Last week, I wrote about the challenges of leading a healthy lifestyle. Lasting behavior change is important to an overall healthy lifestyle, particularly when it comes to lifelong health and vitality. Most people are aware that physical activity and a well-balanced diet play key roles in optimal health. While regular physical activity has been associated with a lower risk of chronic disease and some forms of cancer, nearly half of all Americans do not meet weekly physical activity recommendations. Many of us have certain goals we want to obtain related to physical activity. Think about some of the goals you have made. Did they revolve around losing weight or looking a certain way in the mirror? Were they related to aging gracefully or curbing high blood pressure? Long-term goals such as these are great reasons to make lasting behavior change, but studies show these may be ineffective in long-term active behavior maintenance.
Rather than focus all your goals on what your future health could be, set goals related to your current health in the here-and-now. Think about the last time you went for a brisk walk. How did you feel before you started? Maybe you were stressed from a hectic day at the office or you were feeling a little down after a cloudy day. Maybe your kids were wearing a little too thin on your nerves. Regardless of the reason, you decided to get out of the house or the office and get some fresh air. How did you feel after your walk? Did you feel refreshed? Did your dark mood grow a little lighter? Perhaps you did not think about it before reading this article. Short-term goals related to improved quality of life have been shown to go far in long-term physical activity maintenance. In fact, short-term goals may be more beneficial in lasting behavior change.
Goals associated with weight loss, lower blood pressure, or pain-free aging produce great outcomes, but only over a long period of time. Healthy weight loss should be done over several weeks and months. Similarly, it may take between one and three months of regular physical activity to impact blood pressure. While regular, life-long physical activity may reduce pain during the aging process, it provides no guarantee that aging will be pain-free. As you can see, long-term goals lack those immediate results most people seek when making decisions regarding behavior changes. Rethink your goals and focus on more immediate changes in your daily quality of life. Set goals that revolve around reducing stress. Use physical activity as a healthy escape from the daily grind and take note of changes in energy levels, improved sleep quality, and the idea of feeling more centered in your life.
While at work, take regular breaks from sitting at your desk and walk up and down a flight of stairs. Set frequent reminders to prompt you to stand up or step away from your computer screen for a minute or two. Rather than grab another cup of coffee, stand up and do five air squats or just stretch. When the weather permits, walk to a local park or through a walking trail with your family. When you wake up in the morning, make a mental note of how you feel. Is it more, or less, difficult to pull yourself out of bed and get the day started? Studies show that people who set short-term goals associated with improved quality of life are more likely to maintain a physically active lifestyle over a longer period than people
who focus on long-term goals. Start small. Get out and walk for 10 minutes a few days a week and make mental notes of any perceived improvements in your quality of life. If you can achieve these short-term, tangible outcomes, the bigger results won’t be far behind.
Follow me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AaronCSwankMPH) for tips, recipes, and other health-related advice.
Health News Column
By: Aaron Swank, County Extension Agent, Nutrition and Family Finance