Being active is a big part of my life—it’s my job, my passion, and the thing that gets me out of bed at 4:30 a.m.! From endorphin-boosting dance classes to calming yin yoga sessions, or simply breathing in the salty sea air on a morning beach walk, I love how movement can recharge my batteries and lift my mood. However, unlike many trainers, I actually don’t believe that traditional exercise needs to be a high priority on your healthy living to-do list.
I know, I know. Fitness fanatics across the globe are shaking their heads in dismay. But here’s the thing: With over eight years of experience as a trainer and Pilates instructor (working with stay-at-home moms, retirees, professional athletes, corporate executives, and Hollywood celebrities), I’ve learned that if you want to create a healthy body and life that you love, there are some things more important than exercise. In fact, there are six things. So take off your sneakers, make a cup of tea, and let’s look at these six habits that can help you reach your wellness goals—without a gym membership.
1. Home cooking.
You might have heard this before, but it warrants repeating: You can’t out-train a bad diet. Luckily, you can take control of your plate, and the best way to do that is to get comfortable in the kitchen. Not only does healthy home cooking protect you from hidden calories, sneaky sugar, and a large takeout bill, it lets you choose foods that help your body thrive. Cooking at home is key to creating a diet that suits your unique needs. Feeling under the weather? Add some ginger to your morning smoothie. Battling adrenal fatigue? Snack on avocado with a dash of sea salt. Tired from another late night? Make an anti-inflammatory turmeric latte with coconut milk.
Why home cooking is more important than exercise: Learning how to cook, meal prep, and eat healthy food is one of the most important elements of a healthy lifestyle. Not only will it give you the fuel you need to tackle your day, but it also has more of an impact on your body shape and overall well-being than any gym class ever could.
2. Daily "joyous" movement.
I know what you’re thinking, isn’t this article about six things that are more important than exercise? And isn’t "movement" a type of exercise? Not in my book! Let me explain: Exercise is a specific physical activity that you do for a certain duration, with the intent to improve your fitness. Movement is the simple act of keeping your body in motion throughout the day that will ultimately make you feel healthier, more supple and, believe it or not, truly fit. Think of it like this: Exercise is spending 30 minutes on the Stair Master while movement is taking the stairs at any opportunity. "Joyous movement" is the term I use to describe sprinkling active hobbies into your routine. This might be an evening walk with your pups, riding a bike to the farmers market, playing tennis with friends, or jumping on the boogie board at the beach. Joyous movement is a two-for-one in terms of benefits, as it improves fitness but also adds value and entertainment to your life.
Why daily movement is more important than exercise: New studies show that the amount of time you spend being sedentary adversely affects your health, even if you’re exercising for an hour each day. By regularly adding movement into your day, you can skip the Lycra and put those gym membership fees toward activities that you love.
While we’re on the subject of movement, we should probably talk about mobility. Our modern lifestyle is decreasing our body’s natural ability to move with ease, which has long-term consequences that you might not have thought about. Sitting at a desk, staring at a computer, or being hunched over your phone will decrease circulation to your limbs, put 60 pounds of added pressure on your cervical discs, and can lead to kyphotic (rounded) posture in your upper back. Whether you’re a millennial, gen-Xer or baby boomer, mobility is the foundation of a well-conditioned body; to move freely without pain or risk of injury is the gold standard of lifelong fitness.
Why mobility is more important than exercise: If you want to be fitter, stronger, faster, and more agile, then mobility is the place to start. As the saying goes: Don’t try to run before you can walk.
4. Stress management.
Put your hand up if you’re a chronic list maker, and crossing off a task gives you a little jolt of satisfaction. Guilty as charged! The thing is, if your addiction to getting things done is adding to your stress—as well as work, family, traffic and, you know, life—it may be harming your health, lowering your performance, and robbing you of feeling satisfied in your everyday life. Chronic stress negatively affects your mood, your mind, and even your microbiome, which is why learning to manage stress is essential for living a healthy, happy life. (Want three strategies for reducing stress (without meditation)? Try these.
Why stress management is more important than exercise: While exercise has been touted as a great stress buster, the strain that intense activity puts on your body fans the flames for cortisol spikes and adrenal crashes. However, if you do want to exercise during times of stress (I tend to need to!), the best forms of movement are gentle walking, swimming, yoga, or tai chi.
5. Committing to self-love.
Yep, I’m the self-love lady, and I feel very strongly that women need to love who they already are if they want to grow into who they want to be. This attitude rings true for all things—from relationships to career to nutrition to exercise, self-love must come first. Without self-love, it becomes easy to use exercise as a punishment for something that you ate or as a remedy for something that you dislike about your body. Not only is this cruel, but it’s also a crummy long-term fitness strategy. (Trust me, eventually your inner critic will get sick of the gym, too.) On the other hand, choosing to work out as a statement of love for your body because you deserve to feel healthy and strong will not only boost your self-esteem, it will make the process of getting fit one that is enjoyable and sustainable.
Why self-love is more important than exercise: Exercise can help you feel more comfortable in your body, but self-love will make you more comfortable in your life. Combine the two and you will achieve exponential results.
6. Find your purpose.
There's one more healthy living habit that might be the most important one of all: finding your purpose. It’s challenging to stay motivated, eat well, and exercise if you don’t know why you’re doing it. And I don’t mean the standard reasons that people give like finding your happy weight and increasing energy. Those are the benefits, but they’re not reasons that will drive you for the long term. The best way to ensure that you’ll be successful on your healthy lifestyle journey is to know who you are and what you want out of life. I often talk with clients who put themselves and their health on the back burner. By prioritizing the needs of others, they’ve lost touch with what it feels like to be themselves and what they need to do in order to thrive. But when you have a WHY to your life that lights you up, your desire to treat your body well increases and health becomes the vehicle that allows you to live a life of purpose.
Why knowing your purpose is more important than exercise: Knowing your potential and participating in activities that let you share your gifts with the world creates a lightning bolt of energy that illuminates your life, gives you the courage to face challenges and the motivation to follow through on your goals. The last time I checked, exercise can’t do all that.
Check out these health-editor-approved ways to make your workout routine way more fun.