Archive for the ‘Setting Successful Goals’ Category
Every year just after Christmas and before New Years I would make my list of all the things I was going to improve on or do once January started. I still have some of those crazy lists, and few of the things on them ever got done. It wasn’t for lack of putting in the effort those first few weeks, but the list was too big, the expectations too unrealistic, and the reality of real life too demanding to ever succeed.
I could have been like most people and totally given up on the idea, but I didn’t. What about you? Have you given up on resolutions? Or do you still hold out hope you can make some changes this year?
Thankfully I discovered there are two ways New Year’s “resolutions” can work to inspire you and help you take action, so you can become more of the person you want to be.
- The first takes advantage of your frustration and desire to fix something in your life, and that angst fuels your resolve (as in resolution) to make a change and takes advantage of a new year, with its clean slate, to get you into action. But the action is open-ended. You don’t have to reach a specific goal. You simply need to get started by taking the first small step and then learn what feels best and is inspiring to you to keep the action going. No long lists, just one step in the right direction.
- The second way focuses on what you intend (as in intention) to have more of in your life or what you want to experience in the new year, but it doesn’t have to happen immediately and it doesn’t come loaded down with fixed goals. With an intention, there is no burning drive or catalyst to take action on January 1st, instead there is a strong desire to experience it at some point during the year in whatever way that happens.
Resolutions and intentions are important distinctions, and they give you flexibility and openness about how you will achieve positive changes in your life. Most importantly, they need to be driven by inspiration, moderation and what truly feels good to you, or you won’t stick with them.
Here’s how these two approaches have worked for me. Thirteen years ago when I was 43 and struggling with my health and my weight, I had a wake up call. I knew if I didn’t make some changes and start taking care of myself, I was going to have even more health problems and might not be able to lose the weight. I was resolved to start using my unused Stairmaster down in my basement beginning on January 1st 2001. I didn’t set a weight loss goal. I didn’t set any specific goals, such as how long I had to use the Stairmaster each day or each week. I just resolved to get on it and not stop until I got back into my wardrobe of size 6 clothes, however long that took.
At the time I was a size 16 and extremely out of shape, with cellulite down to my knees. It took me nearly two years. Because my only objective was to get on the stairs, I allowed myself to start where I was (at a few minutes) and to gradually increase my time, my frequency and then my intensity. I then started to set weekly goals, and if I came close I celebrated. If I missed a day, I moved on and didn’t let that bother me. I discovered that by giving myself permission to simply do what I could and to stretch myself a bit each week or so, that I had continual success and felt inspired to do more and more and more.
That one New Year’s resolution was all about taking my first step on the Stairmaster, and now 13 years later I am celebrating what that one step has done for my life. Had I resolved to use that equipment 4 days a week for 30 minutes right up front, or set a goal of losing 30 pounds by June, I would have seen myself as a failure and given up. But I only had one goal – get started and don’t stop. It worked.
Then on subsequent New Year’s, I would pick one new fitness activity that I would like to pursue at some point during the year. It didn’t have to be on January 1st, it was simply an intention. One year my New Year’s intention was to add in Pilates. In April I ran into a neighbor who was studying for her Pilate’s exam, and soon afterwards she started coming to my house to instruct me in Pilates. She instructed me for nearly four years. Another year I set an intention to learn kickboxing. I wanted to have the right type of trainer for this, and it wasn’t until the following fall that I met the perfect gal to teach me how to kick box. I worked with her for nearly a year, and I still do kickboxing.
A few years ago, I intended to shake up my routine to get my body out of its metabolic plateau, and in August that year I had coffee with a girlfriend who was doing P90X. I hadn’t seriously considered doing such an extreme program. But with her reassurance I could do it, I began the 13 week program on my 53rd birthday and amazed myself that I completed the 90 days. I would never have guessed at the beginning of the year that my idea of shaking up my routine would have included P90X, but I did know I was looking for something new and demanding. I got it.
This past year I was dealing with the menopause belly so many women get going through this biological change, and it has been getting worse over the past few years despite all the exercising I do. I realized I needed to kick up my metabolism more often during the day to amp up my fat burning, so I took some courses on metabolism last winter, and in the spring added 2 minutes of high intensity exertion 3 times a day, and within months the belly fat was gone.
What about you? Is this the year for one simple resolution or an intention that fulfills one of your desires?
Ahhhh another school year. Whether you have kids or not, the change in temperature and shorter days reminds us all that is time to get refocused and back to work – or back to the gym and regular workout routines. But just like kids, you don’t want to go back and you put it off for a day and than one more day. And the next thing you know it is the holidays and you never did start exercising or eating better. And of course you can’t get started once the holidays begin, so you wait until New Years when you feel more uncomfortable, overweight and disappointed in yourself. Is this a familiar story? It doesn’t have to be.
Why not create healthy routines that you look forward to instead of dread. To succeed long term in getting back into shape, maintaining your health and achieving a great feeling in your body means creating a lifestyle that fits your life, not the other way around. Forcing something to work that you really resent or is more than you can really take on isn’t likely to last. The first time your schedule gets disrupted it will be the first thing to go and the last thing to add back in. Think of what usually happens for you and if this is generally true. Do you really want to get back on that treadmill or start that diet? I didn’t think so.
Determine instead what is realistic for you and your body. Start by creating small realistic daily or weekly practices that slowly change your lifestyle so that eating better and regular exercise get easily incorporated in your planning and schedule. It is better to start with just a few changes and a small commitment – maybe exercising a few days a week doing as much time as you can and working up to five days for 30-40 minutes. What is most important is incrementally increasing the days, time and intensity in a way that is best for your fitness level and schedule. This isn’t a race or a comparison game. It is a process of incorporating fitness for a lifetime.
The same goes for food. When we feel fat, we start a diet. But diets have less than a 4% success rate. Almost no one can keep the weight off a year or more after the diet, but that doesn’t stop us from trying what everyone is doing. This is particularly alluring for us as women. We are compelled to do the next diet. It is far better to select healthy options from among foods you enjoy, and to eat when you get hungry and stop before you get full. You will be more successful long term if you enjoy what you eat, feel free to eat what you love without being deprived or judged, and creating a routine that isn’t driven by the latest diet. This is easier than starting something new every six months.
And know what is right for you. Decide what is realistic and sustainable in your daily life. Everyone’s goals, abilities and schedules are different, so it is best to focus on your situation and not someone else’s. If you push too hard, you can get burned out, frustrated, injured or impatient for results. If you cut too far back on food, you will lose your muscle mass, reduce your metabolism and end up overeating when the diet is done. It is better to start with moderation and healthy choices with enough variety to keep you interested and your body supported, so you have successes and feel motivated to stay on track.
Focus on choosing things you think you will enjoy most of the options you have available to you. Sometimes that means trying new things, such as new foods or new types of activities. You may find that you really like some of them. This is how I came to love Pilates, kick boxing and even P90X. Listen to your body and what feels best to you. You might find that a new way of eating or activity grows on you because of how good it feels to your body.
So now that fall is in the air, what simple steps can you take that are appealing and realistic to boost your aerobic levels, balance your meals and take care of your health, so you can avoid that holiday weight gain?
