What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. We all know someone who eats like a horse but never puts on an ounce….we are all biologically wired differently. (More on hormones and the biological basis of behaviour later). Similarly our personality definitely affects what motivates us and what doesn’t. People who, when faced with the suggestion of Dry January or Sugar Free February, want to do the exact opposite – they smoke more on National No Smoking Day – and create merry hell on a Sunday just because they can.
I, however, am a middle child. A product of a strict father and a nurturing mother. A competitive environment – for food (you should see how fast we all eat – the youngest of my siblings especially), for affection & for attention. (From my father at least). It really is a shame that star charts only arrived on the scene at school after I had grown up. I am the ideal candidate for a star chart…..to get all those ticks and praise – to earn rewards for being good. HEAVEN. This then for me is the trick – I am a people pleaser, a rule follower, law abiding and following most of societies norms – with just a wee hint of alternative rebellion when it comes to my own health. I don’t wear heels – having chosen “barefoot footwear” 2 years ago, I dabble with meditation, drink milk kefir, take cold showers….and have learned to embrace my inner hippy. I digress….though I’m sure I will blog on most of these things in the future!
There is loads of science backing up that exercise is good for you – it increases your metabolism, has a “rest of the day” reduction effect on your stress hormone (cortisol) levels (see my blog on useful books), muscle cell activity can help regulate insulin, it can alleviate depression and help you lose weight and maintain weight loss. (80% what we eat & 20% exercise) So why aren’t we all doing it? There will be different answers for us all – and I needed to find a way of keeping myself active.
In 2012 I was involved with a charity challenge – which involved swimming hundreds and hundreds of lengths of my local pool. For over 9 months I averaged 500 lengths a week and smelled permanently of chlorine. I had to track my lengths towards a group target – it was required to monitor our progress – but more relevantly it kept me focused and active. I also had to fit it in to my life along side a nearly full time job and two kids still at home – and this is one of the main things I learned – make it routine, make it regular, don’t let yourself question whether you should – just always do it. Whether dictated by (in my case the pool) timetable, exercising with a friend & sharing lifts (this really works for a people pleaser as you don’t want to let other people down), or a class you can go to on the way home from work – make a plan that is easy to keep, one that fits your life.
After a conversation in the swimming pool at the end of my charity challenge – in 2013-2014 I was heavily involved with a group of local people who were all keen to exercise more and improve their health – helping to administer the group, set the challenges and take part. Themed challenges were set and individuals decided on their own goals within the challenge – whether it was to achieve a distance walking, swimming or cycling weekly, or clock up a certain amount of active time. (I feel a separate blog on the “Mazzers” will be required). One of the tenets was that we had to report at the end of every week our progress towards our goals and the “boss” would berate or praise depending on our success. I had found my key. Reporting & recording my activity kept me on track. A kind of star chart for adults. “Do what you say you are going to do” is a massive ethical thing for me. I hate letting people down – I like to do as I’m told….that people pleasing trait rearing it’s head. As fit-bits, smartphones with step counters and fitness apps became more prevalent – the group petered out with most of us using some form of device to provide the motivation and tracking function that the group had previously provided.
One of my most recent apps – but possibly my favourite as it’s the one that feeds into my star chart mentality the most, is the habit forming app. Called “Way of Life” it allows you to define good habits you want to foster or bad habits you want to break, and then lets you track those habits. It links streaks of activity and lets you add notes and show trends. I LOVE it. My current streaks for example – have me at 98 days alcohol free & 68 days Sugar free. I’m really not going to blow that now for a glass of overly sweet Rosé and a chocolate hobnob. It makes me think twice and THAT for a mindless eater is a great thing. I have set exercise & walking goals as well as lifestyle goals – I may bore you with my de-cluttering project as some point!
I use my phone to record my steps – I know 10,000 steps is just an arbitrary number set somewhere in Japan, but it’s a good enough goal. Having a dog is great for steps…and getting out for a long walk daily has SO many benefits It’s how I start my day and I regularly walk 100,000 steps a week. Rarely do I miss 10,000. Pedometers, Fitbits and other wearables are great – they can link to smart phones and have built in goals and medals that really work if you are motivated by praise.
Runkeeper, Endomondo, Map-my-walk and other similar apps enable you to map and share your activity – walks, runs, cycles. Most share to social media, track speed and routes and enable you to compare and challenge yourself (and in some cases, others) to improve on previous speeds over the same route.
Sugar Smart is an app that when you to scan a product bar-code tells you how many sugar cubes (and grams) of total sugar in the product. Easy to use, it utilises the camera on your smart phone, and all you really need is an internet signal….it’s database is pretty good and improving all the time – occasional items are not yet logged – but this is becoming rarer. It’s really handy when you start out, if you are having to rely on convenience foods – or just for shocking the kids.
My final recommendation for a bit of fun is Pokémon Go – if you haven’t got a dog to walk and need a reason to walk – this could be it. An augmented reality game that runs on your smart phone, the goal being to catch (or hatch) wee creatures that pop up when you are walking around towns and cities. The more you walk – the more Pokémon you find. The more you walk, the more eggs you can hatch – and by walking with a Pokémon buddy – you can evolve new Pokémon quicker. 7 day streaks earn you more points and a bit like a star chart can keep you motivated. A great thing to do with primary school kids to keep them active too. A bit like stamp collecting or football cards – but out and about in the fresh air. Obviously having a Mum who plays Pokémon Go is HUGELY embarrassing if you are a teenager…..this is just one of the many burdens my kids have to deal with.