The real costs of wellness
It is that time of year when many of us will set our mettle and get declare that we will “work out” for the next year to gear up for beach season, or a milestone birthday, or a special event. We prepare our minds to put action to our thoughts and make so many changes in our lives based on the next chapter of the Julian calendar. For most of us this decision to start anew is based on the extrinsic value of taking care of ourselves, the happiness and sense of satisfaction that comes from knowing we will look better, or fit into clothes that we are starting to outgrow. Some of us are more motivated by fear; a doctor’s stern reproach, the likelihood that we’ll follow in a parent or loved-one’s footsteps. Only a few of us will likely get the ball rolling because we understand that taking care of ourselves is really the easiest decision we can make.
We all recognize, in our own ways, that our health and the inherent happiness that it creates are our decision. Every food, exercise, activity, or emotional decision we make feeds directly into our overall wellness (which I define as happiness, fitness, and behavioral health). So why is it that many of us start the new year on the “right” course and then slowly veer back into our same behavioral patterns and many others never start in the first place, while a very small few stick to it and make their health a priority throughout the year and into the future?
There are a number of behavioral theories in psychology and the fitness industry that map our place on a continuum of decision making. Behavior Modification Theory is the most employed in the industry and uses five stages of readiness: Precontemplation – “I won’t, I can’t,” Contemplation – “I might,” Preparation – “I will,” Action – “I am,” and Maintenance – “I still am.” From there they define how best to interact with people in each stage to get or keep them engaged, and offer suggestions as to when attentions need to be reinvested.
As it turns out the Action phase is the most likely to fall into relapse within 3 to 6 months. This means that you have to work harder emotionally and behaviorally to stay active and get to the Maintenance phase (active for at least 6 months). Any of you who go to gyms regularly can attest to this the truth in this model. January is busy as all get out and by April… well… not so much.
Why can’t we just stick to it? A general theory that I subscribe to is that we a) are really looking for those extrinsic rewards (loss of weight/fat, bigger muscles, better-fitting clothes), and b) can do it on our own, that we know enough to just jump in and hope we will be successful. I believe we place considerably less value on how we feel when we are active, how much easier it is to do tasks that we struggled with previously, how much our physiology has changed in noticeable ways (easier breathing, lower heart rate, better range of motion, less stress and tension). Wrapped up in that is my suggestion that few of us place a monetary value on what all of these decisions and changes mean in the short or long term. What happens when you put a cost/benefit sheet together and try to itemize what your wellness resolution will mean to you? Here’s a link to a worksheet that might help, see where your true value of wellness falls.
Can you see where the extrinsic and intrinsic rewards have real financial impacts? As for doing it on your own, what exercises did you choose and why? Who showed you how to do them properly and prevent injury? Who suggested that they are activities or movements you should even be doing at all? I am not suggesting that you need to get a permission slip to start exercising and being active. What I want you to consider is whether you may be barking up the wrong tree; so many of us fall out of our fitness routine because we don’t see those extrinsic results. Odds are that all comes down to your program, methodology, and individual physiology.
Some of us read books or watch videos, others look at specific articles that fit our interests, some of us look at on-line guides such as this one from the NY Times, others do it on the recommendation of a friend or co-worker, and the rest of us just guess. As a fitness and wellness professional I am here to tell you that you might have your work cut out for without taking a step back and evaluating what your goals really are, and take a step by step and day by day approach to achieving them.
That’s where I can really help, offering goal development support, accountability, and motivation. Look again at your cost/benefit analysis and see how working with a trainer might just be the best money you can spend as you approach your wellness. I can offer you direction, suggest the right tools and modalities, and ensure that you limit risk of injury and improve your functional movement and strength. If you think you can jump in and it will all work out… without a reasonable goal and plan how can you possibly succeed? Put it on your calendar to re-read this post on March 1 and call me then.