It seems like common sense to set goals for your weekly fitness intentions, so you can schedule your time accordingly, and have a way to be accountable and stay motivated. And for the vast majority (and about 98% of my clients), this is what works best to get started exercising and stay on track week after week. But it doesn’t work for everyone, and for those people where it doesn’t they need to experiment with what does work to retain their commitment and continue to make progress.
The main reasons goals don’t work for these people has more to do with their subconscious rebellion of rigid rules (or paperwork), past experiences where they failed to meet goals, a fear of imperfection, or a need to have greater freedom to do what feels best. It may also be something else. It isn’t often obvious what the issue is and there may be more than one reason, yet it is worth trying to figure out what is driving the resistance to goals, since it is likely also affecting the ability to successfully stick with a fitness routine.
For example, if the issue is a fear of imperfection, which is virtually impossible to attain, than anything can and will derail the pursuit of regular exercise and activity. This becomes an opportunity to change the belief that perfection is required and instead create a new belief that good is good enough. When you’ve got a history of past failures, remember that the past is not a reflection of the future. In these cases, setting very small and highly achievable goals can be helpful to break that belief and create a history of successes. Those dealing with rebellion of rules need a way to have greater freedom to define their own success, supported by a sense of structure, such as having a way to see or report on what they did without being required to decide what that is ahead of time.
Here’s a way to succeed when goals get in the way:
1) Decide you will do some type of aerobic activity in the upcoming week and consider what that
might be and when you might do it, so you can picture it and see yourself succeeding.
2) Plan on telling someone at the end of the week about what it is you accomplished, so you have
3) Be active without overdoing it, and do something you find enjoyable.
4) Notice how it felt physically to be active. Did the exercise, no matter how little it was, leave you
5) Notice how it feels emotionally to share your success. Did sharing your success feel good?
6) Notice if you also want to track what you did on a calendar or in a journal, so you can see your
accomplishment. One of my clients likes to use stars to see her successes.
7) Now ask yourself if you are motivated to be active in the upcoming week without setting goals.
If so, see if you don’t want to do a bit (up to 5-10%) more since it felt so good last week.
8) Continue each week setting loose goals until you get to the point you find you want to set more
specific goals or you are finding you are easily exercising more and more regularly without them.
If you either aren’t motivated to be active each week or are not successful in past weeks in doing as you hoped, than this approach without goals probably doesn’t work for you. At this point, it is worth going back to setting goals and seeing what type of reaction you are having either to the goal process or the exercising so you can address what is driving that response.
There is no rule that you have to set goals or that the goals you set have to always be the same or increase each week. There are times when decreasing them because of a change in circumstances is appropriate. What is more important is finding a structure that motivates you to be and stay active week-to-week and month-to-month, so you can achieve consistent exercise in your life and push yourself to increase your fitness levels and feel your very best.
I learned something that really surprised me when I discovered what it really took to successfully stick with healthier eating and regular exercise. It is doing what feels good, rather than striving to be good. It has become one of my tried and true secrets to long-term success that I have seen work over and over again with my clients.
The Struggle to Be Good Enough
When you focus on being good on a diet or in doing your prescribed exercise, you are rarely able to be good enough often enough to feel successful. Instead you end up feeling badly about yourself when you fail to eat the right thing or fit in all your exercise, and then you probably question your ability to be successful. This mindset leads to the inevitable conclusion that you can’t do it right and can’t stick with your program. At that point you give up, and it may be months or years before you try a healthier diet, an exercise program or whatever it was you were trying to improve about yourself. How many times has this happened to you?
One of my clients, Clare, used to check in each week by saying, “I wasn’t good this week, I only exercised three times”, “I was really bad last week, I overate at least twice”, “I tried to be good, but I ended up being bad”, “I’m so bad, I don’t know if I can be good”, and “I failed at doing what I know I should, and I don’t think I can do this”.
Seeing Success Differently
And yet, when we talked further, in nearly every case there was a lot she had done that was successful. She had exercised those three times, she had stopped eating before getting full more than ten times, and she was making great progress. She was surprised to hear that she wasn’t doing as badly as she assumed. She discovered that each time she had been “bad”; they were the result of situations she couldn’t easily control without a better game plan. Instead of being bad, she had done well in light of what she was dealing with, and she could create strategies for the future by having the hindsight.
We as a society are conditioned to see what didn’t go well, instead of what did. We see our failings and ignore our successes, as if having a perfect score or grade is all that matters. But when it comes to eating, exercise and self-care, you don’t need a perfect score. Good is good enough. Since you don’t have to be perfect, you can instead focus on all your successes, and that is a great feeling and a powerful motivator to continue making progress.
What Clare and all my clients have learned is that being successful is actually about honoring yourself. It has nothing to do with the judgment of being good or bad. When you can’t exercise as you planned, you end up feeling less energized. When you overeat, you don’t feel as well afterwards. When you drink too much, you lose control of your choices and don’t feel well the next day. When you are out of control around food, you don’t feel good about yourself. The repercussions of not doing something healthy affects how you feel and your chance to take good care of yourself, and that is it. The only one to beat you up is you. You weren’t bad; you missed an opportunity to feel and look better.
Focusing on Feeling Good Rather Than Being Good
When you see it that way, you start to focus on ways to feel good. For example, it feels reallygood to eat healthy food that is satisfying and to move enough that you have more energy and want to do even more activity. It feels great to have more confidence in yourself, to be in control around food, and to see your body get stronger and leaner. And it feels absolutely wonderful to become healthy and fit.
To make this shift, you need to know how you actually feel. Most of my clients have no idea how they feel when they get full, eat unhealthy food or push their bodies too hard, because they have never paid attention. Many of my diabetic clients don’t really know how it feels when their blood sugars get low or high, and even fewer clients really know how they feel emotionally. Once they learn how to check in with how they feel, they have an easier time making healthier choices because it feels so much better than being unhealthy and inactive. And the better they feel, the more of that great feeling they want.
So the secret to long-term success is doing what feels good to you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually instead of striving to be good.
“It was a bad week,” Sherry told me. “I didn’t do well with my food.” That was the first thing she said when we started our session, so I asked her what did go well before we talked more about what didn’t.
She told me about all the times when she was able to stop eating before getting full, how she had made a batch of brownies for her kids and realized she wasn’t interested in having any herself, and how she had gone out to dinner with her husband and made healthy choices without overeating. She had also had friends over for dinner and had prepared healthier foods which was a first, and she didn’t overeat or over drink.
As she shared all this with me, she was seeing how good a week she really did have. She was amazed by how many things she had done that felt really good; and she said “wow, I didn’t see all these things until now.”
That was because she was focused on the one thing that hadn’t gone so well; the one night when she overate and didn’t feel in control. That clouded her thinking about the other thirty-one times she had eaten a meal or snack the past week without overeating or making unhealthy choices. It also left her feeling like she’d failed, which had the potential to derail her efforts moving forward. After we talked, Sherry felt successful and motivated to have another good week.
You can do the same for yourself with these 4 steps:
1. Review your past week for all the times you made healthy choices.
Notice how often you ate just to the point of satisfaction and stopped before getting full, had breakfast, didn’t get too hungry, ate balanced meals and snacks, had treats in moderation, exercised or was active, got enough sleep, drank enough water, and took care of yourself in other ways.
