Thirty years ago, my journey as a health and fitness professional began with a part-time job at a small women’s gym in south Austin. It was the 80’s and the gym was filled with weight machines upholstered in purple plastic flecked with gold. Outfitted in a leotard and leg warmers, I taught fitness classes, demonstrated the use of the equipment, sold memberships and cleaned the facilities (the first two tasks with more enthusiasm than the last two). I had a lot to learn but I already had a strong conviction that a healthy and active lifestyle was an essential component of feeling vibrant and alive.
The desire to discover the best way to support optimal wellness through fitness and lifestyle propelled me to spend the next decades learning as much as I could. I focused on exercise, therapeutic massage, nutrition, and mind-body disciplines. I studied with master teachers, most notably with movement and bodywork pioneer Judith Aston, Qigong master and world-class martial arts coach Li Junfeng, Yoga teacher Charles Macinerney, and fascia dissection explorer Gil Hedley. I have read countless specialized books and journals, attended many courses, and learned much through trial and error. I have become skilled at sorting the fads from the breakthroughs. I am still learning every day.
I now specialize in helping clients with highly individualized programs to reduce pain and overcome injuries as well as develop healthy exercise habits. Although each person is unique, there are some aspects of a wellness-focused lifestyle that apply to many people. Over the next few blog posts, I would like to share with you some nuggets of information you can use, based on my observations over the past 30 years. I selected ideas that I feel are often left out when these topics are discussed. They will be loosely organized by theme. First “healthy habits,” then “movement and exercise,” “food and nutrition,” and finally “pain free living and aging.”
9 Helpful Concepts to Develop and Maintain Healthy Habits
1. Self-awareness is essential. It is only through self-awareness that a customized, sustainable, and joyful way to live can be discovered. Try various lifestyle choices. Notice the difference. When do you love life? When do you wilt?
2. Self-judgment is a hindrance. It is a form of self-abuse, which is at odds with the goal of thriving in life. Negative self-talk gets in the way of making clear-headed decisions in the moment.
3. Many people find it difficult to notice the messages sent by the body in response to various daily lifestyle choices. Non-verbal cues such as fatigue or energy, pain or ease of movement, hunger or satiety, can be vague if one is not used to paying them any attention. However, this is similar to the skills needed by anyone who has ever cared for pets, plants, or babies. Just like our bodies and psyche, they need nurturing but can’t use words to express their needs.
4. Create the support you need based on who you are, not who you think you should be.
5. When adopting new health and fitness behaviors, such as beginning an exercise program or improving one’s diet, people often expect too much in the beginning and not enough in the long term. In a few months you can begin to learn new skills, introduce new habits, build a little fitness, and lose a little weight. In 10 years, almost anything you set your mind to is possible.
6. Self-care doesn’t prevent all health issues but in times of difficulty, having a care routine will support you. During times of crisis, it is challenging to try new things. Having healthful practices and a support network in place can be enormously helpful.
7. Research indicates that if we want to adopt a desirable habit, such as exercising regularly, we need to focus on reducing any obstacles rather than create incentives. Ask yourself, why am I not doing what I think I should be doing already? What is standing in my way? Identify and remove those obstacles to achieve the desired behavior change.
8. Don’t set goals you don’t care about. It will undermine your sense of competency when you set goals you do care about. When you think about setting a new goal, project yourself in the future and imagine what it would be like to be working toward this goal. Picture it in detail. Is it thrilling? Even the parts that might require hard work? If not, if there is no spark, let it go. Don’t create a history of failure in your life, which sows doubt and keeps you from forging ahead when it really matters in the future.
9. One of the mostly helpful and underappreciated health skills is to learn how to restart a stalled health plan quickly. Everyone experiences interruptions in their nutrition and exercise routine: travel, holiday meals, a cold, a muscle pull, a sick child, overtime work, etc. There are 4 helpful aspects to getting back on track:
• Assume that normal healthy habits should resume the moment it is possible to do so, not at some vague moment in the future when everything is completely under control.
• Be flexible. If one activity is not available because of travel or injury, switch to another form of exercise rather than be completely inactive.
• Don’t be a perfectionist. If you “messed up,” don’t make it a big deal and use it as an excuse to give up completely on healthy habits. Get back on the wagon the moment you can.
• Anticipate and plan for change. In many cases, such as travel, seasonal changes, a new baby, or a move, we get advance warning. Don’t wait. Make arrangements ahead of time to accommodate the new situation.
Please contact me if you would like to know more about how to adapt healthy habits to your individual needs. And stay tuned for part 2, which will focus on exercise and movement.