For parents and students, September marks the season of fresh starts. There's something about the flurry of back-to-school preparations and return to routine that feels like a clean slate, even for those of us who aren't boarding the school bus. In many ways, fall is an even better time to embark on a health and fitness journey—the crisp, cool weather is perfect for exercise, and the upcoming winter holidays serve as the perfect incentive.
Need some inspiration for self-improvement? We've gathered 50 ideas to give you a head start.
Fall into Healthier Eating Habits
- For every hour of sitting, do one minute of cardio. This can be walking, running in place, jumping jacks or whatever gets your heart pumping. (This should be in addition to your regular workouts.)
- Extend every workout by 10 minutes. After a month, gauge the results.
- Do two workout videos each week. Choose one from your favorites, and one you've never tried before.
- When you're watching TV, do stretches or exercises. Netflix binging has never been so good for you.
- Set three new SMART goals. These kind of goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. For instance, one might be to go to a fitness class twice a week, or to only eat takeout once a week. Assess your progress each month.
- Rake your own leaves. Not only will you have a shipshape lawn and a feeling of accomplishment, a 150-pound person will burn more than 260 calories in one hour of raking.
- Sign up for a charity event that's near and dear. If you're an avid animal lover, register for a local race that supports the humane society, for example. You'll be more motivated if your efforts are going toward a good cause.
- Turn kids' practices into workouts. Instead of sitting on the sidelines or in the car during soccer or baseball practices, use that time to walk, jog or stretch.
- Try a standing desk. Get work done while burning calories and improving your cardiovascular fitness.
- Go on a foliage walk. Take a stroll through a park or around your neighborhood to soak in the resplendent fall colors while you can.
Create a Harvest-worthy Home
- Set a limit for your vice. Whether you love chocolate, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese or another "guilty pleasure," decide that you'll only indulge in that item once a week.
- Stop punishing yourself for setbacks. Ate too much pizza? Don't sentence yourself to an extra hour on the elliptical or a day of self-starvation. Move forward, stay focused on your goals and don't dwell on your moment of weakness.
- Resolve to eat meals screen-free. Distracted dining can lead to overeating, as well as disconnection from companions. Log off before digging in.
- Host a healthy fall potluck. Ask everyone to bring along copies of recipes to share with the group.
- Do a processed purge. Go through your pantry, fridge and freezer and get rid of highly processed foods, like packaged snacks and frozen dinners. Replace them with real foods—the fewer the ingredients, the better.
- Start tracking your food. The results will surprise you—and motivate you to make positive changes.
- Take a cooking class. Feeling clueless in the kitchen? Consider taking a class to learn the basics.
- Learn to decipher food labels. And then read the label of every item before placing it in your grocery cart.
- Before eating something, ask yourself if it will benefit your body. If the answer is no, put it down (or indulge thoughtfully and sparingly).
- Swap out white breads and pastas for brown. Whole grains are packed with more protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals than refined grains.
Make it the Autumn of YOU
- Bring fall kitchen essentials front and center. It's time to swap out the lemonade pitcher and smoothie machine for the slow cooker, stock pot, casserole dish and other autumn cookware.
- Paint a room. Painting can be a tedious process, but it comes with some perks. As you move items to paint, you'll naturally do some purging and organizing. And when the project is complete, you'll have a newly energized and rejuvenated space. (Plus, you'll burn more than 130 calories an hour.)
- Plant a fall herb garden. It's easier than you think. Not only will it provide delicious, healthy produce for meals and snacks, it will also save on buying these items at the grocery.
- De-clutter one mini-space per day. This could be a junk drawer, an office bookshelf or that entry table where everyone tosses mail and miscellany. Just five or 10 minutes a day can add up to a more organized household.
- Get your spice rack in season. Do a quick inventory and stock up on any fall flavors that are low or missing (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and other autumnal essences).
- Designate a screen-free zone. Choose a space—whether it's family room, the kitchen or the covered porch—where phones or computers are never allowed. This will eventually become the area where family members gravitate when they want to connect.