Like Sherry, you will probably be amazed by how many healthy and positive things you actually did for yourself and how well the week really did go. Allow yourself to feel good about and to shift your perspective about your accomplishments.
2. Be curious about what didn’t go so well, instead of beating yourself up.
Also notice when you overate, ate lots of unhealthy foods, ate when you weren’t even hungry, skipped a workout or opportunity to be active, drank too much alcohol or soda, or didn’t get the sleep or water you needed. Do this with interest and curiosity. There was a good reason for this.
Think back to what was going on that day. What were you thinking when one of these behaviors occurred. That will give you clues as to what was driving that decision or choice. Maybe at the time, you were dealing with a lot of emotions or had totally run out of time. Maybe you were not paying attention and let things happen. Maybe you didn’t plan ahead and weren’t prepared, so you opted for a less healthy choice. None of these make you bad. These are opportunities to see what gets in the way of what would leave you feeling better physically and about yourself.
If you beat yourself up, you won’t see what really happened. You will only focus on how bad you are, and that won’t improve your behavior. Instead that will lower your confidence and kill your motivation.
3. Learn from that situation, so you are more confident and in control next time.
With curiosity, you can look back and see what you would have done differently, what you really needed or how you might have prepared in advance.
How could you have addressed your emotions instead of turning to food? How could you have been more conscious, so you were able to be in charge of your choices? How could you have planned ahead to have time or have food? Were your goals realistic for this week or had you really thought about it, would you have expected yourself to fit in so many days of exercise?
By asking yourself these types of questions, you can see that any time you aren’t as successful as you would like to be, these are opportunities to understand why and to consider what you might have done differently either at the time or leading up to the decision. Maybe you would have set more realistic exercise goals. Maybe if you had done your meal planning and shopping over the weekend, you would have had healthy food in the refrigerator instead of munching on pretzels and ice cream for dinner. Maybe, knowing it would be a difficult week, if you had gotten some healthy to-go food or stocked up the freezer with healthy frozen entrees, you would have had enough healthy food to eat during the week. Or maybe when you found yourself upset, if you had called a friend, gone for a walk or gotten your journal out, you wouldn’t have pigged out all night and ended up feeling sick.
With these insights, you can develop strategies for next time. And there is always a next time.
4. Let your successes and new insights motivate you to stay on track.
Feeling successful is the key to staying motivated. When you feel good about yourself and can see all that is going well to be healthier, more fit and reach your goals, you will want to do even more. No matter how small those successes are, they build your confidence and enthusiasm for staying on track.
Having strategies to support you in being successful is also motivating. It gives you direction and hope that you really can continually make healthy choices and stay on track. As you implement these strategies, you can learn more about what works best for you. These strategies aren’t new rules; they are new ideas to experiment with. The goal isn’t to be good. The goal is to discover what works to support your health and fitness, to stay motivated and on track, and to feel really good each day.
How often have you made New Year’s resolutions that you struggle to keep because they were just too much work? I remember making my lists each year of all the things I should change about myself and the things I should start or stop doing. By the end of the first week in January, I was always failing to keep up with my expectations, and by the end of January, I had given up on my resolutions all together. How often have you had the same experience?
I now do resolutions differently. Instead of focusing on what I should do differently, I focus on picking a few things I would like to experience or do more of in the coming year, and I don’t set a specific date for getting started. I set an intention that I would like specific things to happen and then wait to be inspired to take action. For example, I decided five years ago that I wanted to try Pilates. A few months later, I was running errands in town when I ran into my neighbor, Adrienne, who taught Pilates. I didn’t know she was teaching Pilates, and I was excited to find out she was working with clients in their homes and didn’t need equipment to do it. This was perfect, and I was inspired to work with her. I loved it, and I’ve been doing Pilates ever since. It wasn’t a struggle; it wasn’t a chore. It was so easy and effortless to get started and stick with it.
A few years ago, my New Year’s intention was to add kick boxing to my fitness activities, and I wanted a certain type of instructor who could either work with me in my home or who had their own facility. Nearly eight months later I was introduced to Heidi, who was exactly the person I was looking for, and I trained with her for nearly two years. I loved working with her, and again it wasn’t a chore to me. It fit my lifestyle and my personality. It is possible that a whole year could have gone by without meeting her, and if that had happened, I would have re-evaluated if that was still a resolution I wanted that next January.
Very often, just the act of setting resolutions and feeling excited about a new year can be the inspiration you need to make a change in your life. When I started exercising eight years ago, it was the desire to take advantage of New Year’s that inspired me to make January 1st the date I began my commitment to fitness. There is something inspiring about a new school year or the beginning of the calendar year, and if you feel this way, it is the perfect time to take action.
The challenge is often narrowing the list of improvements down to just a couple of things, or just one thing, so you don’t lose your inspiration. A change to your routine or way of thinking isn’t easy to maintain at first, particularly if you’ve decided to make several changes at once. Very often, people who want to get healthy and fit attempt to add exercise and a change to their diet all at once. While some people do fine by combining these changes, many others find making several changes at once too overwhelming and difficult to keep up with. For them, it is better to pick one change at a time and to pick the one they are most inspired to do first. Then as they assimilate that change, they are encouraged by their success and have greater desire to add another change to their lifestyle.
There is nothing wrong with taking small steps and doing them in the order that feels most enticing to you. In fact, you have greater chance of success if you set small resolutions. You can always add to your resolutions at any time during the year. When you resolve to do something for yourself to improve how you feel or how you live, you are the one in control of your expectations. Give yourself permission to set more realistic and enjoyable expectations. A great way to do this is ask yourself on a scale of 0-10, how confident are you that you will achieve the resolution you’ve created. If your confidence is anything less than a 10, reduce the goals to the point you can say you are fully confident at a 10 on the confidence scale.
Resolutions and their start dates don’t have to be carved in stone. They can be fluid and adjustable. They can also be chosen to accommodate what you want to experience so they feel good, instead of being a “should” that is measured against a rigid expectation. This year, set yourself up for success instead of disappointment.
The research is in! According to a new study released from MIND, a UK mental health organization, 90% of women over the age of 30 are uncomfortable exercising outside. The findings suggest that women are too self-conscious and embarrassed about their bodies or their abilities to be seen exercising in public. As a result, many women go to extremes, such as exercising in the dark or skipping doing any activities. The findings make total sense. What doesn’t are the author’s recommendation to find ways to be active outdoors anyway.
Read the rest of this column posted at YourTango.com
Exercise. For most people, that word conjures up unpleasant thoughts and feelings because of past experiences when they struggled with exercise or got hurt, or what they believe it takes to meet the minimum requirement of exercise to lose weight that doesn’t seem realistic for their current lifestyle. For others, it reminds them of a time when they loved being active and having the benefits associated with being fit and healthy. What does the word exercise bring up for you?
It is easy to assume that when you don’t exercise regularly, you are somehow lazy, bad, undisciplined or a couch potato. These are judgments that don’t reflect the real reasons for not exercising. The real reasons are likely tied to one of eight different obstacles, that once understood can be addressed with strategies.
