What works for you in terms of diet and exercise at one point in your life isn't necessarily going to be your routine forever. An extreme example of this: Michelle Kwan, the former Olympian and figure skating champion whose life is very different than it was when she was actively competing. Now she's studying international relations in graduate school, is a public diplomacy ambassador for the United States, and has partnered with General Electric to promote its new Healthymagination initiative, which focuses on preventive medicine and healthy habits. (As part of that effort, GE, the Cleveland Clinic, and Ochsner Health System commissioned a survey about health and doctor-patient relationships. Among the findings: Americans rate their own health highly, but say other people's health is "going in the wrong direction.")
I chatted with Kwan for a few minutes after the press event announcing the survey results. Some diet and fitness tips gleaned from her experience transitioning to a new kind of life:
*Portions need to be matched to activity level. "I'm a big eater," Kwan says. (Her parents owned a Chinese restaurant.) Working out for six hours a day, as she did when she competed, meant she could eat as many as 4,000 calories daily. No longer; in her grad school classes, she actually has to sit down for big parts of her day. Although she has a sweet tooth, she watches the quantity of her food and eats healthfully. She says that, like everyone else, she has tried various dietary trends (including Atkins) but has settled on something close to the Zone Diet, which recommends a 40-30-30 percent balance of carbs, protein, and fat.
*A morning workout routine is often easier to stick to. Even for people who enjoy exercise, as Kwan does, working out first thing in the morning often brings a "getting it over with" feeling of relief. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic, says that people know they should exercise more but say that they just don't have the time. Scheduling exercise like any other appointment helps solve that problem, and there are usually far fewer excuses for missing a workout at 6 a.m. than at 6 p.m. Kwan says that when she does work out in the evening, she prefers more restorative, relaxing exercises, like yoga or Pilates.
[Slide show: 10 Excuses for Not Exercising—and Why They Won't Fly]
*Do what you enjoy. Yes, Kwan still skates a few times a week. Now, she says, it's a "treat." Think of how your attitude towards exercise would change if you looked forward to workouts as a pleasurable experience. A dance class, dip in the pool, walk in the park with your dog: Whatever it is, if you have fun doing it, you're more likely to keep it up.
*Exercise really can become a habit. I had planned to ask Kwan about how she stays motivated to work out, but she pre-empted me by telling the group that her friends and family know that if she doesn't work out (and eat enough!), she's not much fun to be around. It's not hard to motivate yourself when exercise becomes an essential part of your day. And yes, Kwan built that habit over many years of competitive skating, but anyone can do the same thing, regardless of skill.
[Try out our 10-Week Workout Routine.]
*When your life changes, take advantage of new opportunities. When Kwan was skating competitively, she says she had to be extremely careful about her off-the-rink activities; her coach advised her not to run, for example, because the repetitive pounding might set her up for injuries and didn't train the muscles she needed for explosive jumps. And "I didn't do anything dangerous," she says; even hiking could have resulted in a turned ankle. Now she can run—and, even more thrillingly, she's learned to snowboard.