Nearly half of the country is about to embark on an annual New Year’s resolution to get healthy. Fitness facilities are preparing for January’s deluge of new members – people motivated to begin the new year by kicking some bad habits and shedding some excess weight. But why then are these resolutions to improve our health, arguably the most important commitments we can make to ourselves, often abandoned before Valentine’s Day?
According to Dr. R. Murali Krishna, president and chief operating officer of Integris Mental Health in Oklahoma City, proper motivation is the key factor for making a positive health transformation. Most importantly, Dr. Krishna says, the motivational force needs to be less about how others see us and more about how we see ourselves.
The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (TtM) – a model that conceptualizes the process of intentional behavorial change – may be applied to organize the action required to get healthy. This approach is broken into five stages of change and assumes that biological, psychological and social factors all contribute to a human’s well-being.
In the “pre-contemplation” stage, we are unaware of or disinterested in the need for change. Once we recognize that need, we progress to “contemplation,” then on to the “preparation” stage. It is during these early stages of the journey that Dr. Krishna encourages an examination of our motivation.
“Examine what the motivating force is behind your desire to make a change,” Dr. Krishna says. “Find the inner meaning and the true purpose for you. Explore how your life is going to be improved by becoming healthier. It is OK for some of your motivation to be external, such as to make a change in your life for the benefit of your family or a cause you are passionate about. However, when your motivation is only external, such as to impress others, then you won’t have nearly as powerful a transformative and lasting change as one that comes from an internal source.”
Taking that first step toward getting healthy, the “action” phase, and the subsequent “maintenance” stage of the health regime may require the most external support. Emilee Bounds, health and wellness director at Oklahoma City’s downtown YMCA, says that during the first 12 weeks of a new exercise plan, establishing good habits is essential. “Most of the changes taking place in the first few weeks are neurological,” Bounds says. “You begin to see physiological changes in 12 to 16 weeks. Strength training helps increase muscle mass. And the greater the muscle mass, the greater the resting metabolic rate may be. In other words, metabolism is more efficient with more muscle. A combination of aerobic exercise that helps burn calories important to weight loss and strength training that adds muscle mass will help you see results more quickly.”
Health professionals caution anyone starting a new health regimen to anticipate a wall, or perhaps a series of walls, which present themselves in the forms of motivational challenges, physical stamina, and the support systems required to achieve the goal. Bounds says to expect setbacks, but not to give up. If you miss a week at the gym, don’t be embarrassed. “We want you to keep coming back, and we want to celebrate your accomplishments with you,” she says.
Just as motivation is the first step toward getting healthier, it is also often the first force to lose momentum. Health professionals recommend having a buddy or trainer to help support and motivate you. Establish a clear list of realistic goals and the steps you need to take to achieve them. Take photos of yourself and journal the process. Celebrate your successes and reward yourself along the way. “Change is a long-term journey,” Dr. Krishna says. “Permanent changes come in small steps. The sacrifices that you are making are good for you, and you richly deserve the short- and long-term rewards of good health.”
Working Out at Work
Corporations have begun to join the vital support network required for a healthier community. A healthier staff results in less absenteeism and reduced health costs, and companies with fitness centers or other fitness-related programs realize measurable benefits in terms of both recruitment and retention.
Chesapeake Energy led the way in Oklahoma City when its corporate fitness center opened in 2003 on its main campus. This was no cloistered company gym; this was an opulent, multi-level, 72,000-square-foot health center with sunlight pouring through banks of windows. The facility is open to employees and their families and includes a junior Olympic-sized pool, rock-climbing wall, basketball and racquetball courts and cardio, weight and cycling rooms. Outside the facility there is a track, athletic field and sand volleyball court. The company took well-being a step further by collaborating with Dr. Krishna to develop the “Your Life Matters” program to address employees’ emotional health as well.
