Anyone who’s worked with me knows that sustainability is at the forefront of my professional ethos. It’s an important concept that gets neglected in the industry. All of our health and fitness pursuits, from juice cleanses to charity runs are centered around a short stint of high intensity activity followed by an end date.
Nearly everyone I’ve come into contact with in my professional life has once made progress towards their fitness goal(s) but failed to remain consistent, falling back into old habits.
The Typical Wellbeing Cycle ;
Stage 1 – A period of binge eating and inactivity resulting in a gradual build up of guilt, and an eventual emotional eruption.
Stage 2 – The initiation of a workout and diet program to rectify the consequences of sedentary living.
Stage 3 – An abrupt termination of the program when it’s no longer manageable with new circumstances i.e. increased working hours.
Stage 4 – A return to our default of empty calories and low physical activity.
This far too common fluctuation between intense training regimes and periods of sedentary living can be attributed to a few simple flaws in our conduct. The first one being the unrealistic goals we pursue that don’t account for other commitments. Going to gym as a generic goal, can be a great feat for certain individuals. It may mean reorganizing a day, travelling, entering an unfamiliar environment, navigating new equipment, and so on. Collectively, these factors are enough to make someone sack it off completely. This is one example of where a more militant approach to fitness encourages an all or nothing mentality, ultimately leading to relapses.
Another reason is that we rarely choose modes of exercise we enjoy. Without adapting workouts to align with our preferences, we develop a negative relationship with exercise and perceive it as a chore.
All of these short fallings in our program design stem from one fundamental reality. Our goals and aspirations are emotionally charged. Fitness is primarily orientated towards our physical appearance and physical health, both are sensitive areas. We may feel scared of illness, guilty of our low activity levels or shameful about our body composition. These emotional factors can be beneficial in disturbing us enough to take action towards a healthier life however, they do not promote the logical thought required for goal setting.
When beginning a new fitness program, we should ask ourselves, “can I sustain this for longer than a year”. If the answer is no, this calls for a reevaluation.
For a habit to stick it needs to fit in with our day to day activities. You may walk to pick up your child from school 5 days a week. To jog instead would be easy to implement as you are taking the journey regardless. Sustainable exercise solutions integrate into our lifestyle with minimal friction.
The previous example is particularly effective because it uses habit stacking. This involves placing a new habit directly after an existing one with a clear and specific cue. e.g. “when door slams shut, I will start jogging”. Now when you hear the latch click, not only will it remind you but it will hold you accountable.
A recurring cue to initiate short bursts of activity throughout the day can also be beneficial. This could be 10 seconds of pelvic floor exercises at every traffic light or 10 burpees every time the adverts come on the TV. We need to standardize the habit of exercise before looking to optimize it.
With frustration surrounding our previous behaviors, we attempt to fast track our way to our desired health status or the aesthetic. Unfortunately this holds no longevity. My advice is to do things incrementally. Start with one simple habit and only once it is being done consistently should you introduce more. These small lifestyle changes over a period of time, will compound to create a significant impact.
The enjoyment of exercise is paramount to its sustainability. It is a misconception that results can only be obtained through gym based activity. A kick about in the park or a dog walk could feasibly yield the same energy expenditure and cardiovascular benefit as a pre planned, structured workout. Take the initiative to find a form of exercise that you love! In the UK, Rock climbing, tennis, paddle boarding and martial arts are all accessible with little more than a Google search and a phone call.
The last piece of advice I have for avoiding yo-yo diets and un used gym memberships is to make decisions regarding your wellbeing when you are in a level headed and non emotional state. Numerous factors must be accounted for when creating a safe and effective program, this requires rational thought. Too much emotion will cloud your judgement and compromise your decision making.
If you have just been through a bad patch or you feel that you have let yourself down, address those issues before considering future plans of action. Nobody ever got anywhere whilst beating themselves into the ground.
Consistency and longevity are integral to optimal health and wellbeing. Changes in diet and exercise must integrate into our lifestyle with minimal friction, allowing flexibility for varying circumstances. Realistic goals increase the likelihood of adherence. Finally, we should enjoy training, avoiding the tendency to tyrannize or punish ourselves through exercise.
I hope these ideas positively influence everyone who reads them, aiding us all in becoming happier and healthier individuals for ourselves and the people around us.
If you require any guidance or support regarding your wellbeing, do not hesitate to contact me directly. Whether you’re a client or not, I want to help you all become the best versions of yourself. My contact details are in the footer of this page.