A common obstacle to exercising is not feeling motivated enough to do it. You won’t be motivated day-in and day-out to exercise if you haven’t identified what it is you want to be able to do or feel as a result of regular aerobic and strengthening activities. It often isn’t enough to want to lose weight or avoid a disease. It takes wanting something that really matters to you enough to exercise, even if you aren’t in the mood, such as being able to keep up with your kids, having the stamina to follow your dreams, participating in a team charity walk, wanting to feel self-confident in your relationship or wanting to feel good about yourself. Sometimes it is simply wanting to avoid the regret of not doing it. It also helps to choose activities you find so energizing and fun that you can’t wait to go.
Low Priority Planning
Not having enough time is really a result of not putting exercise higher in your priorities. Anyone can find time to exercise if it matters enough to them, and if they can find the motivation to stick with it. A way to make this easier, is to find an exercise or a group class you love so much, you will find ways to fit it into your schedule. Another is to look at your calendar for the week and see where you can fit in time for exercise and schedule it. This will also help you set goals based on what is realistic, and if you can find someone to be accountable to, you will be more motivated to reach those goals.
Too Much, Too Soon
In the excitement of starting a program, when you feel highly motivated to get started, it is easy to overdo it and find yourself giving up because you can’t sustain the pace or because you’ve gotten injured. Try starting off with smaller goals and less intensity, so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed and can experience your ability to succeed in reaching your goals. With each weekly success, you can stretch your time, distance and effort a bit more and continue to have successes. In time, you will be doing more than you once thought possible, and you may surprise yourself by discovering you have a passion for being fit and participating in fitness events. It happens to many people, including me.
Feeling you have to measure up to someone else’s expectations or attain perfection in reaching your goals is the fastest way to failing and giving up. No one is perfect, and no one knows better than you as to what you can do each week, what is motivating or how your body is feeling. Instead of trying to comply to unrealistic expectations or someone else’s rules and goals, focus on what you want for yourself, what your body is telling you, and what works to keep you moving and on track.
Another way people sabotage exercise is with the belief that doing anything less than x days a week or x number of minutes isn’t worth doing. For example, you may believe that if you can’t do 4 days of exercise a week there isn’t much point, or if you can’t work out for at least 30 or 45 minutes, that you won’t get enough benefit to make it worth your while. Any exercise counts, even if it’s for 15 minutes, and the more active you are, no matter what it is, it all adds up. You may have other beliefs about what you need to be wearing, what your significant other will or won’t do to support you, what constitutes as exercise, or countless other requirements that are keeping you from being active and fit. Stop and identify what your “excuses” are and see if you can change your beliefs so you can achieve success.
Most people think emotions are just tied to food, but they also impact exercising. Think about it; you do have feelings about exercising, and if you’ve had bad experiences or anxiety about exercise than this can impact your behavior. If are resistant or ambivalent towards exercise, become curious (without any judgment) about how you feel about exercise and why that is. Most likely, you will find there are good reasons for your feelings, and once you acknowledge and validate them, you can start to look into ways of exercising that can address these feelings. For example, maybe you were called a klutz in grade school and have an aversion to gym-based exercise. Maybe you were forced to exercise and hated it. Maybe you had a bad experience with a trainer or fitness program. Are there other ways of being active that you feel confident about, or can you find a class that interests you that offers a safe environment for becoming proficient?
There is nothing worse than finding yourself derailed from your fitness routine and struggling to get restarted after an illness, injury, vacation or period of just not wanting to do it. Once you get derailed, it can seem too hard to get re-motivated again to exercise, and often this short period of non-exercise can turn into months or years of inactivity. An easy way to get restarted is by taking it slow and setting very low goals the first week or so. Let yourself gently re-engage into exercising by doing what feels easier and doing it at a slower pace. Then you’ll find your motivation as you get back into a groove, and you can increase your goals and effort within a couple of weeks. You’ll probably be surprised how quickly you bounce right back to where you left off.
If you’ve participated in extreme fitness programs and boot camps that you didn’t enjoy or that left you with an injury or bad taste in your mouth, you may be dealing with conflicting beliefs and emotions around exercise. On the one hand, you may believe that anything less than extreme fitness isn’t worth doing because of the quick results, and on the other hand you may cringe at the thought of signing up for another program. While these programs energize some people, most don’t do well with them. It is better to choose exercise options that you find motivating, enjoyable enough to sustain, and fit your personality. The majority do best starting off with baby steps and doing just one small thing at first, which easily leads to doing more because it feels good, it boosts your confidence, and it motivates you to stretch yourself further.
To create a regular exercise routine in your life, pay attention to what feels best to you, what motivates you, and what is really getting in the way of being consistent. We are all different, and our reasons for not exercising are all valid. Respect that you have a good reason and try to understand what you really need to do to get moving and to develop a consistent exercise lifestyle.
When people call me, one of the things they say they struggle with the most is staying motivated. They liked how good it felt to eat better, exercise and get enough rest and water, but they couldn’t get themselves to stick with these healthier behaviors. Jennifer was one of them. She couldn’t understand why she would quit her walks and Zumba classes, since she enjoyed them when she went. And she actually liked vegetables and whole foods more than junk food, yet she never stuck with them. It drove her crazy, and she wondered what was wrong with her that she would keep going back to choices that left her feeling lousy.
I asked her what got her to pick up the phone to call me, and she said, “I have just been told I have pre-diabetes, and I have got to change my lifestyle to avoid getting the disease.” She had found her motivation to take action, yet as I explained to her, this motivating catalyst was based on something she didn’t want, and it probably wouldn’t be enough to stick with healthier changes long term. Here’s why.
There are five steps to getting and staying motivated.
1) The Catalyst Motivator It starts with being motivated by what it is you don’t want to have happen, feel ashamed about or don’t like about yourself. These are catalysts that propel you into action, and the most common ones are a diagnosis or clear risk for chronic illness, seeing a photo and realizing how big or out of shape you are, being shamed by what someone has said or what a doctor has written, or not being able to do things anymore. For some people, it takes repeated experiences like this before one specific event becomes the wake up call and catalyst to do something about it. And even then, if you don’t act on it fast enough, you can lose the motivation very easily.
2) The Endurance Motivator Once you are determined to make a change, you need something positive to look forward to and fight for when sticking with your new changes feel like too much effort to bother. Change is not easy, and you need to know why it really matters to you to overcome your inner chatter that tries to derail you.
So why do you really care if you are overweight, can’t do all the things you used to do or are at risk for disease? What is your vision of what your life can be (or can still be) if you have your health and fitness? How do you see yourself at your best, and why is that worth sticking with new changes no matter how hard that will feel? What are you trying to achieve or be physically capable of doing that matters to you? Maybe you want to participate in a fundraiser walkathon or be able to get around when you travel abroad. Once you know this, have ways to remind yourself everyday, and keep your eye on the prize.
3) The Success Motivator Within a few days or weeks of starting your new routine, it becomes harder to reach all the goals you set for yourself or to feel confident you can really succeed at keeping up with your expectations. This is much tougher if you set high expectations, embarked on too many changes at once or picked too extreme a change to sustain each week. As you struggle to stay on track, find yourself not fully following the program or missing a day here or there, it is easy to see yourself as bad, a failure or incapable of success. Any of these thoughts will de-motivate you, and it won’t be long before you give up.
