What Does It Really Take to Turn Your Health Around?
Resolutions rule this time of year, but what will ultimately make or break our personal outcomes?
Many of us temporarily enjoy the clean slate offered by the New Year – and rightfully so. It’s easy to get caught up in the allure of a fresh start.
That said, most of us will abandon our plans long before we’ve even started to see progress. What separates those who let their goals fall by the wayside from those who find success?
Check out the critical factors to cultivate that will transform your health for good.
The most important factor in turning one’s health around is finding a valuable enough reason – the “why” behind your health goals.
Emotionally, how do you feel about your current health and health habits? Why is it important for you to put your health on a better course?
Perhaps a number of reasons come to mind. Let them all rise to consciousness, but take note of the ones that seem to hold the most emotional charge. The reasons that move you most have the greatest power and can be your best cornerstones for change.
Now that you’ve connected with an emotion or two, write down those “top” reasons. Keep this list close by. You’ll refer back to it several times next year, and you’ll appreciate these powerful reminders.
Resources for Success
Huh? Resources? Before I spout off a bunch of tips, tricks, and strategies that make up a neat little “how to” guide for health improvement, you’ve got a bit more self-reflection to do. Yep, you’re going to know how to use the resources you have (or at least know how to plan around the challenges you will face).
Some of the main resources that will help or hinder your rate of success are time, support, budget and mindset. How you perceive and use your resources will be almost as important as your connection to your emotional fortitude to re-design your health.
The more time, support and money you have, the faster you can likely adopt new health habits and get them to stick. In this case, you’ll simply have more support (at least professional support) at your disposal and perhaps fewer impediments.
All this said, even unlimited time, support and budget can be overrun by a weak mindset. How would you measure your attitude? How do you imagine these four factors will work for or against you on your quest for health?
I recommend checking in with yourself and your resources each week of your journey. The fact is, life changes, and frequent self-assessments like this will help you stay connected to your internal struggles and external resources. Awareness is critical.
If you feel your mindset slipping because time is crunched in the upcoming week, for example, you can engage your support system for guidance on how to keep on track with a busier schedule or for simple accountability to maintain your progress in spite of the time crunch.
As you strategize each week, ask yourself how your time, support, budget or mindset will help or hinder you, and make the necessary adjustments. With a tighter understanding of your resources (or barriers), you will become more agile (and thereby resilient) in the face of challenges to come.
Consistent and Adequate Rest
Just a few years ago, I’d have been quick to say nutrition and exercise were the primary routes to better health. Now, it’s hard to refute the nourishing qualities of consistent and adequate rest.
Our bodies can withstand some pretty terrible dietary patterns. They’re even incredibly resilient for the most part through strenuous exercise endeavors. However, nothing quite undermines our well-being as thoroughly and quickly as lack of quality rest.
I refer to “rest” rather than sleep because there are other restorative strategies one can practice short of carving out seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Although I make sleep a priority in my own life and do get at least seven hours every night (often over eight!), I know it’s not that easy for others.
Rest also encompasses the much-needed downtime our bodies crave amidst the craziness of our over-stimulated lifestyles. The rush from place to place, the artificial light of omnipresent screens and our constant attention to emails and social media fire up our sympathetic nervous systems far more than their natural counterbalances can contend with.
Unplugged downtime is immeasurably valuable to our health, yet few of us consistently prioritize it until we’re forced to by illness or exhaustion. It doesn’t have to be this way. Until your patterns change, however, it will be nearly impossible to reach the pinnacle of your health.
Set a small goal to connect with your physical and mental wellness daily – even if it’s just for five or ten minutes at first. Some of you will do this by getting outside for a walk or hike without your cell phone. Others will connect mind and body at the club.
Personally, I like to plan my relaxation time when it makes the most difference for me – right before I fall asleep. There are a number of guided meditation apps available for free download that can help calm even the busiest minds for a restful night of sleep.
The sooner you place some emphasis on improving your rest and recovery strategies, the sooner you’ll feel more energized to tackle the rest of your health challenges.
Optimally Nourishing Food Choices
Healthy eating is a given, don’t you think? Yet, how many of us can differentiate “good enough” to label a change from “great enough” to transform our well-being?
We all know we should eat mostly vegetables and drink more water than anything else, right? We’re no strangers to the fact that lean protein will help us get lean and stay lean, correct? The term “healthy fat” doesn’t confuse us, does it? Everyone is clear that our bodies will be more nourished if we eat the freshest available foods and chew them well? That’s a good start.
To turn your health around, however, you basically have to re-build your entire body and metabolism from scratch. You’ll have to put the right nutrients in and release/detoxify the waste products out. Given how our bodies recreate themselves through cellular turnover, we have the ability to become refreshed, healthier versions of ourselves under the right conditions.
If you’re combining the Healthy Way of Eating with the other concepts here, you should see your weight and/or body composition shift toward the healthy ranges by about one to two percentage points each month, maybe faster.
A more detailed picture of your metabolic functioning and existing nutritional deficiencies can help you fine-tune your choices and speed your progress.
Appropriate Activity and Exercise
“Use it or lose it.” This adage sums up the fate of our muscle mass, bone health, physical mobility and overall fitness.
Our inner blueprints allow us to be healthy if we move consistently and occasionally use every last drop of strength in our muscles. Just as food is information for our metabolism, movement can be a direct route of communication to tell our bodies to maintain or gain more physical fitness.
Our health simply will not improve without enough physical activity. Move as frequently as possible throughout your day – even if it’s simply standing up at your desk every few minutes – and challenge your fitness on a regular basis. Lift heavy things, and try running as fast as you can for short bursts at least once a week. Your muscles, bones, and metabolism will reflect your efforts (or lack thereof).
Focus, Simplicity and Patience
There are many moving parts when it comes to maintaining good health. Our bodies are continually changing with influences as varied as natural aging, pregnancy, chronic illness, mental stress, weight loss, and even developing fitness.
Those factors within your control (e.g. sleep, movement habits, food choices, etc.) are difficult to manage without input to help you focus your efforts. That’s why I believe comprehensive lab testing is so valuable. It give us a truthful snapshot of what’s going well and what areas of our health demand more focus at a particular time. Without an honest, objective look at the inner workings of our metabolism, it’s nearly impossible to simplify and prioritize an individual roadmap to optimal health.
In my experience, once a client can look at comprehensive lab testing results from an objective viewpoint, it’s much easier for that client to believe more deeply in his/her own process. The person suddenly sees more clearly how simple adjustments to, say, sleep habits will impact his/her glucose balance, stress resilience and inflammatory patterns. The client’s commitment to more adequate protein and veggie intake becomes a simpler task when he/she focuses on how they’re going to improve his/her hunger and satisfaction throughout the day. It all becomes clearer, which makes the waiting so much more tolerable.
Which leads me to patience… Patience is the last great key to turning one’s health around. Without patience, everyone is bound to give up before their bodies have an honest chance to adapt to all the new inputs and healthy changes.
To the best of our knowledge, the body takes at least three to four weeks to begin showing real signs of better health, even when we follow near-impeccable health habits. (That’s far longer than the typical adult’s desire for immediate gratification.) Think about this truth as you re-read your list of reasons why you want to be healthy this New Year. What you want should be worth waiting for as well as working for.
Are you ready to commit to a higher level of health? Gather support and strategies from our trainers and dietitians today!
In health, Paul Kriegler – Corporate Registered Dietitian
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.