Got a big event coming up in three weeks that you want to look your best for? While that's not enough time for a total transformation, three weeks is enough time to make some healthy lifestyle changes and set up a solid routine.
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Improvements in fitness come with patience and consistency, and there's no better time to begin than the present! Use the next 21 days to jump-start healthy exercise and eating habits through consistent workouts and cleaning up your diet.
Start With a Solid Cardio Routine
You can't expect to go from sedentary to super fit in only three weeks, but you can certainly improve your fitness level. If you're not currently exercising, start by introducing a consistent weekly cardio and strength training program to enhance your fitness level.
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio workouts each week, recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Start with a moderate activity like brisk walking; or if you feel up to a more aggressive workout, try running, jogging, rowing or swimming to burn more calories.
Add Intervals to Your Cardio
If you're already doing regular cardio, kick it up a notch by adding intervals to your routine. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) gives you results faster than steady-state cardio, according to the Mayo Clinic, as it burns more calories in less time — great for a tight deadline!
After warming up, perform your cardio at a higher intensity for 30 to 60 seconds, followed by a one- to two-minute recovery interval. Alternate between work and recovery for the duration of your workout (20 to 30 minutes total).
Don't Forget to Strength Train
Aim to strength-train twice a week, recommends the CDC. If you're new to strength training, consider performing compound exercises, as they burn more calories and improve coordination and movement, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Exercises like deadlifts, squats, pull-ups and push-ups are a great place to start, ACE recommends.
Another tip for newbies: Perfect your form with the body-weight version of an exercise first before adding any weight. You'll be surprised at how much strength you'll gain and how your body composition can change without any fancy equipment.
Remember to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. If you're not sure where to begin with cardio or strength training, consult a fitness professional for help designing a plan.
Read more: 5 Types of Weight Training
Clean Up Your Diet
The first place to start if you're looking to lose weight or body fat or improve your overall health monitoring your food intake. Cut back (or cut out) highly processed foods, added sugars and refined carbohydrates and instead fill your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats.
If weight loss is your goal, you should prioritize creating a sustainable caloric deficit (when you burn more calories than you consume). Keeping a food diary or using a food tracking app on your phone is the best way to get an idea of your daily intake.
Once you have an idea of how many calories you're consuming to maintain your current weight, you can safely trim between 500 and 1,000 calories from your daily intake, according to the Mayo Clinic. Stick to the lower end of that range if you're also going to be working out, as your body will need fuel for exercise.
Minimize Bloating Before Your Event
Fine-turning your diet before your deadline can minimize bloating, which can make you look trimmer and more fit. While simply eliminating processed foods can help improve bloating issues, certain foods, known as FODMAPS, are hard to digest and can cause increased bloating, according to Harvard Health Publishing. These foods include legumes, onions, artichokes and asparagus, among others.
Artificial sugars or sweeteners are also known to cause excess bloat or gas, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Avoid carbonated beverages — not only are sugary soft drinks packed with calories, but the carbonation in these drinks can trigger bloating.
Read more: 10 Ways to Beat Belly Bloat
Keep a Realistic Perspective
While improvements in fitness don't happen overnight, creating a healthy exercise and diet routine can set you up for long-term success beyond your three-week deadline. Begin to build a sustainable routine and with some consistency and patience, you'll begin to see (and keep) the results you're looking for.
- CDC: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Active Adults"
- Mayo Clinic: "Rev Up Your Workout with Interval Training"
- ACE: "5 Benefits of Compound Exercises"
- ACE: "5 Compound Exercises You Should Add to Your Workout"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics"
- Mayo Clinic: "Healthy Diets"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "What's Causing That Belly Bloat?"