Health and Wellness Coaching
Change your mind to change your life.
To Keep Moving, Look Beyond the Physical
By Jane E. Brody. Published in the New York Times.
Link to the original newspaper article.
I have long known (though I've yet to give up trying) that it is almost impossible to motivate smokers to quit for good by regaling them with the health hazards of tobacco. And now I've been told by readers of last week's column, "Even More Reasons to Get a Move On," that repeated sermons on the health benefits of physical activity may get some folks started but are unlikely to keep them at it.
And it's true that for many people, future health benefits may just be too abstract and speculative to overcome inertia and take up walking, running, swimming, cycling or working out in the gym. So here is a little secret. What really keeps us devoted exercisers going, even in the face of myriad obstacles, is much more tangible.
Vicki Van Horn, 62, of Rio Rancho, N.M., sent an e-mail message in response to my column: "There are other ancillary benefits, in addition to the obvious health benefits, to regular exercise. My husband (Thomas McAlister), at 77, visits the gym almost daily, where he has a huge coterie of gym buddies (many of whom also retired), with whom he shares books, magazines and conversation. I still work full time but make it to the gym about five times a week; usually it is a gym 'date' with him. We stride along on treadmills next to each other and talk about the day's events while we watch 'Animal Planet'!"
Michelle Segar, a motivational psychologist at the University of Michigan, said in an interview that what Ms. Van Horn described was no "ancillary" benefit. "Rather," Dr. Segar said, "these are the core reasons that keep people going."
"My research suggests that we have misbranded health behaviors such as exercise," she continued. "The 'health' and 'weight-loss' brand of exercise doesn't create desire in people to exercise on a daily basis. It makes the behaviors feel like a chore and a 'should,' which undercuts our desire to do them."
Dr. Segar likened this approach to telling young children, "Eat your vegetables; they're good for you," which almost never accomplishes the desired goal. "We've based our promotion of exercise on a medical and logical model," she said. "And people don't necessarily behave in a logical manner.
"We've made exercise feel like a chore to most people, not like a gift we give ourselves."
Instead, she suggested borrowing the motivational approach used by commercial marketers, "an emotional hook that creates positive, meaningful expectations of how exercise can enhance people's lives, a way to feel better."
She continued, "Exercise is such a wonder drug - there's got to be something exercise can do to improve the lives of virtually everyone."
How Exercise Improved My Life
I couldn't agree more. So many nonhealth benefits keep me exercising every day that I'm sure my life would be greatly diminished without them.
Shortly after 6 the other morning, a stunning full moon hugging the horizon enhanced our walk around our local park, and I remarked, "Look what the stay-a-beds are missing." Soon after came a picture-postcard scene of two Siberian huskies trotting through the snow-covered woods. The week before, we were treated to glorious snow-laden trees as we trudged through the falling snow.
Note that I said "we." Two to five of us walk for an hour every morning. We chat about our days, share our thoughts and problems, seek and offer advice, bolster sagging spirits, provide logistical support, alert one another to coming cultural events, discuss the news, books, articles and what-have-you. No matter how awful I may feel when I get up in the morning, I always feel better after that walk. And so I always do it, come rain, shine or blizzard.
The members of this walking group, which I joined (admittedly reluctantly) about 15 years ago, have become more than dear friends. They are a sounding board for any and all problems, providing both emotional and practical support when needed. They have introduced me to wonderful activities - museum and gallery shows, concerts and operas, movies and books - I might have otherwise missed.
One member of the group has become a frequent traveling companion - someone far easier to travel with than my husband (she doesn't snore or tell me I'm going the wrong way). We've gone wine tasting in the Napa Valley, hiking in Arizona, sightseeing in Costa Rica, snorkeling in the Galápagos, exploring the culture of Tasmania.
Another walker invited me to join her knitting group, where I rediscovered a long-abandoned productive activity and learned how to crochet. I've since made gifts for every important person in my life and every new baby.
Then there are the women in the locker room at the YMCA where I swim nearly every morning after the walk. Some I know only by first name. All have been there for me when a family crisis struck, offering to make meals, house visitors, run errands, go grocery shopping, pick up my grandsons from school, do whatever I can farm out to others to ease my burden. (Alas, no one else can write my column!)
For years now, I've been struck by the camaraderie among the elderly women, most of them widows, whose water aerobics class follows the morning lap-swim. Few knew one another before they joined this activity. Now they lunch together almost every month, celebrate birthdays together, check on one another if someone fails to attend a session or two, even raise money for a beloved staff member who lost her job in the recession.
A highly productive gym aficionado I work with told me how much the guys at the gym mean to him, giving him the opportunity to talk about events, politics, sports and other topics of mutual interest that he would otherwise have no chance to squeeze into his very busy life. "I don't even know their last names, but I count them all as my friends and an important asset in my life," he said.
One reader of last week's column wrote that at age 61 she was surprised to discover the pleasure to be gleaned from adding an at-home activity to her already active life. She conceded that she bought Wii Fit Plus to help her less active 68-year-old husband "get up and moving" to improve his health. What they both discovered is that this TV toy is quite addictive and has helped both of them enjoy daily activity without having to leave the house in bad weather. In addition to losing weight, they have more energy and sleep like logs.
The latter is one of the benefits Dr. Segar offers through the program she developed called Essential Steps. Exercise, she said, can help people sleep better and reduce stress, as well as have a good time with a friend.
"Almost anything can get people to start exercising," she said. "The challenge is to get them hooked on it so that they keep going. We need to rebrand exercise as something we can enjoy, something that really feels good to do."
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Disclaimer: As a Health Coach, I will never attempt to diagnose, treat, make claims, prevent or cure any disease or condition. I advise my clients that Health Coaching is not intended to substitute for the advice, treatment and/or diagnosis of a qualified licensed health care professional.