I’m going to reveal to you my psychic abilities… I am willing to guess you know exactly which health behaviors you should be doing. You know what you need to do to achieve optimal health well into your later years. The trick is actually taking that first step and performing those healthy behaviors and making them a habit.
That’s the problem. I have found that most people don’t need to be told that they should exercise regularly and eat more fruits and vegetables. They don’t need to be told to manage their stress better or to get more sleep. To borrow from the Nike slogan: they need to just do it.
I was at a conference in San Diego this past fall, and I am going to quote one of the speakers here, Dr. David Sabgir:We don't need health information. We need health inspiration. Click To Tweet
To me, that says it all. So, my question to you is this: “what inspires you?”
But sometimes your inspiration can seem so far away that it leads to inaction. You might end up saying, “Ah… that’s so far into the future, I’ll get around to it.”
To prevent this from happening, here’s what you need to do:
- Think about the habits that you need to adopt to help you feel your best when your reach those later stages of life. Staying physically active is one of the best ways to keep your body feeling younger. So let’s use that as an example. If you want to exercise at least 3 times a week well into your 60s and 70s, and if you’re not following a structured exercise program now, this means the first step is to begin exercising. But here’s the good news: you do not need to exercise 3 times a week starting this very minute. We can work up to that. Where should you start?
- Think about your daily routine. I promise there’s a method to my madness. Follow me here… let’s say your morning routine looks like this: your alarm clock goes off abruptly at 6 am every weekday. When the alarm sounds, you shut it off, get out of bed, and immediately head to your bathroom sink to wash your face and brush your teeth. This is your morning routine. You with me so far? So here’s what you do…
- Add the behavior. Starting on Monday, try this: When the alarm sounds, shut it off like you normally would, get out of bed, and instead of walking towards your bathroom sink like you usually do, you stop and do 5 push-ups, or 2 sit-ups, or 7 standing squats. Then finish your morning routine by walking over to the sink to wash your face and brush your teeth. Did you catch what just happened there? In a not-so-sneaky way, we added a new behavior to your routine (getting up after your alarm clock wakes you, walking to the sink, etc.). Not only that, but we added a behavior that’s quick and relatively easy to do: 5 push-ups, or 2 sit-ups, or 7 standing squats. Note: you do not have to do all of these! You could do just 1 push-up or 1 standing squat if you wanted! Just so long as you do it.
You may be thinking, “How is this possibly going to get me to ultimate goal of being fit years from now?” Here’s the genius behind this approach: again, I’m going to use my psychic abilities here. When you perform those 1 or 2 or 5 push-ups, sit-ups or squats or whatever, you will probably say, “Well, this doesn’t feel so bad… why don’t I just keep going?” You may find yourself doing 10 push-ups, or maybe 20 or more!
And, the other really cool thing about this method is that it doesn’t require extra planning or preparation. You already have your morning habits–just add one small extra behavior in between. That’s it! You’ve just created a new habit!
Ok… so this is all well and good for an unstructured exercise routine. But what if the goal is to be able to run 3 miles or more at a time and have some bulging biceps as you get older?
You can apply these very same steps! Start by taking a look at your usual routine. If you want take up running, you need to know when the best time to do this will be. Knowing your normal patterns will help you figure out when the best time will be. Let’s pretend that whenever you get home from work, you immediately go to the television and begin watching your favorite show. Instead of doing this, you can leave your running shoes right next to the television remote control the night before. Then when you get home from work the next day, instead of walking through the door and turning on the television, you put on your running shoes and go for a quick jog. It could be a 10-minute jog, a 15-minute jog, or even a 1-minute jog. It doesn’t matter! As long as you put on those running shoes, that counts!
Once putting on your running shoes has become a habit (and hopefully the jogging that follows), you can build on how long and/or how often you run! Then use these same steps to create other healthy and sustained habits!