How to Create and Maintain Strong Daily Habits for Lifelong Health
The new year is a time for planning a fresh approach to health, nutrition, wellness and exercise. While it is true that many people set lofty goals for themselves and subsequently set themselves up for failure, there is a way to set reachable, sustainable goals that will improve your health and increase your confidence. In this article, you will learn how to create a health and wellness plan you can stick to into the new year and beyond.
New Year, New Me?
Many people’s fitness routine gets thrown off due to tempting foods and drinks, as well as disruption of fitness routines due to travel and (well-deserved) time off from work. For these reasons, it’s no secret that gyms and fitness studios see an uptick in new memberships around the new year. In fact, around 44% of Americans say they are likely to make a new year’s resolution, and of that percent, 13% have goals related to exercise (NPR, 2018). But how many of those new attendees keep up with their plans? By July, it turns out that 41% of people surveyed who made new year’s resolutions had given up completely (Newswise, 2021).
“Over the years I’ve built a following of clients that are serious about theirhealth and fitness as that’s the tone and expectation I set from day one. With that said, there’s always an attitude of ‘let’s get serious about fitness’ from my clients on the tail end of the holidays and at the start of the new year, which I think is important and I encourage,” said Christian Graham, certified personal trainer and owner of Body360 Fit Personal Training in West Hollywood, California.
It can be transformational to harness this motivation, and people can increase the likelihood that they will stick with their resolution throughout the year by making the experience fun, challenging, and rewarding. For example, consider starting a fitness challenge with family, friends and/or coworkers in which you all agree to work out a certain number of hours per week or minutes per day, either alone or (safely) together. The winners can be eligible for a prize or bragging rights. Using Zoom or other online modalities to host live workout sessions can also make it so that you’re exercising safely no matter where you are.
If you prefer one-on-one interactions, consider having an accountability coach or partner. Your accountability partner can help you adhere to diet and exercise goals you set out at the start of the year (Heath, 2020). Having accountability partners can make people feel more empowered and can help keep the experience more private for those who may feel uncomfortable doing this in a group setting. Your accountability partner can be someone you know, or a professional, like a personal trainer. Experts recommend choosing an accountability partner who has achieved what you’re aiming to achieve already, whether that is weight loss, mind-body connection, or has just effectively integrated exercise into their daily life (Heath, 2020).
“The biggest benefits [of personal training] are the motivation, program customization, and the help a trainer can provide for getting through the ups and downs of a typical client’s fitness journey. Having a coach who is invested in your success, will be there for you and is knowledgeable and knows exactly how to help for your specific situation is incredibly beneficial,” said Chris “Protein” Leach, owner of Chris Protein Personal Training. “The social aspect helps people enjoy working out more, and this is one of the most motivating factors for working out, because if you enjoy something you are a lot more likely to stick to it.”
Finding Your Why
The first step to cultivating an effective routine is to identify the reasons why you want to partake in the routine in the first place. Your reasons may be health-related, mental health-related, socially-motivated, aesthetically-related, a combination of one or more of these reasons, or something else altogether. It’s crucial to identify your reasons for partaking in exercise, diet and wellness goals to begin with.
Physical Health-Related Benefits
Health-related reasons for partaking in exercise include losing weight, maintaining cardiovascular health, managing chronic disease, and more. Chronic diseases include diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia, COPD, cardiovascular disease osteoporosis, and chronic pain. If you are still young and/or healthy, regular exercise can help you prevent chronic disease (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). For people who are already living with chronic disease, exercise can help mitigate pain, regulate toilet and sleeping habits, and help relieve other symptoms. For example, researchers found that it is possible that people with Alzheimer’s disease who exercised regularly could prevent memory loss (Graff-Radford, 2021).
People who exercise regularly experience less decline in their mental function and reduce their risk of getting Alzheimer’s in the first place (Graff-Radford, 2021). Beyond Alzheimer’s, engaging in physical activity has numerous other benefits–research shows that people who work out regularly die later (Warburton, Nicol, & Bredin, 2006). Working out can also help you increase the strength of your heart by lowering blood pressure, stopping or slowing the development of diabetes, and reducing inflammation (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2021). Need another unexpected benefit to working out? If you smoke, it can help you quit. Researchers have found that as people get fitter, they often quit smoking–and fit people are less likely to start smoking in the first place, and smoking is a top risk factor for cardiovascular disease (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2021).
Mental Health-Related Benefits
The promise of releasing feel-good hormones is another reason why people may want to engage in exercise. Exercise is beneficial for maintaining positive mental health, helping to reduce depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety (Sharma, Madaan, & Petty, 2006). The benefits don’t stop there–regular exercise also helps people overcome low self-esteem and social withdrawal. Research has shown that 30 minutes of moderate exercise three times per week can help people increase their energy levels, reduce their stress levels, increase their interest in sex, and improve their mood. The best part is that the 30 minutes of exercise doesn’t need to be continuous–it can be broken down into smaller parts throughout the day. For example, a brisk walk for 10 minutes, three times in the day (Fogarty, Happell, & Pinikahana, 2004).
