How to feel motivated to eat better and exercise more in 2021

As the new year turns while the coronavirus pandemic rages on, finding the motivation to adopt healthier habits is tough. Here's how to do it.

Amanda Capritto
6 min read
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Back in May, I ambitiously wrote about how to return to a healthy diet and an exercise routine "after lockdowns end." Well... I'm now thinking I was a bit overzealous because here we are, seven months after this story originally published, facing renewed stay-at-home orders in certain locations and heeding holiday precautions everywhere.

Whether or not you've been in a bona fide lockdown these last nine months, your life probably looks different than it did in February 2020, when we were all still so innocently excited about the turn of a new decade. It's been nearly one year since CNET first covered the novel coronavirus in January, and we're about to enter 2021 with -- if I had to guess -- much less enthusiasm than most of us entered 2020 with. 

We can only hope 2021 will prove less turbulent, but it seems safe to say that things won't return to our prior "normal" even when lockdowns end (will they?), but there is one thing you can reclaim no matter the quarantine status of your city: your health. 

Humans tend to be creatures of habit, so being thrust into a new routine (or non-routine) without much warning has the potential to zap any preexisting healthy habits into oblivion. If you've been struggling with lack of routine, unhappy with your eating or exercise habits, or otherwise feeling frazzled and frustrated, here's how to ease back into healthy habits in 2021.

Read more: Why you shouldn't make a 2021 New Year's resolution, according to a psychologist

Recommit to healthy eating

Most people can agree on one thing: #QuarantineSnacks really got us all through this situation. From chocolate to chips and, of course, the universally beloved banana bread, unfettered access to the kitchen has kept everyone sane and satisfied during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. 

Some of the best snacks, though tasty, aren't necessarily good for your health. And snacking all day, even on healthier snacks, can lead to a calorie surplus. Gaining weight definitely isn't the worst thing that could happen during a global pandemic, so don't feel guilty or ashamed if you've put on a few pounds. Ultimately, if you're safe and healthy, a little bit of weight gain is a non-issue. 

On the flip side, some people have been forgetting to eat due to stress or anxiety. Either way, looking beyond body weight, your long-term eating habits do impact your health. Your diet plays a major role in your ability to fend off illness (both short-term infections and chronic diseases), your sleep quality and energy levels, your mood and your productivity. 

To start eating healthy again, it might help to focus on one thing at a time. For example, maybe you want to eat less sugar. Or perhaps your goal is to eat more vegetables every day. Just focus on that one thing -- you'll be surprised at the big difference a single change can make.    

Reinstate your morning routine

Those first few weeks of work-from-home life were blissful, right? No commute, no obnoxiously early alarms. You could just roll out of bed 15 minutes before your first scheduled Zoom meeting for the day, no pants necessary. 

After a while (ahem, a year), a total lack of structure can take a toll on your health. Your sleep cycle ebbs and flows until it's not really a cycle at all; you may skip meals (or do the opposite: snack all day); let go of any semblance of an exercise routine. You may even find yourself forgetting to do simple things, like taking your daily medication or brushing your teeth twice a day. 

Try to reestablish a morning routine and start your day like a boss. Wake up at the same time each day, brush your teeth, wash your face and, yes, put on pants. Even leggings will suffice. Eat breakfast (or don't), grab your favorite morning beverage (not wine, sorry) and start your day with something productive. 

Productive can mean anything: Go for a walk, do some morning stretches, read a few pages from a book or magazine, do some household chores or get right to work. As long as it gets you up and moving, go for it. 

Woman reaching to turn off alarm clock

If you're WFH for the foreseeable future, it's important to establish a morning routine.

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Develop a healthy sleep schedule

Just like you should establish a healthy morning routine, try to create a soothing night routine for yourself, too. Having an evening routine can help you wind down, fall asleep faster and settle into a healthy circadian rhythm that supports high-quality sleep. 

Your night routine doesn't have to be extensive -- no need to stuff a 20-minute yoga flow, herbal tea, a face mask and journaling into one evening (although those are all great practices, and if you love them, have at it). 

An effective night routine can be as simple as taking a shower, slipping on your favorite soft pajamas and crawling in bed. Experiment with your evenings and find what works for you. 


Sleep should be a number-one priority as you ease into a routine. 

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Restart (or maintain) your exercise habit

One silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic that, as a fitness professional, fills my heart with joy is the number of people who picked up an exercise habit during this time. Exercise has so many benefits, both emotional and physical, and I've seen firsthand how physical activity can help people through tough times. 

If you're one of those who started exercising for the first time during the pandemic, keep it going strong as stay-at-home orders ease and life starts returning to "normal" (whatever that will mean). 

If you exercised regularly prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and let that habit slide, don't worry too much: Everyone responds to tough scenarios differently, and it's totally OK that you gave your body a break. In the overall realm of things, a few months isn't that long, and you'll be surprised at how quickly your strength and endurance snap back. 

Ease into exercise by starting with two to three workouts per week, and gradually increase from there, if you want to. If you have the financial ability to do so, consider hiring a personal trainer when gyms and fitness studios open up again -- you'll be able to help a small business owner who likely struggled with the loss of clients, and you'll have peace of mind knowing that you're exercising safely and will get results. 

Read more: The best rowing machines in 2020   

Friends taking break after workout in gym

Exercise is undeniably good for your immune system (and your mood!)

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Set screen time limits

Many people have found themselves with a lot of extra time on their hands during the coronavirus pandemic, whether they lost work or just lost their usual robust social lives. There are only so many hours you can fill with board games and home improvement projects, and all that extra time has led to extra phone-scrolling for many. 

While there's nothing wrong with a Netflix binge every now and then, excess screen time is known to impact health in several ways, disturbed sleep and mood problems being some of the most common. 

Take a look at your screen time stats (Screen Time app on iPhone ; Digital Wellbeing on Android) and consider where you could cut back. When this is all over, you may naturally find yourself reducing screen time because you'll be back at work or have more actual face time (not FaceTime) with friends. 

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Reestablish work-life balance

Working from home can present all sorts of boundary issues, especially if you were thrust into a work-from-home situation without warning -- not to mention your setup probably isn't ideal if you never actually intended to work from home. 

The experts say you shouldn't work from your bed or your couch, and that you should have defined work hours. You know, no emails after 6 p.m. or whatever. Only, that can feel impossible when your personal phone becomes your work phone and your personal laptop becomes your work computer. 

If your work-life boundaries blurred during the coronavirus pandemic, try to re-establish a balance. Keeping work at work can help you avoid excess stress and overwhelm, which may lead to burnout

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.