Friday, April 7, 2017

A Healthy Lifestyle is More than a 45-day Challenge

I'm at the Arts & Sciences of Health Promotion Conference this week in Colorado Springs. I'm here specifically to understand what makes employees tick and what will motivate them to not just participate in programs but what will help them develop healthy habits. 

The past day and a half I have been participating in an Intensive Workshop based on behavior changes via habit design. I have many takeaways I will be able to share later, but during our discussion yesterday the presenters spoke about the ever-popular challenges and why they rarely result in sustained habits or behavior changes. 

In today’s world of social media and instant gratification health and fitness challenges seem to be popping up all over. Clients are talking about them constantly. They carry catchy names like The 30 Day Push-Up Challenge, 4 weeks to 200 Squats, and The 21-Day Sugar Detox.

These challenges seem to be most popular in the first months of the year and are usually targeted to The Resolution Crowd. This crowd is usually made up of folks looking to jump-start a healthy lifestyle.

The problem with using a challenge like those listed above is that they generally don’t teach us anything. The simply force us to eliminate a certain ingredient or master one movement.

What’s the issue with that, though? Something is better than nothing, right? Not when it comes to long-term change or instilling new habits.

One exercise will not make a significant impact. Unless you are doing additional forms of exercise and monitoring your nutrition intake simply doing squats or push-ups will not aggressively change your body or improve your fitness level.

Expectations are generally not SAFE. Few people can do 50 (or 100!) push-ups with good form – even experienced exercisers. You’ll see more benefit from 10 push-ups with proper form than 50 with poor form. Poor form often leads to injury.

The focus is on discipline, not making healthy choices. This is true especially of nutrition challenges. Success is a usually a force of will as opposed to an exercise in habit control or flexibility – 2 of the most important elements of a sustainable, healthy lifestyle.

Results are often short-lived. Most challenges are designed to be a specific length of time (5, 7, 10 or 30 days) but offer no follow up plan. Once you are done and go back to your normal habits any progress you might have made is lost quickly.

Do I think all challenges are bad? No!

The most effective, however, are usually done in conjunction with an already established routine and provide a sustainable path for a lifetime of implementation.

My suggestion? Create your own challenge. Choose one behavior at a time to work on, like walking for 30 minutes 3-5 days a week. After 30 days, add another, like incorporating a salad at lunch. This allows you to master one healthy habit at a time and will cut down on the risk of failure or burnout.
Focus on incorporating a healthy behavior instead of completely eliminating any one thing.

Think big picture. Good nutrition and physical activity must become a part of who you are. Work to become more mindful of your daily habits and how they effect your health.

One thing I know for certain is that developing new habits and making healthier choices will be hard, especially at first. But the good news is that once you accept that challenge it suddenly becomes just a little bit easier.

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