As a personal trainer here in Bellingham for the past ten years, I have seen and experienced what does — and does not — work for clients who want to improve their health. Most people come to me with a goal in mind, but have no idea on how to achieve it. Any health-related goal can be achieved by making a few small changes, planning ahead and accepting the fact that there are no quick fixes or short cuts.
First start by taking a balanced approach, which means that you need both physical activity and appropriate nutrition. The best method to improve your overall physical health is to incorporate activities that develop your core strength, balance, stability, stamina, muscle coordination and agility. Sometimes people become focused on one activity, like running or golf, and they think that this gives them a much broader range of fitness than they actually have. However, after only one personal training session that includes a whole-body workout, they are often surprised at how underdeveloped some areas of their body have become. Combining activities makes for a more balanced approach.
Nutritional habits need to start with small changes that you can build upon, as this approach is much more likely to last. If weight loss is your goal, start by reducing just starches (rice, pasta, potatoes, beans and breads) from your dinner meal. These kinds of carbohydrate calories digest quickly and can spike insulin, and most of us are not likely to need these energy-packed calories so late in the day. Once you get used to doing this for a week or two, it will get much easier, and you can begin making other small adjustments one at a time.
It is important to understand how to make changes that last, and how to form new habits. This process involves a three-step cycle which includes a cue, a routine and a reward. For example, my goal is to become more flexible by stretching every day. My cue is the time of 7:30 p.m. when Jeopardy starts every evening. My routine is to get onto the floor and stretch for thirty minutes. My reward is how good I feel afterward by the huge release of tension from tight muscles, which feels really nice when I get into bed to read and relax. A good book that explains how to recognize bad habits and form new ones is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
Planning ahead is another essential component to success. If you spend just ten minutes writing up a week’s worth of lunch and dinner meals, you will be much more likely to stick to these options and not make hasty, bad choices. There are great resources out there for helping with this: Clean Eating Magazine is one of my favorites — it contains several good ideas on putting together healthy, but good-tasting snacks, meals, and even desserts, and has a two-week menu planner with a shopping list included.
Any challenging long-term goal takes patience and hard work. You must accept that there is no quick fix, and that the road to change may be a bit uncomfortable. Whether you are doing an aerobic activity or using weights, your body naturally experiences some discomfort. With persistent effort you will feel like a stronger, better person for pushing through the challenge and this sense of accomplishment will become very rewarding, and will help motivate you to continue.
The most successful clients that I’ve trained accepted that equal effort is required toward both physical activity and nutritional habits, were patient about seeing results, and fell in love with how physically and emotionally strong they began to feel about reaching their goals, big or small.