- Implement a "one in, three out rule." For every one new item that you bring into your home, purge (sell, donate or toss) three items you don't need or use.
- On busy days, get a piecemeal workout. 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch and 10 minutes in the evening will be just as effective as 30 minutes of exercise.
- Check your home's air quality. Pollution doesn't just happen outside. Do an indoor air check to make sure your family is breathing clean, healthy air. For peace of mind, consider using a portable air cleaner.
- Give the house a bath. Rent or borrow a pressure washer to remove built-up dirt and debris from siding, decks, patios and driveways. In addition to improving curb appeal, it doubles as an arm-strengthening and cardio-boosting workout.
Make It the Fall of Family
- Swap "yes" for "no"—and vice versa—once a week. Accept that interesting invitation you'd usually bypass, and skip the umpteenth PTO meeting that interferes with yoga class. You may be surprised by the rewards of switching up your knee-jerk responses.
- Reset your internal clock. If you're struggling to wake up in the mornings and find yourself wide-eyed at midnight, you may need to reset your circadian rhythm. Create a restful sleeping environment and turn in an hour earlier than normal.
- Toss out that old sports bra. (Or that tired tank top, or pair of saggy-kneed leggings.) You know the one we're talking about. Next, treat yourself to a brand-new replacement.
- Throw away negative thoughts. Literally. Next time you're obsessing about what you perceive as too-big thighs or flabby arms, write down those thoughts on a piece of paper, crumble it up and toss it in the trash. At the same time, write down the same number of positive comments in a notebook—those you can keep.
- Stop mindless surfing. When you find yourself getting sucked into a website that doesn't improve your productivity, wellness or self-worth, close the browser or shut down the computer. Your time and energy is better served elsewhere.
- Pick a hobby and attack it like an Olympian would. Whether it's sewing, spinning or skydiving, turning a pastime into a passion makes life richer, and your body and mind healthier.
- Make a list of 10 time suckers. You may be surprised by how easy it is to come up with them. The harder (but oh-so-rewarding) part is purging them from your life.
- When stress strikes, breathe. Proper breathing exercises serve as mini-meditation sessions, while also increasing oxygen flow and helping to eliminate toxins.
- Purge ill-fitting clothing. Life is too short, and your closet is too small, to keep apparel that doesn't flatter your figure and make you feel good about yourself.
- Learn to accept compliments graciously. Not only is it polite, it's good for your health (and the health of the giver).
- Reconnect with your partner. After a summer filled with family vacations, kids' sports and camps and loosey-goosey schedules, your relationship with your significant other may have been shoved to the back burner. Set aside time for a date night, a joint trip to the gym or just a movie night at home.
- Start a family journal. It doesn't have to be anything fancy—just a spiral-bound notebook where everyone can record their thoughts, feelings, goals and funny moments. Keep it in a common area where family members can easily find it when inspiration strikes.
- Take a field trip to an apple orchard. The whole family can get in on the harvesting action, and then you can find creative ways to cook them.
- Hug more often, and hold on longer. Not only do embraces show loved ones you care, they could help keep you from getting sick.
- Schedule a regular family game night. Don't let anything interfere with this sacred time to reconnect, blow off steam and laugh with your loved ones.
- Respect routines. From breakfasts and bus stops to dinners and bedtimes, kids thrive when following a regular routine.
- Practice an open door, open ears policy. Encourage kids to come to you with their problems and questions, listen without judgment and offer advice only if they seek it.
- Celebrate failure. It's easy to applaud achievements, but it's with the blunders where the real lessons lie. Each day, encourage everyone to share a so-called "failure" and what they learned from it.
- Resurrect the family dinner. It's good for your budget, your waistlines and your relationships.
- Get outside together. Make time for picnics in the park, bike rides, leaf pile jumping, trail hikes or any activity that brings you closer to nature and each other.
You will earn 5 SparkPoints