Whereas, if you set very small goals, make only one or a couple of changes at a time, and start off with baby steps, you have a greater chance of success. When you have a success, no matter how small, you become motivated to see how much more you can do. And when you focus on what successes you do have each week, rather than on the failures, you will feel more confident in your ability to succeed and even more motivated to continue.
4) The Accountability Motivator It really helps, particularly in the first six to twelve months of starting to exercise or eat better, to have someone who you are accountable to and who champions you. This could be a buddy who joins you, or a friend who is doing something similar and you acknowledge each other successes and brainstorm what might work better when you were challenged. It could be a class instructor, a lifestyle coach, personal trainer, classmates, team or anyone else who is involved in your new changes.
5) The Day-to-Day Motivators
From day to day, most people have to figure out additional ways to stay motivated, and there are lots of tools or techniques to make this motivating. You may be motivated by reaching certain numbers, and if so, pedometers, accelerometers (calories burned) or distance tracking work really well. You can have daily or weekly goals for this. Tracking calories and your weight on the scale can also work for some people, but for the majority, tracking these kinds of numbers often backfires, and I don’t recommend them. Instead I encourage clients who like numbers to track their hunger levels and how they feel on a scale of 0-10.
Other types of motivators are having a weekly fitness log where you record what you did, or having a calendar where you check off your goals. These work great for list people. Some people like to put gold stars on their calendars when they completed their goals. Others like to reward themselves with small celebratory non-food gifts periodically, such as a massage, special bath, manicure, inexpensive accessory or something else meaningful. And many people find all they need is a fixed-date goal when they need to be physically fit and healthy enough to participate in an event.
The key to motivation is to find ways to celebrate your successes, build your confidence, focus on what you want to be able to do, and how good you feel. You may find that your day-to-day and accountability motivators work for only so long, and that you need a new type of motivator. If that happens, consider it an opportunity to experiment with different types of motivators.
You CAN stay motivated. By addressing all five types of motivators as specific steps, you have much greater success of sticking with your new healthier behaviors and loving how you feel.
It can be so easy to get into a routine where you start to eat a bit better and get in some aerobic activity, but that is as far as it goes. You are doing enough to get a bit healthier, but not enough to really change your body or your attitude. And while a small change for the better is a success; it will likely lead to disappointment. When that happens, it won’t be long before you go back to old unhealthy habits.
To help the group participants avoid settling into a lifestyle that is less than what they had hoped for, I asked them to consider what it is they want to improve and how they want to stretch themselves further. Because they set their own goals and I don’t force them to do any particular activity, what they decide to do is up to them.
This contest and program was set up deliberately to emulate what it is like to create and maintain a healthy lifestyle. In real life, there is no one to tell you what you should do or force you to stick with it. The drive to do more has to come from within, and what I have learned – and now they are learning – is the more you do, the more you can do and the more you want to do. Those who are doing the most activity are the ones pushing themselves and trying new things. And they are the ones who are the most enthused and seeing huge changes in their attitude and bodies. They are almost giddy with how great they feel and how much fun they are having being more active.
I remember having a similar experience during the two years I went from sedentary to fit, and I found myself wanting to do strengthening exercises, try Pilates, go to new classes and check out new types of equipment. I amazed myself by what I was discovering I could do and my new interests. At the end of two years I was even more shocked to realize I had a passion for fitness. Yet I am not alone. Read almost any fitness or weight loss success story, and you will see that this happens to most people who are active long enough that they want to do more and more and more. It is the reason for the record number of older adults now doing races and triathlons. They love how great it feels. But it takes doing enough fitness activities and then sticking with them long enough to get that great feeling.
For some people, even some in the groups, there can appear to be limitations in what they can do to be active. These can come from a physical ailment, a preference for doing certain types of activities, only wanting to be outdoors or indoors, a tight schedule, having kids at home, having a poor body image, or any number of things. Yet very often this is a perceived limitation and not an actual one.
- Ways to address an ailment with physical therapy, a visit to your doctor or seeing another type of healing practitioner.
- Finding new groups or programs you weren’t aware of, such as outdoor MeetUp groups at www.meetup.com.
- Easy-to-follow and fun DVD or OnDemand fitness programs.
- Local specialized classes and programs listed through Adult Education or the Chamber of Commerce.
- Who can watch your kids or which local fitness facilities have a good place for kids, like the YWCA.
- Any judgment about how you look or how capable you are trying a new activity is your own self-judgment and a perception of what others think. If you refuse to be judged, no one can judge you.
- How you can stretch yourself and try something totally new, like rock climbing at MetroRock.
In our group discussion, these were the things we talked about, and a number of people got ideas about what they could do to increase their level of activity, and they left feeling excited by the new prospects.
Read What the Participants Have to Say
Find out what else the group participants have to say about stretching themselves to feel even better, when they add their comments to this blog. And please share your own insights about what works for you. It may be just the spark that helps another person reading this blog.
For more information about the contest and contestants, visit www.aHealthyLifestyleWorks.com/contest.
Have a fit and healthy week,
As Sharon, one of the contestants, said so perfectly, “Small successful changes lead to lasting big results”. And this is just what the members of the groups are finding out. They started off the contest making very small changes with how they ate and in starting to be more active. I encouraged them to make weekly goals they had 100% confidence they could reach (even if that meant scaling back or baby steps). And I told them to increase their goals by no more than 5-10% at a time. That way, they could stretch themselves a bit, but not too much that they wouldn’t be successful.
Having a Whole New Relationship with Food
Almost six months later, their small successes have added up to having a whole new relationship with food and the ability to maintain healthy choices and portion control almost effortlessly. This doesn’t mean they don’t get to enjoy their favorite dessert, holiday food or evening drink. Instead they have learned how to incorporate these in moderation as part of healthy balanced meals and snacks, and they have figured out the best ways to plan and prepare foods day-to-day and week-to-week.
In the event they find themselves in a situation where they aren’t able to eat that well or get triggered subconsciously around food, they catch it quickly because they don’t enjoy how that feels and get right back on track without any problem. This happened for a few people who had family gatherings over the holidays in one of the groups. It is easy to have old behaviors triggered by family and not catch it until later. This was an opportunity for them to learn what would work better for them next time and to identify strategies for getting together with their extended families.
Staying Active Through the Seasons
When the groups started it was January and cold. They had to figure out what type of activities felt good to do in the winter. As the warmer days appeared in April, most of them were excited to get outside and this motivated them to kick things up a bit. Now we are in the hot and humid days of summer, and that has made the outdoor routines more challenging. Not everyone does well in this kind of weather, and for a number of people it has been difficult to find something they like enough to do indoors.
Yet much like having a few days of overeating or unhealthy foods, it doesn’t feel good to stop being active and it is an opportunity to figure out a backup plan to stay active in the heat. Some ideas they had were to find an indoor activity in the AC, to get out even earlier in the morning or later in the evening, join a club for the summer, to get in a pool or to just do it anyway. What is different from when they started is now they want to stay active and are disappointed if they can’t find a way to do that. They aren’t trying to be good and comply with doing a certain amount; instead they don’t want to lose the great feeling of being active and successful or slip back into their old ways.