“Chesapeake has a strong commitment to wellness, which results in benefits for our employees and our business,” says Colleen Dame, director of wellness for Chesapeake. “From a business perspective, our emphasis on health results in medical insurance premiums that trend lower than national averages, and our employees take fewer sick days than industry standards. Employees also tell us that the healthier they are, the more energy they have. The greatest value of our wellness programs, however, are the individual lives that are changed. From quitting tobacco use, preventing a heart attack, reducing stress or losing weight, our employees can choose to live better lives. Their health – and ultimately their lives – matters a great deal to us.”
But we don’t all work for big corporations with state-of-the-art fitness centers, so Bounds encourages health seekers to explore other possibilities. If your work schedule doesn’t allow a break for a full workout, bring your tennis shoes to the office and take a 10-minute walk with a co-worker. “Walking meetings” are also becoming popular in today’s corporate culture. When appropriate, business meetings may be conducted during a walk around the building as opposed to sitting around a conference table. “Exercise is a good mood booster,” Dr. Krishna says. “When the body moves, circulation improves and the mind feels better.”
It’s a Mind-Body-Spirit Thing
A healthy New Year’s resolution should include a commitment to simultaneously improving physical and mental health. One of the biggest challenges in maintaining physical fitness is emotional eating, which ranks high on the list of causes for obesity. Emotional eating is not motivated by a need for nourishment; it often occurs in response to emotional and spiritual hunger. If you feed unresolved feelings with food and alcohol, Dr. Krishna says, then your own natural resources of resilience, vibrancy and healing are not allowed to blossom. Your mind and body thus become dysfunctional as a result.
According to recent mental health surveys, 50 percent of our overall “happiness” may be attributed to genetics. Surprisingly, only 10 percent of our happiness depends upon life experiences. That leaves 40 percent of our happiness to be determined by our own volition, our own will. “What attitude you have about life, how you perceive and process events and people, and how you react to life is within your own control,” Dr. Krishna says. “You can choose to be happy.”
Although emotional eating may manifest from a different type of hunger and therefore require a different strategy for curbing an emotional appetite, there are other simple ways to adjust our diets in support of an overall commitment to better health. In our busy lives, we may eat our meals on the go – driving in the car or at our desks while working. Invariably, our sense of taste dulls throughout the eating process, which can lead to “mindless eating.” To nourish our nourishment, we need to slow down and take the time to appreciate the food. “Look at the food you are about to eat,” Dr. Krishna says. “Think about your food: think about where it came from; who worked for it; how it nourishes your body; appreciate it visually; enjoy the fragrance. Enjoy food with all of your senses, and savor it before you swallow it. Practice ‘mindful eating.’”
On average, it takes the brain 20 minutes or longer to realize that our stomachs are full. Therefore, unintentional weight gain may result from those extra 20 minutes or so of eating that our bodies do not really need. Simply slowing down the eating process can result in better weight management.
Regardless of what exercises we employ to fulfill our respective New Year’s resolutions, changing our lifestyles to live and eat healthier may invoke tremendous fear and a desire to abandon the process before we even begin. But if we can accept challenge as transitional as well as transformational, Dr. Krishna says, then we can keep going.
“You will want to slip back into your old comfort zone,” Dr. Krishna says, “but you must set up a new comfort zone. Find the motivation within yourself, not because you want to do it for others, but because you want to do it for yourself. You deserve to achieve your fullest potential.”
Top 10 Tips
Lori Mathews, a dietitian at Deaconess Hospital, offers 10 simple ways to eat healthier
1 Eat smaller portions.
2. Don’t skip meals
3. Emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.
4. Eat a wide variety of food.
5. Decrease intake of refined sugars and starches.
6. Avoid hydrogenated vegetable oils, those transfats found in many commercially prepared foods.
7. Pay attention to internal cues; stop eating when you no longer feel hungry.
8. Avoid emotional eating.
9. Stay hydrated with good quality water.
10.. Utilize apps or websites that can estimate and track calorie intake for weight maintenance and/or weight loss.