The New Year is a time when people are often motivated to set health and wellness goals for the upcoming year. If you have been reading my posts for the last two weeks I have offered some advice on how to best set goals vs resolutions and some strategies that will help lead to success in making this year different.
Knowing that so many people are looking to set wellness based goals at this time of the year I wanted to offer some specific advice on fitness and health for the next two articles. I have helped people get started on their fitness goals for 17 years now, I have a lot of appreciation for the natural motivation that people have at this time of year. I hope that I can help you set yourself up for the greatest level of success so one year from now you can say “I did it!”
A few years ago I needed to have open heart surgery to fix a congenital heart defect I was born with. If there is one thing that can help you realize the impact of overall wellness vs weight loss goals, it is having a major surgery and facing the recovery that comes with it. All of a sudden what the scale says is the least important thing you are worried about. What you do notice quickly is the length of time it takes for you to recover, in my case I was back in the gym after only 3 weeks. I was back teaching my classes in less than 3 months. But you also learn lessons about the opportunities being healthy brings to you. For me it meant that I didn’t need to have a blood transfusion, even though medically the numbers said I should have. It meant that when my lung filled with fluid (a common side effect post operation) I could still fully function and was not physically impacted by this limitation.
I know how easy it is to say “I want to lose 20 pounds in 2018”, however I promise you, if you focus more on the process then on the result you will come out of the year fitter, healthier, more positive and likely closer to that goal then many people who simply set the goal of weight loss.
There are 4 areas of health you should consider when setting a fitness goal. All of these areas have an impact on the likelihood of your success (especially with weight loss). The 4 areas are; Exercise, Sleep, Nutrition and Stress. So often I meet people who are trying to win the battle of weight loss by attacking just one or two of the four areas. I myself have fallen into this trap, usually when I was focused only on the number on the scale and this is the most frustrating strategy you can take.
My challenge to you this year if you are looking for weight loss is to forget the scale and to measure these four areas instead. This week we will focus on the first two areas; exercise and sleep.
This seems to be the area that most people try to attack first. Usually with an unrealistic amount of ambition and vigour that simply cannot be maintained. Setting a goal to exercise 7 days a week or for 2 hours per time is likely not something you can maintain. So don’t set it. Instead identify realistically what you can fit into your life. It is less about how frequent as it is about doing the right things when you are exercising. Exercise is very much a quality over quantity approach. I have seen so many people with only 20 minutes per day achieve their goals because they use those 20 minutes VERY efficiently.
Goal 1- Show up!
Don’t hit the gym crazy hard to start! This is not the best plan. You will get sore, frustrated and this will limit your motivation to attend. Instead, set a goal of creating the habit to start. The hardest thing to do is show up. If your goal is 3 times per week… literally get yourself there 3 times per week for the whole month of January. This is a win. What you do when you get there won’t matter if you only make it through week 1. So goal number one for anyone who is not consistently in an exercise program should be to make it into the club consistently.
Don’t Over Do it/ Get some professional advice
Don’t overdo it off the start! You need to get your body ready to move. The best plan of attack is to meet with a professional for as many appts as you can afford. If that means you meet with a Personal Trainer for 1 free appointment do it. If that means you can be with that trainer for the first 6 months- do that. Look for someone who is qualified and who seems on board with the 4 tier approach to fitness. You are looking for someone who can help you identify any imbalances (so you don’t get hurt), identify your starting level, and help your body understand the way it is designed to move. All of this is designed to set you up for long term success in the gym.
Use your Resting Heart Rate as an Indicator of Progress.
When you start in the gym there are so many ways you can assess where you are starting and when you are improving. The scale is the worst one! Your weight can fluctuate between 2 and 7 pounds over the course of a month because of water weight, inflammation and hormones. It also may not change for 2 or 3 weeks at a time and can derail your mindset on your progress. You may do everything right and the scale may not move. This does not mean you should stop doing the right things. This is why I suggest focusing on a different metric alongside the scale. Resting heart rate (RHR) is one of the greatest indicators of health. You should take it first thing in the morning, ideally before you get out of bed. Your ideal RHR is less than 70 beats per minute.
Think about it like a car… your car only gets so many miles. You do regular maintenance to help you get the most mileage out of your car. Your heart is your body’s engine. You are only going to get so many beats out of it, so make sure you do regular maintenance and the lower your resting heart rate the less beats you are going to use up just sitting still.
How quickly your heart recovers from exercise is also an indicator of health. There are tests you can do to assess this, essentially you want to see how many beats per minute your heart rate drops after working at about 80% of your maximum heart rate for one minute. Know your resting heart rate, your maximum heart rate and your recovery rate. An easy way to get help with this is to wear a heart rate monitor while you exercise as well. I do suggest a chest strap as they are the most accurate. I wear a MYZONE® exercise monitor. Knowing your numbers will help with tracking your progress!
What actually happens when you sleep?
While you are sleeping your body is rebuilding, reenergizing and reloading. It does all sorts of crazy things. It is saving memories into your brain. The liver shifts into building and synthesizing mode, your muscles rebuild, your immune system reboots. It also helps to balance out your hunger hormones. Have you noticed you eat more when you are overtired? Those feelings are in part the body saying you need extra fuel for energy and part of it is the reset being missed from the lack of sleep. This won’t help those weight loss goals!
Imagine a computer and what happens when you never shut it down. It starts to build up fragments, and it starts to slow down, starts to stall and starts to work very inefficiently. This is what happens to your body when it doesn’t get enough sleep OR high enough quality sleep.
If you want your best fitness results you need to incorporate a plan for sleep into your goal setting. Think about 1- how long you want to sleep each night and 2- what can you do to improve the quality of your sleep.
3 steps to a great night sleep:
- Develop a bed time routine- like you do with kids when they are little to help settle them down. You need to settle your own mind down and wind down for about an hour before you plan on going to bed
- Turn off your phones and lap tops- the blue light emitted from these screens can impact your sleep hormones so make sure you are turning these off at least an hour before bed.
- Set a plan so you can get 7 to 8 hours per night of sleep.
I am totally someone who understands the mentality of sleep less- do more. However, I also know that when I sleep more, my energy levels are higher, my resting heart rate is lower and I have less cravings.
Next week we will explore nutrition and stress. Focus on these two steps this week and be proud of your process success!