I have been heavily involved in the fitness industry, at least in some capacity, for many years. I spent four years as a collegiate runner at the division one level, and it proved to be an incredibly formative time in my life.
I gained more knowledge about endurance running, strength training, and nutrition than I ever could have imagined I would. There was a seemingly endless stream of resources available at my disposal, and I tried to make the most of these learning opportunities.
Interestingly enough, one of the most crucial lessons I learned through four years of competing as a division one athlete had absolutely nothing to do with diet or exercise.
In reality, many of the top athletes have already fine tuned their workouts and nutrition to become the fittest, healthiest individuals they can be. What really separates the good from the great are the tiny habits that impact health and fitness in significant ways.
The following are three such habits I adopted in college that ultimately boosted my mental and physical health. I no longer compete at an elite level, but I continue to practice these habits today because they impact my life in positive ways.
1. I spend more time doing this.
Even when I was in college, I made it a priority to call my family every week. Although my schedule was incredibly busy, I found a way to squeeze in a phone call with my dad or a conversation over text with my mom, even if I had to do so while walking to class.
Before I went to college and lived on my own, I didn’t realize just how much my family really did for me. I think it can be very easy to take someone for granted when you are around them all the time.
When you no longer live under the same roof as your loved ones, you really have to put in the extra effort to communicate with them often.
I think that spending more time with the ones you love, whether it be in-person or through telephone calls, text messages, and emails, will improve your overall health and happiness in meaningful ways.
2. I put this first.
When I was in high school, I never felt like I got enough sleep. I never woke up on my own for school, and I was always dragging for the first few hours of each morning.
After I headed off to college, I quickly learned that I need to prioritize sleep above most other things. I simply wouldn’t have been able to succeed in academics or athletics without doing so.
Since I had 6 AM workouts a few times per week, I got into the habit of crawling into bed by 9 PM. If I wasn’t tired, I would watch a television show for 30–45 minutes and then try to doze off. I consistently got around 8 hours of sleep each night, and doing so helped me become a better student and athlete.
On the few occasions that I broke my own rule of putting sleep first to complete a project or homework assignment, it only backfired on me. I ended up sick or I was too tired to think optimally. Had I just went to bed and revisited the assignment the next morning with a fresh mind, I would have been far better off.
To this day, consistent, high quality sleep remains one of the most integral parts of my healthy lifestyle. It is a tiny yet significant health habit that you should not overlook.
3. I let go of these.
After I finally let go of expectations for myself that were simply unachievable, my mental and physical health both improved significantly.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think it is important to set a few big, audacious goals for yourself, even if you don’t expect to reach them. However, if all of your goals are so unrealistic that they make any win you experience feel like a failure, you might need to let go of certain expectations to improve your mental and physical health.
When I was in college, I put so much pressure on myself academically that I never got to appreciate the opportunity I was provided to learn about topics that interested me, such as coding and circuits.
Rather than viewing every piece of homework as a test of my intelligence and self worth, I should have just seen each assignment as a learning experience, no matter the outcome.
With all that being said, it is crucial to balance your expectations by setting some realistic, achievable goals along with a reach goal that might be unobtainable right now. That way, you will be able to celebrate your small successes as you continue to work towards your larger dream.
I think there is a common misconception that you can’t live a healthier, happier life unless you make drastic, immediately noticeable changes to your life.
In reality, the tiny, seemingly insignificant changes can add up to create huge results if you are patient enough and trust in the process.
Health is not some end goal that you can simply achieve and check off your master to-do list. It is an ongoing journey that you must re-commit to every single day. So when tomorrow morning rolls around, I ask you this — which path will you choose?