Healthy Lifestyle Essential to Overall Heart Health and a Happier, Longer Life
Making Lifestyle Changes is No Easy Task
Our Lifestyles are defined by various habits we have developed over many years and as such require a process and dedication to achieve any meaningful change. The best strategy is to develop a well thought out plan. When dealing with habits, the most effective way to stop an undesirable habit is to replace it with a new more desirable habit. Starting an exercise program or modifying your diet is no different. So many of us have attempted time and again to get it in gear and make that New Year’s resolution only to fall back in our old rut.
Perhaps you have convinced yourself that it really is time to lose weight, get on an exercise program or give up smoking. You know this will help lower your cholesterol or blood sugar or blood pressure. You have procrastinated waiting for some mystical force to propel you into this new behavior. Stop beating yourself up and PLEASE do not give up, help is on the way.
Make a Plan – Use a Process
There is a far greater chance of success if you follow a set process that includes distinct phases. “If at first you do not succeed, try try again. But this time use a process, not a haphazard untried method passed on by a well intentioned friend or relative.
The Preparation Stage
The preparation stage is the time to communicate to others about your commitment. Create a start date and timeline with milestones for putting your change plan into action with small incremental steps. “There isn’t a single, successful way to do it,” says DiClemente. “Building an organized plan that will work for you is really the heart of it.” Good preparation is key to realizing your goal
The Action Stage
In the action stage, your change plan is tested by real life challenges. It may work or you may need to modify or overcome obstacles along the way. That’s when the time you had put into developing a plan and making a strong commitment really pays off. Instead of giving up, you create an alternate plan and put it into effect.
The Long Term Maintenance stage
Use strategies that help: Stay away from after-work socializing or other negative influences if it threatens maintaining your healthful change. Prepare in advance for what you’ll do if your walking buddy can’t make it or worse, moves away or a family crisis tempts a return to unhealthy eating, drinking or smoking. Brown Medical School’s Marcus suggests you focus on the benefits of your new lifestyle, seek out supportive friends and reward yourself for success.
First, find a time and a place that is simple and easy to fit into your routine and start with baby steps. Do not decide to go a gym or walking trail way across town. There will be too many reasons and excuses to add all that additional time to your already busy schedule. Pick a time of the day where you can carve out the necessary time without impacting your work or family obligations.
Know your own Unique Body
We all have our own particular bio rhythms. If you find it hard to get up early in the morning, it is going to be an uphill battle to get up even earlier to exercise. On the other hand, if you get bored in the evenings and fill that boredom by snacking and watching TV, perhaps going out for a brisk walk after dinner might be a good replacement for snacking and you will get your exercise in at the same time. After 2-3 weeks, you will begin to look forward to your daily exercise.
Breaking a Habit
Breaking a habit takes 2-3 weeks, but the good news is this works in the reverse as well. Once you start a new behavior, a more healthy one, after 2-3 weeks, this too becomes a habit which is also difficult to break and overriding the previous bad habit. Overlapping new healthy habits with old unhealthy habits achieves both objectives at the same time.
Make it easy on Yourself
Pick a location and a form of exercise that is convenient. If you decide a gym is your choice for exercise, pick one close to home or on your way to or from work. Pick a set time of the day. Some find it easier to fit in their exercise early in the day. Others may find it easier after work. Whatever you choose, stick with the routine and make it a habit. Start off modestly. If you start off too aggressively you may tire, get fatigued and sore and feel defeated. Start with a routine manageable for you and each week or two raise the bar! You will be amazed how your endurance and strength increase. This gives you a goal and as you gain strength and look better, there is a sense of satisfaction you will begin to feel. This will give you the inspiration you need to keep up your new program. Consider varying your exercise routine. If you choose walking try a change of scenery, pick a different route. If you ride a bicycle, take different paths. If you go to the gym vary the equipment and routine you pick. This technique will help with any potential boredom or monotony.
Create a Strong Basis
“It’s like building a house. You’ve got to accomplish each task well enough to support the next step. If you don’t get the foundation built well, then it’s going to crumble,” says Carlo DiClemente, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and researcher/co-creator of this scientifically proven system of self-change. In the book Changing for Good: The Revolutionary Program That Explains the Six Stages of Change and Teaches You How to Free Yourself from Bad Habits (William Morrow and Co., 1994), DiClemente and his co-authors use their research findings to show how to move from protecting our unhealthy behaviors to making change really happen.
How Hard Should I Push Myself?
You should push yourself hard enough so that it is difficult to talk to someone conversationally but not so far that you can not speak without significant difficulty.
We all know smoking is very dangerous to our health. Think about the problem, talk about it with others, and examine why you want to stop smoking. Look closely at what scares you about stopping. Is it about a new self-image, experiencing nicotine withdrawal or losing certain friends? Identify both the “pros” your change will create, as well as the many “cons” that may undermine your efforts. There are many tools available today to help with smoking cessation. Determine which is right for you. Avoid the many triggers such as drinking with friends, joining others for that after dinner smoke, etc. Follow the process described above, set a timeline, commit, substitute a healthy replacement for the void created and stay disciplined. A well thought out plan such as the one described above will make a big difference in success or failure. You owe this to not only yourself, but to your loved ones and those that count on you.
Lifestyle behavioral changes are difficult to implement but with the advice above, it is not only doable, but very rewarding. Isn’t your life worth a little initial inconvenience? You will be highly rewarded with a renewed sense of vigor and well being not to mention how many years of fulfillment you will add to your life and those who love you.