Being Motivated by Seeing Before & After Results
The key to motivation is seeing your success, especially when you can compare a before and after result. The contest group had that opportunity when they went for their quarterly fitness and health assessments. They revisited Heidi Thompson and Lauren Rittenberg at HEAT Training in Amesbury to get their fitness levels checked. Across the board, everyone saw considerable improvements in their cardio vascular fitness and strength tests. This is impressive since some of them are doing a great deal of fitness each week and others are doing much less, and since few of them have seen much change in their clothes. Yet they all had lost inches and they all had made substantial progress. This was reinforced by the health check ups they had at Cornerstone Family Practice in Rowley.
What they learned is that success and how they feel in their bodies or about themselves has nothing to do with weight. They are all thrilled with how much they have accomplished and how much more fit and healthy they have become. And now they are motivated to do even more.
Debbie Tateosian – Greatest Improvement in Health
She won last time for the most changes in healthy lifestyle behaviors, and she was close to winning the award for most improvement in fitness this time. She has been very active keeping up with Taekwondo, a group exercise class, walking (and now jogging), experimenting with racquetball and starting up kayaking. She totally changed the way she eats and has discovered she can stay easily in control around food. She loves how good it feels to be fit and is having fun being more active.
Maureen Willey – Greatest Improvement in Fitness
This award went to Maureen, who like Debbie, has discovered the joy of being very active. She started out doing water aerobics and a bit of walking, and now she does aquatics regularly and loves the classes that really push her. She’s adding swim lessons and laps, walking, biking and kayaking. She did a 10k walk for charity and is gearing up for a bikeathon to raise money for Parkinson’s disease in the fall. She has been amazed at how much she prefers healthy foods and so easily controls her portions. Maureen feels fantastic and loves the changes in her life.
Sharon Clark – Greatest Improvement in Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors
This award is so much more than about eating well and becoming more active; both of which Sharon is doing. It is about self-care and making yourself a priority in a healthy and positive way. Sharon has been clear from the start of this contest that self-care is her goal and what she wanted most to achieve, and she is doing that. After suffering for years from an accident, she is now finally getting the treatment she really needed for the pain in her right hip and leg to be more active. Like Maureen, Debbie, and the others, she is choosing healthy foods and in control of what she eats. And she has made major breakthroughs in how she takes care of herself, and the changes are making her happier.
Awards & Sponsors
The quarterly awards are provided by the Contest sponsors. The award for Fitness Improvement includes a 3-month wellness membership at the YWCA and a $75 gift certificate to Gentry’s Consignment Boutique (affordable top fashions). The Improvement in Health award has a $75 gift certificate from both Grateful Spirit Massage (wellness bodywork services) and in home cooking (personal chef services). And the award for Healthy Lifestyle Behavior changes includes a $75 gift certificate from Spa Paradiso & Salon (wellbeing spa services) as well as Carry Out Cafe (healthy meals to go).
Read What the Participants Have to Say
Find out what else the group participants have to say about the small successes in their lifestyle, when they add their comments to this blog. And please share your own insights about what works for you. It may be just the spark that helps another person reading this blog.
For more information about the contest and contestants, visit www.aHealthyLifestyleWorks.com/contest.
Have a fit and healthy week,
Healthy Lifestyle Changes Aren’t Easy
It is easier to make a change than it is to maintain it. That’s why so many people can do a diet or a fitness program for a while and then find themselves derailed and back to their old unhealthy and inactive habits.
Here are 4 Ways to Make Healthy Choices Easier:
1. Having Healthy Options Nearby
If you have healthy foods that are just as easy to grab as junk food and a beautiful place to exercise right outside your door… then it is much easier to make healthier choices as you go through your day. Most people gravitate to the healthier option if it is just as easy as an unhealthy one.
This has been the lesson many of the group participants have learned. They now make sure to shop ahead so they have enough healthy snacks and foods during the week. This makes it easier to pick healthier choices at work, at home, in their car or in a bag if they out and about, because they are making sure they are well stocked in all these places. They are also making sure they have water bottles or ways to get at water, rather than skipping it or having something else like soda.
And many of them are enjoying the new Coastal Trails in our town. They find it much easier to want to get out for a walk, bike ride or jog, because the trails are easily accessible, nicely maintained and inviting. I’m noticing how many people are using the trails, so clearly this readily available option for getting exercise is making a big difference in motivating our local residents to do much more walking.
2. Staying Conscious to Be in Control
The second way to stay on track while making a lifestyle change is to be conscious of what works to keep you motivated and making healthy choices and what sabotages your good intentions. If you aren’t fully conscious as you overeat, grab an unhealthy snack, skip your exercise plans or excessively drink, you can’t make a different choice. You only have options, if you are conscious enough to recognize what it is you are doing at the time you are doing it and what it is that is driving you to make an unhealthy decision.
Staying conscious enough to make a different choice is easier than you might imagine. Those in the New You 2010 programs stay aware by tracking their hunger levels during the day, which is simply marking on a scale from 0-10 where their hunger levels are whenever they eat – and any other observation they have.
They also use a fitness journal, which helps them see their goals (which they create for themselves) and the days they hope to achieve them. They then track how they feel afterwards and how they did in meeting that goal. And, they can see their progress week-to-week. As with the food journal, it isn’t about being good or perfect, it is about having a way to stay conscious of what you are doing and having some accountability.
3. Focusing on Feeling Good, Not Being Good
We aren’t taught to focus on how we feel physically and letting that be our motivation; instead we are encouraged to focus on meeting specific goals, doing as we are told and being good. Yet the secret to success is doing what feels good, not striving to be good.
When you first start a diet or an exercise program, you are motivated to comply and be really good. But it usually doesn’t take long before it isn’t so easy to be good and fully do everything you’ve been told you have to do. By the third or fourth week, most people struggle to follow the diet or do all the exercise they have been instructed to do, and that creates a feeling of being bad and failing. It isn’t long after, that people give up with the belief they can’t be successful.
When you focus on choices that feel good to do, like a satisfying healthy meal that is easy to prepare or going for a walk that leaves you feeling fantastic afterwards, you want to do more of these things. The emphasis isn’t on being good or perfect, but on doing what feels good to your body and your state of mind. The New You 2010 participants have discovered how true this is. The more they focus on what is in their best interests, what feels really good to them and what makes them feel good about themselves, the more they want healthier foods and to increase their activity levels. They have stopped trying to be good; instead they are discovering just how good feeling good can be.
4. Having Just Enough Accountability
Staying conscious, having access to healthier options and focusing on feeling good doesn’t happen over night. So it really helps to have someone or a group to account to, in order to stay on track until this does become second nature.
This can take different forms, and for some it really helps to fill in a journal and submit it each week to someone who can provide positive feedback (rather than what wasn’t good enough). For others, all they need is to share what they’ve accomplished on a regular basis to a group or person who is simply supportive. And for some, it helps to have a partner who does it with them.
The best type of accountability is done without any judgment. You don’t need judgment; you need support, positive encouragement and someone with whom you can celebrate your achievements. And that is just what we do at our meetings each week. Everyone shares their successes when they check in, and we look for what is working for them and why. This gives them just enough accountability and greater motivation.
Read What the Participants Have to Say
Find out what else the group participants have learned about what helps them stay on track, when they add their comments to this blog. And please share your own insights about what works for you. It may be just the spark that helps another person reading this blog.
