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Forming Healthy Habits

By Samantha Jordan, Physical Therapist (DPT, OCS, CSCS) – On behalf of the Safety Squad at Southwest Health.

We tend to set health and fitness goals when we’re feeling especially motivated or focused, but the truth is, many of our well-intentioned goals end up forgotten within the first few weeks or months of making them.  The trick to making a lasting change in our lives is to develop habits that move us toward our goals.  Habits do not take conscious effort to complete which makes it significantly easier to stay on track.  Here are three habits that can improve your health and happiness over time:

Exercise

I know what you’re thinking, “She’s a physical therapist of course she’s going to tell us to exercise.” and you’re right.  There is a reason for it.  Exercise has innumerable health benefits, from the obvious such as helping us to maintain a healthy weight and reducing risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, to boosting our mood and reducing risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.  Here are some tips for starting (and sticking to) an exercise program.

  1. Choose activities you enjoy: If you hate to walk, don’t walk.  Try water aerobics, a class at a local gym, biking, weight lifting, yoga, tai chi, etc.
  2. Start small: If you are currently not exercising do not set yourself a goal of working out 5 days per week.  Try twice per week and increase as you go.  If you are doing 2-3 times per week but want to increase your fitness a little more try adding one extra day to your workout routine.
  3. Find an exercise buddy: Workouts are so much faster and more enjoyable when we do them with others.  Make a date to exercise with a friend once or twice per week, join an exercise class or even take your dog on a walk.  Also, knowing someone else is planning on you being there will make you less likely to cancel.
  4. Measure progress: Seeing improvements helps motivate us to stay on track.  Weight is not always a valid measurement of our success, as we actually gain weight as we gain muscle mass, and weight fluctuates naturally within a given day, week and month. Instead of weighing yourself, measure your progress by assessing how your clothes fit or how well you are able to do an activity.  Are you able to walk or run the same distance at a faster pace?  Are you increasing your weight during weight lifting?  Are you less out of breath during your exercise class? You get the point.  There are many fitness trackers on the market or free applications available to download which can help as a motivational tool as well.
  5. Set SMART goals: SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable/Realistic and Time bound.

Instead of: I am going to exercise more.
Say this: I am going to exercise for at least 20 minutes twice this week.

Instead of: I am going to eat healthier.
Say:  I am going to limit desserts to one serving or less per day.  Or I am going to add a serving of vegetables to two meals per day.

What do you want to accomplish this year?  This month?  This week?

Figure out your long term goals and write down short term goals that help you work towards them.  For example if your goal is to walk or run a 5k this spring your goals might look like this:

Long term goal: I will walk (or run) a 5k without stopping to rest in May 2018.
Short term goal:  I will walk 20 minutes twice per week this week and work up to 30 minutes three times per week in the next 4 weeks.

Think Positively

We have thousands of thoughts every day.  How many of yours are negative?  We tend to think more critically of ourselves than we do of others.  That physical flaw that you are so hard on yourself about is likely not nearly as noticeable to other people.  Our thoughts have a significant impact on how we feel.  If we are constantly thinking negatively about ourselves we will start to have a poor self-image and overall a more negative outlook on our lives.  Starting today notice when those negative thoughts pop up.  Ask yourself, is that true?  Is there a way you can rephrase the thought to be more positive?  Instead of thinking, “I’m lazy, I didn’t exercise today” ask is that true?  Is there something in your day that popped up that took too much of your time or attention?  What can you do better tomorrow to ensure that you are able to accomplish your goals?

Eat Moderately

Most of us know that fad diets rarely have lasting results.  Extreme dietary restrictions can be necessary for some people for management of medical conditions but should always be prescribed by a physician or dietician.  In general, aim to have a well-balanced diet of various food groups.  It’s ok to reward yourself with a treat once in a while but try to limit sweet and sugary or fried/fatty foods.

Today is always a good day to start making positive changes in your life.  Write down some long term and short term goals and identify how you can begin to work towards them with small daily steps.  Little changes in your amount of exercise, the way you think about yourself and others, and your diet can add up to big changes to make 2018 your best year yet.

The Safety Squad’s mascot, Watson the Watchdog, taking Samantha’s advice and working on his healthy habits :)

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