By Reynaldo R. Martinez, M.D.
What are your health goals for this upcoming year and beyond… weight loss, lower body fat percentage, increased strength, improved memory, increased stamina, balance and flexibility?
How about lower blood pressure and better blood sugar control? Consider long term goals like not having a heart attack or dying prematurely due to some other chronic problem like diabetes. Regardless of what your goals consist of, you need to conquer two basic concepts in order to be successful.
I have been coaching people regarding health and fitness for almost 30 years. As a Navy Dental Technician, I taught people how to use good dental hygiene to help achieve optimal health. As a Registered Dietitian, I was able to add food and nutrition to my health coaching arsenal. And finally, I put the whole package together as a Medical Doctor. In all those years, I have counseled and educated thousands of people regarding health and fitness. Most of the people that have reached and sustained their health and fitness goals have mastered consistency and have found opportunities for accountability.
How many times have you been in a good health and exercise groove only to get sidelined by an acute illness, a simple musculoskeletal injury, bad weather or even a vacation? Any number of life situations can derail an unstable program. If you are like most, when you stop your routine for more than a few days, it is extremely difficult to get started again. The longer the break, the more difficult it is to restart. Consistency is a vitally important concept when it comes to achieving and maintaining health and fitness. Consistency can also prevent common restart injuries. The solution to this is relatively simple.
First of all, make the habit. You undoubtedly have heard of the well-known axiom that it takes 21 to 30 days to make a habit. If you perform some form of exercise and eat clean every day for 3-4 weeks, then you are very likely to continue with this new activity or action for an extended period of time, hopefully a life time. Ideally, you should be doing some form of exercise and you should be eating healthy every day of the year. You can use special occasions and holidays as a treat for practicing dietary discipline on all the days in between. I like to think about discipline on the track and at the table as similar to saving money for retirement. You work hard all your life and save money so that one day you can do what you want, when you want. If you are not sufficiently fit or healthy enough to enjoy this achievement, then you have only partially prepared. Put health bucks in the bank every day. Your menu and workout do not have to be perfect every single time. Start slow and first of all make the habit. Once the routine is set, you can work on improving your program. Start meal prepping and fine tune the menu as you progress in your health quest. Gradually add time and intensity to your exercise program. This is how you prevent frustrating injuries.
In order to improve your chances of success, exercise and good nutrition need to be convenient and simple. I have already mentioned meal prep. This is a very convenient way to eat healthy and avoid eating out. Visiting a restaurant should be an occasional treat or reward, not the rule. Exercise can be as simple as stepping out your front door and walking in your neighborhood or nearby fitness trail. There are multiple Internet based apps that you can use at home to perform simple to challenging body weight exercise programs. I personally use an application called BodBot. I use a food tracking and nutrition analysis application called MyNetDiary. There are many of these available to fit your style and can be used to conquer consistency and accountability.
Once you have achieved the habit and you are consistently executing your health program, how do you improve? Be accountable! We are eventually accountable only to ourselves. When it comes to improvement, however, this often is not enough. Being accountable to someone else helps us to commit to ourselves and as a result, improve. First of all, express your goals and make a plan. Sit down by yourself or with a friend and write down what your workouts will be, how often you will complete them and any end goals you want to achieve. You can do the same thing with your food menu for the week or month. Write it down, make a grocery list. Document this in a format that you can easily share with someone else. Next, ask a friend to become your coach, Find someone that can be critical, yet constructive, encouraging and supportive. In addition, your coach needs to be someone that will call you out if you are not following your written plan. This person does not necessarily need to work out with you or help you prepare food. He or she should, however, know your exercise schedule and other health goals. With social media it is quite easy to share your progress and receive feedback and guidance. Look for exercise groups or clubs. I facilitate a walking group called Walk with a Doc in Roswell, NM. We have 25-30 enthusiastic people that get together every Saturday morning at 8:00 am for a 5-10 minute health and fitness talk, followed by a non-competitive walk in the park. Many solid exercise partnerships have been made from this group. If this is not possible, hire a trainer and utilize that person’s expertise until you find your ideal partner.
So, there you have two major objectives to start working on. This will not happen overnight. Be patient in conquering consistency and acquiring people and programs to hold you accountable and you will have a strong chance at achieving your goals and maintaining them for a life time.