Have a fit and healthy week,
There are many different ways to keep yourself motivated to make healthier choices and stick with exercise intentions. To find out what is working for those in the New You Groups, I asked them to share what was keeping them motivated each week. We heard lots of different answers, and that was my point. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another, and what seems to work for you can stop working after a while. Then you have to find something else that works. The good news is there are lots of things you can try and many ways to stay motivated.
Motivated by How Good It Feels
A common motivator that a number of people shared was how good they felt from being active and eating healthier foods, which inspired them to do more of it. Whether it was feeling good from having an accomplishment or feeling good physically, this further motivated their desire to eat well and exercise. Those who are starting to see a big difference in how their bodies feel are getting really excited about the possibility of doing things they haven’t been able to do for a long time, like skiing, playing tennis, hiking or doing a round of golf.
Motivated to Reach an Accomplishment
Another motivator some folks mentioned was the desire to accomplish a particular goal, like walking a 5k in an hour (specifically the Coastal Rail Trail 5k this coming Sunday), running 5 miles by the fall, doing a 10k walk in July, participating in a bike-a-thon next September or going skiing next winter. This provides a vision of an achievable goal and the incentive to do a certain amount each week in order to reach that physical challenge.
Having a longer term physical goal can be extremely motivating, yet not everyone is inspired by that. A couple of weeks ago I had encouraged everyone to consider making a 3- or 6-month fitness goal, and many weren’t ready to do that or didn’t feel any interest in it. I totally understand, because I am not motivated that way. I’m more like one of the gals in the contest group who is motivated by checking off and tracking her day-to-day and weekly fitness goals.
Motivated by a Daily or Weekly Goal
Some in the groups are motivated by having a daily or weekly goal to get in a certain number of minutes or steps, like 8,000 steps using a pedometer or at least 30 minutes walking or biking. By looking back and seeing how much they’ve done, they then find they want to push themselves a bit more with a slightly higher goal. One of the contest winners has done this with great success. She started off walking for just a few minutes six days a week and each week she’s added a minute. Now she has just passed the 30 minute mark and doing more than she thought was possible. She’s even adding in some hills and increasing her exertion levels, and that is exciting for her.
Motivated by Just Doing It
Sometimes you just don’t feel motivated by any of the things I’ve mentioned, and then you have to Just Do It. We all have those times when we just don’t want to get up and exercise or make a healthy meal. We may be feeling ambivalent, tired or super busy. Yet, these are the times when very often you will feel so much better if you overcome the mental excuses and just go do it anyway. That worked for one person in the group, who had been derailed by plantar fasciitis. She got out on a friend’s bike instead of letting her foot be an excuse, and she felt so much better afterwards.
Motivated to Get Better
One fellow in the contest group was in a serious auto accident about a month ago, and he has been told walking will make all the difference in how well his body will heal. The more he can do now, the better chance he has of staying healthy and being able to have an active life long-term. That is pretty motivating. Others have seen their blood pressure, stamina and energy improve, and that inspires them to keep doing even more.
Motivated from Realistic Successes
A couple of the guys in the groups shared what they’ve learned is de-motivating, and that is having a goal that doesn’t seem achievable or failing to succeed right off the bat. At that point, their feeling was why bother doing it at all if you can’t succeed, and then wanting to give up entirely.
For one of the guys, the excitement in having a realistic way to get from the couch to a 5k and actually run again for the first time in years was lost by seeing someone else run it at a speed he knew he couldn’t attain. It completing deflated his motivation. Yet when he could see that he didn’t have to run that fast and didn’t have to compare himself to others, that he regained his motivation to running a 5k at whatever pace he could. Another one of the guys pointed out that if you set the goal very low and have a success, you want to see how much more you can do. So instead of pushing yourself to do too much and feeling like a failure, you can start off slow and become motivated by what you can do.
Explore What Motivates You
As you’ve just read, everyone is motivated differently and can be motivated by a number of different things. What matters is recognizing what does and doesn’t work for you, and then being open to trying something new when you find yourself losing interest.
Read What the Participants Have to Say
Find out what else the participants have learned about what does and doesn’t motivate them, when they add their comments to this blog. And please share your own insights about what works for you. It may be just the spark that helps another person reading this blog.
Have a fit and healthy week,
The past couple of weeks have been particularly challenging for a number of people in the groups. When I asked them to share any success they had despite the difficulties, they each found one they could feel good about.
When you focus on successes, you stop focusing on what you didn’t do, should have done or your perceived failures. Instead you see what did go well, what worked best for you and that you can succeed. This is critical to being able to stay on track.
For many of them in the groups, the one thing they found that really helped them to have some success was their awareness. For example, they stayed aware of when they got full, so even if they were triggered to overeat, they were able to stop before they lost control. They listened when their body started to hurt and took time off without feeling guilty. And they were conscious of their desire to turn to comfort or junk food, and if they did have some, they were able to keep it to a minimum. They shared honestly without beating themselves up and could see that by staying conscious of what was going on and how they were feeling, they didn’t revert to old habits which would have been so easy to do.
There will always be days or weeks when they will struggle with issues in their lives, don’t meet their goals or feel like they’ve gotten off track. It happens to all of us. A month ago I had vertigo for several weeks. Life isn’t predictable or easy to manage. Plans get changed, emotions get stirred up, injuries happen and illnesses will catch you off guard. Or worse, as in the case of one of our contestants, who has been out for weeks from a bad auto accident, you can get derailed for long periods of time.
Instead of judging yourself or getting caught up in the disappointment, what everyone in the groups are discovering is they can learn from these experiences and get right back on track. In fact, these are golden opportunities to create strategies for similar future situations. You can look back and see what might have worked better for you, which would have left you feeling good physically as well as mentally and emotionally. The objective isn’t to look back to see how you could have been better at being good, because that isn’t the issue. It is not about being good or bad. It is about doing what leaves you feeling good and about respecting your body and yourself.
Here are some strategies that resulted from our discussions:
- If you have worked your way up to walking for 25 minutes – or whatever amount you can now do, avoid taking a much longer walk even if a friend invites you to walk the length of our new rail trail or any other great walk in the area. Know your limits and speak up, letting that person know you’d love to walk but that after x number of minutes you’ll have to turn around.
- Remind yourself that 10 minutes, one mile or one loop around the block is enough exercise, if that is all you think you feel up for. It is better than nothing, and who knows, you may find you want to do more once you get started.
- If you begin to notice some aches or pain in your feet or legs, don’t push through it or pretend it isn’t there and continue with your goals for the week. Instead to take it as a warning signal that you may need to back off the exercising, do some icing, add in more stretching, see a practitioner or do an activity that doesn’t put exertion on that area.
- If you are making dessert for company that is visiting, you don’t have to serve big pieces or an 1/8th of a pie. You can make the servings much smaller, so each person doesn’t feel compelled to eat more than they want or need.
- Notice if you are really enjoying the food you are eating and if it is really all that satisfying. If you aren’t satisfied or don’t really want any more of it, to throw it away – even if it is ice cream.
- Buy one meal and split it three-ways with the kids instead of a full meal and two kid meals.
