You may know Arnold Schwarzenegger better as The Terminator, but did you know that last spring he had open heart surgery? You can imagine how devastating it was for a former Mr. Universe to heal from major surgery before he could return to his healthy lifestyle and fitness routine. It took him six months of tough recovery, but he did it.
But this article isn’t about Mr. Schwarzenegger. It’s about whatever health resolution you’ve made, or are about to make, for 2019. But according to US News and World Report, 80% of us will abandon our New Year’s resolutions by February 2019.
It will come as no surprise to any of you that one of the top resolutions people make in the new year is to adopt a healthier lifestyle. This can be anything from losing weight to something particular like eliminating gluten from your diet. And, if you pay attention to advertising, companies take advantage of this in January by selling diets, miracle pills, and fitness equipment, most of which promise everything and deliver very little.
It’s not uncommon for individuals to join a gym the first of every year. Membership at most fitness facilities undergoes an uptick in January. But by February many of these new members have given up on their best intentions which explains why only 67% of the 60 million Americans who are members of health clubs never use them.
What explains this cyclical phenomenon? It isn’t because we don’t know how to eat healthily, or how to go about some form of exercise. Most of know the nuts and bolts of those elements. So, why do we fail when we know a lot about how to achieve the goal of a healthy lifestyle?
Impatience is one explanation. It is one of two chief complaints of personal trainers I know. They all mention that many people planning a vacation, special event (including weddings) or other unique occasion want to lose ten pounds or more in the space of a few weeks. Naturally, they are very disappointed when they are told it isn’t possible.
The other complaint trainers have is the number of cancellations they get. People sign on with them and then don’t show up for reasons like it’s cold, rainy, or too dark. More frequently cancellations occur because the trainee believes they are too busy on any give day to work out. They want to look great and feel better but cannot seem to afford the hour they need to accomplish that.
A good friend of mine talks about a trainer she had when she was in her forties. He was ten years younger than her had undergone several kidney transplants throughout his life. Fitness meant everything to him. She says, “He was one of the toughest, yet most inspirational trainers I’ve ever had.” He would tell her, “I get one hour out of your day. You get the other 23. It’s a fair trade.” She says that even decades later that’s what she hears in her head when she doesn’t feel like getting up at 5:30 in the morning to work out. So she scrambles out from under her comforter and gets the job done.
The first thing to understand about any healthy lifestyle resolution is that the results you seek can happen; but not overnight. Miracle supplements or diets that promise quick results are tempting but don’t work. And, in the fine print, almost all of them include, “With a sensible diet and exercise plan.” Well, if you consistently implement a reasonable diet and exercise plan, you don’t need much else. But give it time to work.
Another thing to keep is mind is not letting your body shape trick you. Heavy people can be fit and healthy, and skinny people can be unhealthy and out of shape. I know a woman who is a size four, but never exercises and eats candy and salty foods all day long. Her dress size fools her into believing she’s perfectly healthy. She’s not. She’s just fortunate to have some good genetics. Get started with your change of lifestyle regardless of your weight or body type.
Then there is what my friend says used to be an unspoken rule. She told me, “When I was growing up in the early ’60s, there was this idea that if you were smart, you couldn’t be sporty, or athletic. If you were athletic, you couldn’t be smart. It was if the categories were mutually exclusive. I was considered a geek, and so wasn’t offered any athletic opportunities.”
“But today?” I asked her.
“I believed the fallacy until I was in my mid-twenties. But when I gained fifty pounds during my pregnancy and I knew I had to do something. That’s when I discovered aerobic exercise. The hour session was more like dancing. I enjoyed it, so I stayed with it even though I was embarrassed about my size. It took time to take the weight off, but I did.”
If your resolution is to lose weight, eat healthier, or both, set reasonable goals for yourself. For example, don’t go to the grocery and buy all fruits and vegetables. You probably won’t eat all of them, and then they’ll rot and be thrown away. Instead, buy one or two things and commit to trying them. And perhaps not buy that extra bag of chips. If you don’t like kale and would never eat kale, don’t succumb to the idea that you “should” eat it because some chef on television says you should. There are plenty of other good foods out there.
If you have never exercised, start with walking for 15 minutes, five days a week. Stick with that for a week or two, then bump it up to 20 minutes a day. Increase it incrementally until you are up to that magical 10,000 steps a day. Walking doesn’t cost any money or require special equipment. It will help you lose weight and also reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression.
If you go to a gym and have never worked out before, don’t go all out at first. Take it slow. Sign up for a free consultation with a trainer. Learn how to use the machines and how they can benefit you. Avoid targeting specific areas. That doesn’t work very well, either. An overall body workout is enough to start with. Use a few machines and add in 15-20 minutes of cardio. Even if you’re sore the next day, carry on. The soreness will go away.
The one piece of fitness advice that will help you the most is finding an exercise you enjoy. My friend started out with aerobics and stuck with it because it was like dancing. Today she combines aerobics with weight lifting. But she doesn’t like the idea of spending an hour lifting weights and then another hour on cardio. So she’s developed a workout that combines both, and she’s in and out in less and 90 minutes. She’s done it for over twenty years.
Everyone’s journey into health and wellness is unique. But one thing is true for everyone and I can’t say it enough – diets do not work in the long term. If you truly want to keep that new year’s resolution, what is required is a life-style change – one that alters your diet and exercising habits for the rest of your life. You may find people who live in blue zones of the world, such as Loma Linda, California, Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula and Okinawa, Japan, grow old healthy and age gracefully. There’s no big secret to it. There’s not a magical elixir. They eat fruits, vegetables and other items you already know are good for you. And they exercise every day.
Regardless of where you are in your lifestyle right now, you can change how you feel and improve your health. It won’t be easy, but it’s very doable. With commitment, patience, and perseverance, you can keep your healthy life-style resolution.
Join the Conversation
Have you made a health-related resolution for 2019? Share your thoughts or even ask a question. I’d love to hear from you.