Can you believe it’s February already? Well, if you are like most people around this time, you may have found yourself in a tricky situation:you want to maintain your commitment to living a healthier lifestyle and improving your health, but you’re not really sure how. In today’s world of limitless information, it can be overwhelming to sort through all the health-related bits that’s readily available and decide how to launch your quest toward a well-balanced lifestyle. Though getting started may be challenging, maintaining your commitment can be the hardest part of this whole process. But guess what: it is possible. You can do it! It will not be a quick task—it is a process that takes time and dedication. However, you can learn how to incorporate healthy choices in your life. Here are some very useful tools and practical suggestions to help you achieve your health goals and overcome any barriers that you may face during 2016.
Getting Started – The Basics of Making a Lifestyle Change
- Remember to be realistic about your goals.
If you try to reduce the calories, fat, saturated fat, and sugar in your diet AND promise to make a drastic change in your physical activity level, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Instead of making several changes at once, set smaller, more realistic goals and add a new challenge each week.
- Develop a support system.
Share your commitment to living a healthier lifestyle with those around you. When seeking the support of others, help them understand your reasons for change so they can help you. Make use of the support networks that exist around you, such as friends or co-workers who are willing to help you stay motivated.
- Support yourself in thoughts and action.
Change your surroundings (e.g., home, work, and car) to support your goals. Some people find it very helpful to surround themselves with supportive messages. Leave encouraging notes to yourself or “to-do lists” at home, in the car or at the office. Replace bad thoughts with good ones. When you hear yourself saying, “I should be better (or faster) at this by now,” counter back by saying, “I have made some real improvements and am right where I need to be.”
- Find the time.
With some creative thinking, you’ll find ways to squeeze a little more time out of your busy schedule. Adding short bouts of physical activity throughout the day really works. Think about your schedule at work, home, and elsewhere. Find at least three time slots where you can incorporate physical activity during the next week and write them down.
- Make change a priority.
Perhaps you’ve already made small changes in your level of activity and nutrition habits that you can build on, or maybe you will be starting fresh. Either way, developing a healthy lifestyle is now at the top of your priority list. You can be confident that you are on the road to success. Choose one area of your life (e.g., work, lunch/break time, before/after work, weekends, active indoor chores, active outdoor chores) that you want to address in the next week.
- Create a plan of action.
The next step is to set some achievable goals and create a plan of action. For example, if you choose physical activity after work as the area to work on for the week, a specific goal might be walking the dog after work four days a week. Choose four physical activity goals that you hope to accomplish within the next month.
- Monitor your progress.
Self-monitoring your progress can help you meet your goals by increasing your awareness of the changes you have or have not made. It is also important to build on your goals. Try keeping an activity and food log to help you remember.
- Reward yourself.
You deserve rewards when you achieve your goals, so give yourself a gift. Here are some ideas: a health club membership, tickets to a sporting event, a massage, retail gift card, or a sitter for the kids so you can do something you’ll enjoy.
- Plan for setbacks.
Think about times when you will be tempted not to be active. Maybe you have added demands of work and family, the flu, a blizzard, or out-of-town visitors. It is important to plan for events that might disrupt your healthy lifestyle routine. It is often helpful to make a list of potential setbacks to your routine and determine how you will overcome them. If you plan and prepare for events that are likely to happen, you will hurdle over them more easily. If you do lapse, just start right back where you left off.
Professional Resources – When making a commitment to changing your lifestyle behaviors and developing healthy habits, it is important to remember that consulting your healthcare provider or dietitian may be helpful and/or necessary in some cases. Talk to your physician prior to beginning a physical activity program about what types and amounts of physical activity are appropriate given your circumstances. In addition to consulting with your physician, many people choose to speak to a registered dietitian or personal trainer. Consulting professionals in these areas is beneficial if you have diabetes, cardiovascular problems, or high blood pressure and/or digestive problems; if you want to lose or gain weight; or if you want to eat smarter. A registered dietitian can help you safely change your eating plan without compromising taste or nutrition. They can help you sort through misinformation, teach you how to read labels at the supermarket, help you discover that healthy cooking is inexpensive, show you how to eat out without ruining your eating plan, and provide tips on resisting workplace temptations.
Written By: Erin Kennedy, MS, Exercise Physiologist
Erin Kennedy (MS, Exercise Physiologist) is the director of the Center for Healthy Lifestyles in Central Illinois. She works closely with specialty physicians to promote community awareness on various health topics. Her special interests include working with those who have heart disease, diabetes, and weight management concerns. Erin has been published in several trade magazines and journals and is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine. In 2014, Erin was honored by the YWCA of McLean County with the Women of Distinction – Professions Award.