Once you’ve locked down a new health routine to achieve your fitness goals, you might start wondering whether you should stick to the same regime or change things up. Should you be running the same 10-km loop every day, or should you hop on a bike twice a week to work those quads and give your joints a break? Should you be lifting weights? How often, and how much? Or is it enough that you’re finally on a consistent streak, exercising regularly, albeit in the same way every day? And when it comes to diet, is it really “healthy” to eat salad for every meal?
First, remember that consistency is the key to fitness. For example, say you’re training for a half-marathon. You can’t go out and run 21 km once a week and expect to achieve the same level of fitness you would if you ran every day, or every other day, even if it’s only 5 km each time. Similarly, you can’t skip a week of running and then “double up” the next week. The body (and the mind) need to be pushed regularly in order to adapt to a new fitness level.
You may be surprised to hear that your body operates similarly when it comes to diet. The human brain loves being able to predict what it is going to receive, so it actually functions better when you don’t change your diet up too much. That’s not to say you have to eat grilled chicken and broccoli for the rest of your life; it’s more of a sign that there’s nothing wrong with a dietary routine if you have one. In fact, that standard bowl of oatmeal and berries is actually making your brain pretty happy, setting you up for consistent mental performance from one day to the next.
So when is it appropriate to spice things up? Well, first off, variety itself is never harmful for your health; it’s the way you choose to add it into your routine that might be. For instance, you wouldn’t want to start eating junk food just for something different. And it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to start benching like there’s no tomorrow if you want to pursue competitive cycling. But you might feel like cooking salmon for dinner one night or incorporating a swim session or two into your weekly routine. So when is it appropriate to do so?
The body responds best to variety, somewhat ironically, when it’s consistent. If you want to supplement your running with swimming, hit the pool the same number of days each week, just like you do with your primary exercise regime. If you want to add more dark leafy greens into your diet, work them into the dinner menu three nights a week. If you want to push your body harder with temp runs or fartleks, schedule them in on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The bottom line: Spice things up to keep your body and brain stimulated, but keep the spice consistent to optimise its effect.
To health & happiness.
Saga Briggs is a writer for Open Colleges, one of Australia’s leading education providers. Her interests include psychology, creativity, fitness, education and system reform.
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