When it comes to health and wellbeing and making positive changes to your lifestyle, I am all about longevity. But to do this, we have to look at where our life is, at the point we decide to take those positive steps and ensure we make a plan that fits and sticks.
Fitness and a nutritious diet have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. (cue jokes about my short term memory loss ….. but note my long term memory remains in tact!! 😜). However, goals around my fitness and even tweaking my diet, have had to change over my life, depending on circumstances and events that have taken place.
Just a few examples of lifestyle changes for me over the (150!!) years have been: fitness and nutrition when travelling (both holiday and business); keeping fit and eating well before and after pregnancy; trying to keep fit when you are a full time working single mum; trying to eat a nutritious diet when money is tight and, of course…. fitness and nutrition when you have a critical illness – before, during and after treatment.
My approach through all of this is having short term goals and giving myself targets I can reach. I suppose that’s mindfulness really… being in the present.
I believe its the only way we can really function as human beings and is such an important part of our overall wellbeing and our ability to embrace our personal wins. Celebrating wins, no matter how small, is really, really important to me. Surviving a critical illness has taught me this, as you have to learn to focus on the present and make the most of what lies right in front of you. And be proud.
For this reason – when someone says to me they want to get fit, lose weight, tone up, build more muscle, run a marathon, do a handstand (one of my specialties and yes … we are all slightly bonkers!!), look their best at their wedding or for a holiday etc …. I always try and break it down into bite size chunks and make sure that any goal comes with some flexibility around their lifestyle and personal circumstances. That way – once you’ve reached that goal, they find it so much easier to look at how to incorporate what they’ve achieved into their normal lifestyle and feel motivated enough to look at the next goal.
But there are also constraints sometimes, to what we can achieve and we must be mindful of these too. Personalisation is key …. no two individuals are the same – physiologically, emotionally, or their lifestyle and this is why I find standardised fitness and nutrition programmes to be wrong on every level.
If a new mum comes to me with the goal of getting back into shape after having a baby and she is either a stay at home mum, taking care of a baby/ toddler 24/7, or a working mum also taking care of a baby/ toddler… there is no point telling her to join a gym and make sure she goes 5x a week to get results! In fact, for plenty of new mums (me included), paying a gym membership might not even be feasible! And there is very little chance anyone in this situation will have the time to fit 5 workout sessions a week in. That person has constraints and its important to devise a short term goal – I normally look at 4 weeks – and give them a goal they can achieve within that time, which will get them moving in the right direction and make them feel fantastic about their achievements. At the end of that 4 weeks, you can assess someones progress and then modify their programme to bite off the next chunk. That way they keep feeling like they are moving forward.
Again, if someone travels constantly for their job and is eating out a lot , but wants to improve their health and fitness, its vital you look at the constraints that exist and work around them. Telling them they need to cook all their food and ensure they only eat meals they have prepared for themselves is not going to work. You need to help them understand food better, make better choices from menus when they are eating out and learn how to balance the ‘eating out’ days with the ‘home cooked’ days, as this ensures positive , long term lifestyle changes are made.
Age is also another one.
Don’t get me wrong -I’m 46 years old and I am probably fitter than most people half my age, but I have adapted my fitness over the years to fit my lifestyle, financial situation, injury and health. I also have a different focus at 46 than I did at 26 or 36. I was a runner and I loved it. In my teens, 20’s, 30’s and even my early 40’s, running 4-5x a week was a type of meditation to me. I loved the way my body felt after a run, it gave me vitality and when I put my headphones in and hit the pavement… I left any of my problems inside the door. I used to say I did my best thinking when I was running – both personal and professional.
Unfortunately though, my body didn’t want to play ball and in the last couple of years, its made running long distances problematic. I’ve mentioned the falling over in a previous post and this really knocked my confidence (in more ways than you can imagine) and on top of this, I began tearing hamstrings, having achilles issues and knee problems. Injuries I knew could stop me moving for a long time if I didn’t make changes. I think the mind is a very powerful ‘leader’ and a big part of me thinks it was telling me, through injury, I needed to amend my routine and look to gain that ‘inner strength’ through other forms of fitness.
It wasn’t that I only ran – I did yoga and went to the gym a couple of times a week to do strength and conditioning work, but I did a lot more ‘cardio’ work through my running than anything else.
I developed a shorter term goal of building back my confidence through strength and flexibility. I believe a strong body as you age keeps it much more youthful – you have a more ‘functional’ body that can achieve all the tasks, sports and activities you want to do in your life and by performing better, you feel better. Muscle mass also means you have less fat – overall body fat and visceral fat and these are really important to good health. Being skinny doesn’t mean you have low body fat – not at all! Flexibility is also important to me, as it allows your body to move more freely and when you slip or fall (which unfortunately I seem to do more than I would like!), your body responds better. I knew being strong would help prevent injury, keep me looking healthy (I have a real aversion to being ‘thin’ as for pure vanity I think it can be very ageing) and the ‘buzz’ from the type of training I was going to do, would give me that endorphin rush I got from running… my own form of meditation.
This was my short term goal and by focusing on that, I found the small achievements along the way helped push me to larger ones .
To give you an example of a short term goal for me … one that helped me overcome my confidence issues around balance and falling… was being able to make a two foot jump from the ground onto a box and off. For a lot of people this really isn’t very difficult – especially for someone as fit as me – but because of my balance issues and I think my psychosomatic issues around falling when I ran – I just couldn’t do it. So, I built up plyometric leg strength by broad jumping on the floor and then started on a very low box and over about 4 weeks, worked my way up to the box height I was targeting. Now I have no issues whatsoever with that jump.
So … don’t delay getting started but never think its insurmountable. Give yourself short term goals and celebrate your achievements as they happen…. cos they will make you feel fuc***g awesome! Promise!