- And last, but not least, sometimes you have to tell yourself to “Just Do It”. We all have times when we come up with excuses and resist doing something we know will feel good once we get started, and it helps to give yourself a strong nudge to just go do it anyway. When I first started exercising, that is exactly what worked for me. I would say to myself, “too bad, no discussion, just go it”, and that would be enough to get me in my sneakers and downstairs.
Read What the Participants Have to Say
Find out what else the group participants learned from talking through ways to create strategies from their challenges.
Have a fit and healthy week,
Everyone in the groups have been making their own choices as to what type of aerobic activities they are doing to get exercise the past six weeks, and each week they are reaching most if not all of their goals. I have guided them to set goals they know they can reach, to pay attention to how their bodies’ feel with the level of activity they are doing, and to avoid overdoing it or trying to add too much more too fast. I’ve told them to stretch the goal no more than 5-10% after reaching the previous week’s goal, and if they feel they want to stay at their current goals to go with that.
Starting Off Slow with Enjoyable Activities
Several people were so motivated by their initial successes, they got extremely ambitious and exercised for much longer periods of time, exercised every day, or both. When I saw that, I encouraged each one of them to be careful and to scale back considerably. While this is not the advice you would expect from a fitness expert (or personal trainer as I am), it is good advice. Here’s why. When you overdo it, you set yourself up for an overuse injury, stressing your immune system or feeling overwhelmed at having to keep it up, and any of these can lead to getting derailed and losing your motivation to get going again. I’ve seen this happen too many times with my clients, and I have learned that it is better to build up slowly and safely to maintain enthusiasm and consistency.
A number of other people were picking activities they felt they should do, and while they have been motivated by the group accountability to stick with them it isn’t enjoyable for them. Doing exercise you don’t like won’t keep you motivated for long, so it is important to find activities you do enjoy. Sometimes it is hard to know what that might be, especially if you are so out of shape you can’t do much. One gal finds exercise boring and uninspiring, but she loves sports like tennis. So she is looking into getting Wii Sport to renew her tennis passion and get moving in a way that is safe for her current fitness levels.
Learning How to Pace Progression
At this point the groups need more guidance as they become more active, so that was the theme for this week’s sessions.
I showed them a way to know how much exertion they were doing, so they could safely and effectively increase their fitness levels and progress from moderate paces to the point they can increase their aerobic capacity. I introduced the chart below, which shows a commonly used scale for determining Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). This is subjective based on a talk test, yet it works really well when you don’t have or don’t feel motivated to get a heart rate monitor.
As you can see, when you are below an 8 on the RPE scale, which corresponds to 85% of your maximum heart rate (on the blue band), you are in the moderate zone. And between 60-85% of your max heart rate (or between 3-8 RPE) you are in the fat-burning zone. At the moderate and moderately easy levels, this is considered heart healthy, and this is where you want to start when first exercising. It is also the exertion levels where you get some of the greatest improvements in cholesterol, blood pressure and insulin sensitivity. Whereas, as you move up to difficult and very difficult intensities you get the greatest fat loss benefit. When you get into the anaerobic zone, above 85% of your maximum heart rate, you begin to overload your heart and increase your aerobic capacity. This is a good thing, but only when it is done in bursts of very short intervals followed by longer recoveries back in the aerobic zone. These bursts are called intervals, and they are very effective at increasing fitness levels and accelerating fat-burning.
But, as I cautioned the groups, the goal isn’t to just do interval training and higher fat-burning. The goal is to build up to that point and then mix up the cardio with both days of moderate and longer periods of exercise and days of more difficult interval-based exercise. You benefit from both and it allows for a mix of activities that are both intense and more moderate. Furthermore, the body will adapt to whatever you do repeatedly, so it is best to mix it up with different intensity levels, types of activities and lengths of time.
Everyone in the groups will now add their RPE levels each time they are active in their fitness journals, so they can see where they are and pace themselves to do a bit more every couple of weeks until they are able to sustain more difficult levels. They can even start doing some periodic intervals in their current routines that will move them up a level or two in RPE, by adding short bursts (either by increasing their speed or their incline – like a hill) whenever it feels right to do so.
Balancing Core Elements of Fitness
There are four primary areas of fitness: cardiovascular, strengthening, flexibility and balance. While there are different schools of thought as to which is most important and which you should start doing first, I explained to the groups that our primary goal is to establish a lifelong cardio foundation as the basis of a healthy lifestyle. The health benefits of maintaining aerobic exercise are too numerous to list here, yet they aren’t limited to just reducing the risks of diabetes and heart disease. Moderate levels of aerobic exercise improve arthritis, depression, energy, stamina, sleep, osteoporosis, mental focus, stress, digestion and more.
It is too easy to take on too much too fast, when you try to do cardio, strengthening, stretching and balance all at once, and very often it gets too overwhelming or too time intensive to maintain. That doesn’t mean that at some point, they won’t be doing all of this – as I now do in my weekly routine. But first I want them to develop a consistent aerobic practice they will stick with before adding in much more. The only exception is stretching, which is important for them to begin adding in now if they haven’t already done so.
In time, they will also add in core strengthening (which often goes hand in hand with greater balance) and full body strengthening. Some are doing a bit of this now, which is fine if it doesn’t get in the way of having enough time for being aerobic. I know many personal trainers would disagree with this approach, suggesting strengthening should come first or along with cardio, but I am a realist and focused on making sure everyone has long-term success at maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. I am less focused on having them build muscle now or achieve rapid changes.
Those changes will come in due time and it won’t hurt them to wait until they can successfully and incrementally add new things into their routine they can sustain. I know from my own experience this works, even in my 40s. I started off with cardio my first year until I had it down, and then I added strengthening the second year, and the third year I added Pilates. Years later, I am doing all of them regularly, have maintained my lean body mass and continue to stay fit. Sure I could have built up my muscles and gotten leaner faster, but I didn’t lose anything by waiting a year. Instead I found a way to incorporate strengthening into my routine because I didn’t get too overwhelmed, and I’ve stuck with it into my 50s. Not many can say that.
Preventing Injury Before it Happens
One other thing I addressed was injury prevention, which becomes a greater concern the older you are and the more out of shape you’ve become. There is nothing worse than being derailed for months once you feel you are finally on track and making progress.
Again I had to learn this first hand by having an exercise-related injury from strength training, and I’m not alone in getting hurt exercising. The problem is muscle imbalances, where some of your muscles are very tight and short and others are weak and long, creating imbalances around joints and across the body. Some of the weakest areas are in the upper back and core.
When you have imbalances, which often occur from poor posture, prior injuries or being sedentary, you are prone to tearing muscles, ligaments and tendons when you become active. This is most common with weekend warriors, but it also happens doing any new activity that pushes you more than your body is prepared to do.
I am hoping to find a physical therapist in private practice who can offer preventive full body evaluations, so we know where their imbalances are and what physical therapy exercises can be done in preparation for strength training. I used to have someone who did this for my clients, but that PT is no longer available. So if anyone reading this blog knows of a PT who would be interested, please have them contact me.
Read What the Participants Have to Say
Find out what the group members are doing with their fitness and how they are doing in making other healthy changes in the comments below. Please feel free to add your own comments as you follow along.
To participate on your own or in a group, check out the contest website for details and tools at www.aHealthyLifestyleWorks.com/contest.
Have a fit and healthy week,