from your face. One study recently found evidence that the flame retardants used in cell phones may be related to weight gain. There’s a lot more research to be done, but why put the phone to your face when there are better options?