What’s the secret to health and fitness success? That’s the question I’m asked far more than any other.

The answer: Be consistent. Be consistent. Be consistent.

For more than 20 years, I’ve exercised every day. Now, does that mean a full, hour-long workout? No. Some days, in fact, I only have time for 10 minutes; other days, only 30; still others, a strenuous, two-hour hike. When I’m traveling for a week or so I may only be able to get in a few minutes of exercise between meetings. But whether it’s 10 minutes, 30, or a long 60, I make sure I work up as much of a sweat as possible. Not because I’m trying to burn off last night’s dinner or because I think it’ll improve my cardiovascular capacity, but because I don’t want to fall out of practice. That’s what I mean by consistency – if you fall out of the habit, get right back on track.

Often, when I talk to people who aren’t exercising on a consistent basis, I get the feeling that they have the best intentions, but allow one excuse after the next to interfere with their workouts. Then, they lose momentum. “I was exercising and then all of a sudden I just stopped,” is a common lament. “I don’t know what happened. I just sort of quit. I haven’t really done it for six months but I plan on starting again right after my birthday.” Exercise and self-care is not an on-and-off proposition. It’s a daily one. If you don’t have time to do your regular workout in its entirety you don’t abandon the whole thing all together. That’s not the way to approach exercise.

Set a Goal:

Try thinking of it this way. You have a goal – an ideal, if you will. The ideal is to work out five times a week for at least 30 minutes. But if you can’t get in all 30, then you take what you can. That’s the way life works. Just because you fall short of an ideal doesn’t mean that you abandon its pursuit. Telling a single lie wouldn’t compel you to give up honesty as an ideal any more than accidentally running a red light causes you to break every other rule of the road. The hardest aspect of exercise is starting again after not doing it for a while. That’s why I try not to lose my momentum – so I don’t have to start all over again.

Make Exercise a Daily Part of Your Life:

Just accept that you’ll devote at least 10 minutes a day to exercising, the same as you accept that you’re going to have to eat, bathe, and dress. Now, those 10 minutes may not necessarily be at the gym or on the track. They may be that walk you take by parking a little father away from the office or those stairs you climb instead of pushing the elevator buttons. Once you choose to make exercise a daily part of your life, you start to see opportunities for it where before you saw only barriers. That viewpoint begins to create lifestyle changes and produces a healthier attitude toward life in general.

Consistent Eating:

Consistency also applies to eating, which is another question I’m often asked: “How do you have the willpower to be good all the time?”

Answer: I don’t think in terms of “good” or “bad.” Rather, I focus on eating in a way that serves my health and my body. And, that includes eating all kinds of foods, including what many may consider “bad.”

80- 20 Rule:

If I had to explain it in terms of “good” and “bad,” I’d say that you only have to be “good” 80 percent of the time. That allows you, pretty much, to do whatever you want with the other twenty and still not upset the equation. You can splurge on a Nestle’s Crunch bar, indulge your craving for Ben & Jerry’s and give in to that tempting apple pie. Just be consistent and on track the other 80 percent of the time. By the same token, the 80-20 rule frees you from the trap of thinking that just because you ate four potato chips you might as well eat the whole bag.

When I was pregnant with my first daughter, Katie, I developed the strongest craving for bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. While this might not seem strange to you, I had not eaten a piece of bacon for 15 years. And yet, I could sit down and eat not one but two BLTs at a single meal. Concerned, I checked with my doctor, who assured me that the craving was normal, and perhaps I needed a little more salt in my diet.

After Katie was born, I fortunately lost my craving for bacon. Unfortunately, I’ve never lost my craving for chocolate. This is an ongoing issue for me. In fact, I’m learning to control my longing. I allow myself to eat chocolate once a week – no guilt, no shame, no worry. The other days, I nibble on fresh fruit or homemade rice pudding or suck on a piece of hard candy to satisfy my sweet tooth. I’ve also learned not to keep large quantities of chocolate around the house. If there were, I’d be tempted to nibble on it every day. I know myself. Giving myself permission to indulge has taken chocolate out of the “bad” food category – and it’s no longer an obsession. I feel a sense of calm about my eating habits. I never feel deprived, and I don’t like to listen to someone talk about calories or carbohydrates when I’m eating. My attitude is, when you’re eating, enjoy. And, when you’re satisfied, stop.

That’s what I tell people when they ask for my health and fitness secrets. I tell them the secret is consistency. The three-month, give-it-all mentality is only good for players in the Super Bowl. But when it comes to developing a healthy lifestyle, it’s a day in, day out, week in, week out, year in, year out. This is the game plan that leads to success.

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