Whether or not we are always conscious of it, we live in a community where competition is intense and endemic. Students are taught from a young age the importance of “hustle” in day-to-day life. Extracurricular activities, tutoring, and homework (alongside what can feel like a billion other commitments) fill up our days, and as time goes on, it becomes difficult to prioritize anything other than what is being constantly handed to us.
For a lot of teenagers, fitness and nutrition are not taken seriously enough in everyday life. This is not to fault anybody in particular—sometimes, it is simply too much of a “time consuming” prospect to try and fit an hour at the local gym into our already overwhelming schedules, or to prepare balanced and wholesome meals for ourselves to fuel our bodies and brains. Granted, not every one of us has to go to the extent that I personally have—tracking my specific caloric needs and having two separate workout sessions most days of the week—but there are certainly easier-than-you-think fixes to some of the temptations in our lives to remain sedentary in our activity or idle in our food choices.
Believe it or not, fitness doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing commitment. Our levels of overall health and physical athleticism aren’t, thanks to giving up our time and social lives for the sake of hour-long workouts lifting 500 pounds or meal-prepping chicken breast and brown rice all our lives. You see, some have the mistaken belief that such a tradeoff exists. But it doesn’t.
Rather, our fitness is accumulated over a lifestyle, of small choices and changes that all add up to something incredible. Tiny tweaks here and there (which might seem insignificant on their lonesome) aggregate to amazing results. And some of those tweaks are not only very much compatible with our everyday lives but can also be shockingly easy to implement. It’s all about building habits.
Take, for instance, your morning commute to school. Now, this will, of course, vary based on where you live in relation to where you attend, but if you’re in the general vicinity, skip that car ride and hop on the bike. Yes, Beijing is polluted as all hell more often than we’d all like, but on clear days, a nice breath of ahem fresh ahem air and a rush of breeze can not only be a simple way to get your heart rate up and burn a few extra calories, but also act as a perfect wake-up call to a long (let’s face it, probably tedious) seven-hour day of sitting in the classroom. Plus, you can feel good about helping the environment.
If you’re farther from your school (say, downtown to Shunyi), a bike ride is obviously unfeasible. But there are some small strategies for you, too. When you get off the bus and into the building, why not take the stairwell farther away from your first-period classroom? That’s basically pointless, you might say. Sure, you won’t be doing much with that alone, but over the course of a day, a week, a month… Altogether, it adds up. Remember, it’s about building habits. Just don’t do it if you’re going to be late for class!
The same goes for the rest of your day. Every place you can walk just a bit longer to get there, do it! Skip the shortcuts and opt for some extra steps. If you and your friends like to just sit around during your mid-day breaks, get them off their butts and take a walk with you before your next class. Sure, just walking is boring, but get your pals with you and you can all talk about sports, nightlife, movies… I don’t know. Whatever floats your boat.
When it comes to food, giving generalizable tips can be a bit trickier. It’s just so subjective. Of course, I know exactly how my meals and nutrition are structured. I know my own preferences, and I know what kinds of food fuel me up just right. I don’t know about everyone else. I’m terrified that I’ll suggest some low calorie or “healthified” recipe for a dish that someone feels very strongly about. Yes, it’s happened. I made a low-calorie pizza one time, put it on my Instagram, and my Italian best friend nearly disowned me.
So let’s skip all that potential melodrama. I’ll do my best here. Regardless of what foods you’re used to eating, there’s generally a healthier alternative that’ll satisfy your taste buds just fine. Alright, let’s say you’re just not that keen on giving up chips and candy bars. Fine. If you find a version of your favorite snack food that is even just 10 calories less per serving, that’s still something. Remember, it’s not about perfection in one fell swoop. It’s about incremental improvements.
Specific recommendations? Let’s say you want some chips. I’d personally just skip the chips and snack on cherry tomatoes. (What?! you ask. I like vegetables, relax.) But I get that everyone else’s food preferences are not as devastatingly bland and boring as mine have come to be. If you usually enjoy snacking on Doritos, reach instead for Pop Corners. You can find it in any supermarket in Beijing and it’s 360 calories for a full 3-ounce bag, whereas the same volume of Doritos will cost you 550.
Let’s get more digital for a second. Since we students are honestly already on our phones and computers for way more of our lives than we should be, why don’t we just make better use of some of that time? Aimlessly scrolling through the Instagram homepage looking at memes is fun, but have you tried MyFitnessPal?
My point is that there are so many apps out there that can actually make incorporating “casual” fitness into our lives that much easier. The previously mentioned MyFitnessPal (MFP), by the way, is my personal lifeline. The app is a calorie/macronutrient tracker, with a database of food items and their nutritional profiles three times larger than the next-biggest app with the same function. As I’ve hinted, I understand that tracking calories is certainly not for everyone. But MFP has a variety of other functions which can be useful to you in your fitness lifestyle—including daily featured articles, workout guides, and recipe ideas. It also has a step counter, but if I’m honest, not a very good one.
For that, I turn to Argus, an app that has a range of functions, but its layout and simplicity make it very convenient for exclusive use as a step counter. The app’s homepage is composed of tiny little hexagons (which I find weirdly satisfying) each with various data, but the focus is on the one with a constantly updating number. That’s right, the step counter is literally constantly updating itself, up-ticking along with each and every step that you take.
But if you’re the seriously competitive type, and just knowing your own step count isn’t enough, try WeRun. If you’re on WeChat (and let’s face it, you are), you’ve probably heard of it. It’s a function that not only tracks your daily steps but pits you in a day-to-day battle to the death (at least that’s what some people I know make it out to be) with all your WeChat friends, everyone clamoring to be at the top of the leaderboard. The competition, though sometimes taken a little too seriously, is, in my opinion, a terrific motivator perfectly tailored to students and adults alike in our community.
Of course, there is a plethora of other fitness/lifestyle/nutrition management apps out there, other than those I’ve summarized here, but they all have one uniting quality to them. They make us aware. It’s not hard to slack off when we have nothing holding us to account. That’s what makes our schooling system functional, after all. Due dates prompt us to finish assignments on time, and grades prompt us to do those assignments well.
The same concept applies to fitness and nutrition in our lives as students. When there’s no benchmark to go by, why would we feel compelled to hit up the gym in the middle of exam week, or go for a run the weekend before that big project is due? Why would we feel any motivation to take a few extra steps, when we have no idea how many we’ve already taken?
That’s the beauty of these apps, the way they bring accountability into our lives. If we know we want to hit 10,000 steps a day, we’ll have more purpose to walk the long way to do so. If we decide that there’s a certain physique goal we want to reach, we’ll start to reach more for the lighter, healthier options.
It would be impossible for me to give everyone tips on how to make fitness a well-rounded part of your life specifically; everyone is just too different and unique. But just remember this: it’s not about perfection in one fell swoop. It’s about building habits, incremental improvements accumulated over a lifestyle of small choices and changes, that can all add up and become something incredible.
Photos: Adobe Creative Cloud
This article appeared on p20-21 of the beijingkids September 2018 Teen Takeover issue.