by guest blogger Pam Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, best-selling author and expert on health, fitness, and nutrition
Six weeks into the New Year, many of you may be wondering, “What happened to my resolutions to improve myself?” Even if you don’t believe in making January 1 self-improvement commitments, you might be starting to fret, knowing that spring is right around the corner, complete with sleeveless shirts and short shorts. Either way, you know you’d like to feel better, look great, and be healthier and more mentally/physically fit. In that spirit, let’s take a deep breath and regroup so that you can achieve your goals in a realistic and sustainable way.
First, let’s look at what you may think is February’s fitness flop: Health club groups who have been keeping statistics have found that mid-February represents a “fitness cliff,” a time when these clubs notice a drop-off in membership check-in’s. The plain and simple truth is that during February many people are hit smack in the face with the reality that their resolutions are evaporating, along with their motivation to keep on track. This is often followed up by the usual recommendations and platitudes to refresh your workout music and join more classes.
Next, let’s do another reality check using a recent survey by the nationally renowned Anytime Fitness health club organization: In their annual “Weight of the Union” executive report, surveyors used an online qualitative survey with a national sample of 1,000 adults to identify lifestyle habits regarding physical activity, knowledge of the importance and benefits of daily activity, basic knowledge of exercise and physical activity, and perceptions of body mass and weight.
Here’s what they found:
- 71 percent overestimate the recommended weekly amount of physical activity, with 71 percent of respondents believing it was more and 27 percent thinking it was double the actual amount.
- 68 percent of adults falsely believe that active people can sit for longer periods of time without increasing their risk of health consequences.
- 84 percent of respondents believe Americans generally weigh more now than they did five years ago.
- 56 percent of overweight respondents and 30 percent of obese respondents felt they were at normal weights compared to the general American public.
- When asked to compare themselves to family and friends, the number of overweight people who felt they were at a normal weight dropped to 45 percent. The number of obese respondents who felt they were at a normal. weight dropped even more drastically, to just 14 percent.
- 73 percent want to increase their current level of physical activity.
This and other similar surveys show that most adults need to become more enlightened and realistic about what it takes to improve their overall health and fitness. Although this survey concentrated primarily on physical fitness and people’s perceptions of their own health and well-being, it’s clear there are many disconnects and the majority of people are still actively interested in finding more ways to help themselves become more fit and healthy.
If you feel like you’re precariously perched on the ledge of your own fitness cliff, and you want help getting back on a plan to achieve a higher level of health and wellness, then here are some accessible and effective ways to regroup and rejuvenate your health and wellness journey.
- Make it about health, not weight. Your body weight is a reflection of so many complex factors in your life—genetic, psychological, social, environmental, and biological. Instead of using weight as your only measure of progress and success, how about looking at your overall health? Your body composition will begin to improve for the better once you’ve embraced a more comprehensive lifestyle plan. Staring at the numbers on a scale to assess your overall health is a recipe for continuing frustration as well as failure.
- Take small steps toward sustainable success. Refrain from taking leaps and bounds toward achieving your goal. Your mind and body require small, powerful steps to build a strong foundation for lasting success. Starting right now, how about committing to one doable change that you create for each of my template categories of Mind, Mouth, and Muscle. Make it a change that is accessible, will lead to improvement in your lifestyle and health, and that can be constantly improved and expanded. Here are examples:
- Mind: Give yourself license to chill. Hop off the gerbil wheel of life and take that moment or few minutes or more to stop “doing” and just “be.” Go inward and check in with yourself as you contemplate your day, pray, or meditate. Be mindful of your need to “chill.” Enjoy the sunrise or sunset, if just for a minute or two. Step away and go to a quiet room to read or write in your gratitude journal. Call a friend. Take that walk outdoors.
- Mouth: Eat breakfast. If you skip it every day, plan to start eating it. Find healthy whole foods you like, and mind your portions. Eat mindfully. Commit to regularly shopping for whole foods.
- Muscle: Walk yourself to health and well-being. Mountains of research have demonstrated that simply walking anytime you can throughout the day helps to improve as well as maintain your overall wellness. Start simply. Walk for 10 minutes, and then repeat it here and there throughout the day. Pick up the pace when you can. Hit the stairs for an extra bonus of energy. Commit to doing this for a day, then for another, then for a week, then a month. If you’re already doing this, then step it up a notch by increasing your frequency and intensity. At some point, you’ll need to look into ways to improve your strength and flexibility, which are needed to age well.
3. Strive for progress, not perfection. I use my 80:20 rule to make certain people are not trying to achieve “perfection” in their lifestyle strategy. People are not perfect. They are, instead, gloriously imperfect. Embrace your own humanity. Eighty percent of the time, plan on hitting your goal (or close to it). Give yourself 20 percent for just being human. It’s the wiggle room we all need to keep our plan going for the long term.
4. Practice self-forgiveness, compassion, and patience. All right, you fell off the wagon. So what? Hop right back on by compassionately acknowledging that this is all part of the learning process. Keep practicing and be patient as you create those new neural circuits in your brain that will support your healthier lifestyle.
Revel in and cherish the fact that you own your own journey. This is your life, and it’s based on the choices you are making on a daily basis. Reject feeling helpless, hopeless, and defeated. Realize, instead, that you are very powerful. You are the one who can make a difference in choosing to care for and protect your mental, spiritual, and physical welfare every day of your life.
Let the words of Viktor Frankl, from his epic Man’s Search for Meaning, help guide you as you navigate life’s daily stresses and strive to make the choices that will empower you to grow and thrive: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, is a Pew Scholar in nutrition and metabolism, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, and a fellow of the American College of Physicians. A triathlete and mountaineer, she is known as “the doc who walks the talk,” living what she’s learned as an expert in health, fitness, and nutrition. Dr. Peeke is featured as one of America’s leading women physicians in the National Institutes of Health Changing Face of Medicine exhibit at the National Library of Medicine. Her current research at the University of Maryland centers on the connection between meditation and overeating. She is the author of many best-selling books, including Fight Fat after Forty. Her new book is the New York Times bestseller The Hunger Fix.