There are so many ways to build social relationships while also exercising. For example, you can join a running club, a kickball league, or attend fitness classes to meet new people and build existing relationships. Knowing there are people waiting for you can help increase your motivation and likelihood to adhere to your routine.
“Sometimes people work out to unwind by themselves, and sometimes they crave the social interaction that classes and leagues can bring,” said Melinda Kennedy, a fitness instructor in Los Angeles, California. “Seeing people, going through that communal experience of working out together for half an hour or an hour can build camaraderie and be good for mental and social health.”
If you’re feeling unsafe with the ongoing pandemic, you can host or join these events virtually. Online modalities make it easy to connect with people outside of your area and across the world.
“Lots of people set fitness goals for the new year, and we get a lot of people who want help achieving them. In general, the extrinsic motivation derived from new years resolutions is transient–however, the way we go about setting and achieving fitness goals at my gym helps people adhere to them better,” said Leach.
If you are motivated by the promise of changing your physique, you would be engaging in exercise due to aesthetic reasons. Regular, weight-bearing exercise can lead to muscle growth and can change the way you look. If you are looking to drop some pounds, make sure you are prioritizing cardio as well as weight-bearing exercises. If you think that lifting heavy weights at the gym is the only way to shed excess weight, think again. Brisk walking, jogging, running, swimming, and cycling are all great ways to work out. If you haven’t worked out in a while, you will want to start small and build up from there to avoid overexerting yourself and risking injury. Always make sure to get clearance from your healthcare provider before starting a new fitness regimen.
You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to get started, either. Plenty of common household items can be used to work out, and you can design a whole workout routine to be done at home.
Many people fail because they get too overwhelmed with a new routine. However, research tells us that exercising just 20 to 30 minutes per day can have great benefits. If you want to follow the science, you should work out for 22 minutes, to be exact.
The trainer responsible for training the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recommends a full-body workout that can be done at home. It involves five minutes of cardio (think short bursts of High-Intensity Interval Training), eight minutes of strength training (using free weights or your body weight–think pushups, squats, rows and the like), five more minutes of cardio, then finishing off with four minutes of stretching (Aubrey, 2019).
After you have successfully started small, you can switch up the programming, engage in challenges, and monitor your progress.
“I use a combination of techniques and strategies to keep clients interested whether it be 30-day to 12-week Transformation Challenges or regular FMS (Functional Movement Screen) assessments to monitor mobility, flexibility, strength and movement patterns,” added Graham. “I’ve found these tools and assessments to be helpful in evaluating a client’s progress and most importantly to create an ongoing feedback loop. It’s all about communication, programming and moving forward.”
Easing into a Sustainable Routine
Now that you have started small, you will want to maximize the likelihood that you stick with your goals well past the new year. This involves setting up a sustainable routine. Many people schedule workouts as they do doctor’s appointments and work meetings. That way, they are less likely to break them or shift their workout time around (or cancel it completely) to accommodate other events. For example, if you know that you are more likely to have the time to work out on Saturday mornings, schedule your workouts during that time and make sure your roommates, partner, children and others close to you know that is your uninterrupted time to yourself. This may seem more challenging (or near impossible) for those with young children, but making a plan and schedule with your partner, family members or babysitter can help you carve out this time for yourself on a regular basis.
“When setting new year’s goals, focus on your success with the habits that get you the result you want. For instance, if you want to lose weight, don’t hyperfocus on the weight loss,” Leach added. “While measuring it is important, your main focus should be on the habits that get you there, like working out x times per week, eating nutrient-dense foods, and so on. Instead of having a goal of ‘lose 10 lbs’, set a goal of working out three times a week, and eating a serving of lean protein and veggies at every meal.”
The new year is a clean slate, and for many, a time for being more intentional with our goals, health and how we spend our time. To set better goals and be more likely to achieve them, first identify why you want to engage in the activity. When things get tough, you should remind yourself of why you began. In addition, consider starting small and setting up a sustainable routine. Seek out accountability partners, coaches, or professional personal trainers to assist you in working out and eating the right way, in addition to keeping you on track. Finally, make working out fun by integrating a social element (like workout classes, or leagues) and consider making a bet or challenge with family, friends, neighbors, and/or coworkers. When things get tough throughout the course of this year, having a solid workout and wellness routine to fall back on can help you overcome the most challenging of circumstances and relieve stress.
Author Bio: Nicki Karimpour, PHD
Contributor and Health Advisor
Dr. Nicki Karimipour is a communications expert and experienced researcher. She obtained her master’s degree and Ph.D. in Health Communications from the University of Florida. She has previous experience in writing and editing for both print and online publications, and almost a decade of experience in teaching health writing, public health, and public relations at the undergraduate and graduate level. She is based in Los Angeles, California and currently works at the University of Southern California as a director of communications and clinical research. Follow her on Twitter: @NickiKPhD
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