The first step to a healthier life is just that, a step. Too often people try to take a gigantic leap to change their health for the better and it proves to be too far a distance. The most effective way to change your habits is to start small with activities that have a low barrier to entry. These are activities that can be completed quite easily on time, every time.
It is important to manage expectations when planning out your behaviours or creating your training schedule. Every time I sit down with a new client I go over their daily and weekly schedule early on. I believe it is important to be realistic very early in the planning process. I can’t even count the number of times I have sat across from someone and they have told me they want to workout 5 times per week for 90 minutes then when we start creating the schedule we learned they only had 2 days to work out for 90 minutes. The thing is though, it’s not their fault. This is what people have been told they have to do to be healthy. They have to completely overhaul their lifestyle right from the start, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
It starts with being honest with yourself. Be honest and really think about how much effort you are willing to put into becoming healthier and changing your behaviours. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be committed to working hard, it’s just about being realistic with your level of commitment at the present time. This level of commitment can change as time goes on and as behaviours become natural but be honest and plan for behaviour changes you can actually maintain.
The first behaviour I recommend to clients is to take care of hydration. That’s not a very clear direction so I present a few behaviours that would take care of this. We start with the easiest one of all. Upon waking – before or after your trip to the bathroom – drink 500mL of water. This is done for a few reasons.
1) Begin rehydrating after not drinking anything for 8 hours (or hopefully more)
2) Kickstart your body by lubricating your digestive system – allowing for improved nutrient absorption
3) Wakes up your brain – your brain, as is the rest of your body, is mostly water, when you are dehydrated it does not function at 100%
4) Keeps you regular – because, well, everybody needs to poop
5) Revs up your metabolism and aids in weight loss – it acts as a signal to your body that it is time to turn on and it also helps to curb appetite
There are also claims that it helps to fight disease, which I won’t argue. Aside from these physical benefits, drinking water in the morning does something very important mentally. It sets you up for healthier behaviours later in the day. By drinking water immediately after waking up you can say to yourself that you have done something very beneficial for your health before anything else. You were able to put your health before everything else. This is an excellent mental boost, especially if you are struggling with not-so-healthy behaviours throughout the rest of the day. Once this behaviour is solidified then we add in another 500mL before you leave the house, or by breakfast if you don’t have to leave early.
This is just a starting point. Simple low barrier to entry behaviours like this can be added every two weeks or so. Some examples are:
Move for 15 minutes per day, which is equal to 1% of your day and can be increased gradually
Add a vegetable into one, two or each meal
Drink a glass of water with dinner instead of a pop or beer
Once you determine what your greatest needs are then you can choose low barrier to entry behaviours to focus on and add or modify them every two weeks. If things are going well you can increase the challenge – such as two vegetables with each meal – or maintain that behaviour and add in another one that will improve a different area. If things aren’t going so well then adjust downwards to something that you are sure you can accomplish. It is also important to add only one behaviour at a time. Studies have shown that focusing on only one behaviour at a time will result in the greatest success. The more you try to take on at once will decrease your chances of success.
This is the point in the assessment where we will discuss and experiment with different schedules. Remember the original request was to train for 90 minutes 5 times per week, but realistically the client could only make 2 days at 90 minutes. Maybe it’s possible to train twice for 60 minutes and then two more times at home for 20-30 minutes. Perhaps 90 minutes twice per week and then once at home for 30 minutes. It’s not an exact science and it takes some effort to create a plan that can be completed but in the end it is worth taking the time to find a solution that is realistic. It is also important to remember that this doesn’t have to be your plan forever. It will vary month to month. Maybe next month you can open up an extra day each week to train and then the following month you only have two days per week to train for 30 minutes – and that’s ok as long as your expectations are managed.
Precision Nutrition created an excellent graphic that highlights the amount of effort and the tradeoffs required to achieve and maintain different body types. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/cost-of-getting-lean-infographic
Finally, with regards to managing expectations, realise that stars and athletes make their money by being fit and performing to a certain standard. They also have the schedules that allow for them to train the required amount. This is not meant to diminish the effort they put forth but it is literally their job to train. Now, being a first responder I believe that while it isn’t our job to train, it is a requirement to be ready for duty and your time off should be used to prepare – but that’s a different post for a different time. For everyone else, look at what it is you want to be able to do, how much time you have, how much effort you want to put into it and weigh all of your options.
If you have 2 hours per day to split between playing outside with your kids and lifting weights or running on a treadmill – think about what’s important. Maybe lift weights for 20 minutes and then dedicate the rest of the time to your kids. Or, turn your conditioning workout into games of tag or soccer with your kids because unless you have a specific goal that requires you to be on the treadmill for specific intervals for that hour, playing outside with your kids will be just fine.
When we manage our expectations then we can keep a handle on our emotions towards fitness. If we can commit to small behaviours with big impacts then getting and staying healthy isn’t as much of a chore as trying to emulate The Rock’s fitness plan is, as long as you know what to expect in the end.