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5 tips for building healthier habits

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5 Tips for Building Healthier Habits

Al Waller: Welcome back everyone!

Quick question… Are you the type who is inclined to make New Year's resolutions, and if so, are you the type that keeps them?

I think it's safe to say a lot of people make resolutions every January with the best of intentions to keep them, and if I were to guess, most target improving their health by getting in shape, losing weight, or simply becoming healthier by establishing better eating habits.

Joining me is Mihaela Vincze, public health expert for nonprofit Transamerica Institute® to discuss how we can propel ourselves with a fresh start in 2022 by helping us reach those fitness goals with these five strategies.

Now Mihaela, I'm reminded of that old adage “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” because really, at the beginning of the year people are typically optimistic and full of good intentions to embark on journeys of achieving healthier lifestyles, which can unfortunately come up way short of the mark.

So, how can people get on track and stay motivated all year long?

Mihaela Vincze: That’s a good question, Al.

A study conducted by the University of Scranton found that 23% of people quit their resolutions after just one week. However, with some planning and preparation, many people can keep their resolutions going strong. Research published in Insights by Stanford Business shows that strengthening people’s sense of well-being can actually motivate them to lose weight or exercise more. Well, it makes sense because if you’re able to effectively cope with stress, you’re more likely to work out and eat healthy.

Al: Yes, and that’s encouraging and reaffirming because it does point out that healthy mind and body are credited for one’s overall well-being. And I confess, when I’m stressed, it’s easy to derail my routine of healthy habits. So then, how should we proceed in tackling this type of imbalance?

Mihaela: Do things that you like to do. If you could have fun while moving, you’re more likely to stick to it. You may also keep it up if you find it acting as an outlet for stress release. For instance, if you enjoy dancing, you could try a dance-based workout class like virtual Zumba.

If you prefer something more calming, an outdoor yoga class might entice you. It’s important to do what you like since chances are you won’t continue doing something you do not enjoy.

Also, if you’re like me and you find yourself getting tired of the same routine, try a variety of activities. You might shock yourself with what ends up sticking. I’m really enjoying weightlifting at home lately, and it’s something I thought wouldn’t jive with me before I tried it.

Al: Weightlifting, Mihaela? Count me as impressed!

And I agree changing up a workout routine makes a lot of sense. As I think I’ve mentioned in the past, I hit the gym on certain days each week but supplement it, weather permitting obviously, with outside activities like swimming laps or playing golf during the warmer months. And then when the weather gets colder, playing Platform Tennis (aka paddle tennis) which can be played outdoors during the winter and not only provides a good workout, but some cool, fresh air for the lungs too.

Now, what else would you recommend here?

Mihaela: Remember the why behind your intention. Ask yourself: Why do you want to make this change? What will you gain from this? Are you willing to make the trade-off necessary to make this change? I know I can only make real behavior change if I have a really strong why. Then once I come up with the whys, I always come back to them, and I ingrain them into my being and keep “me” going.

Al: I get that because at the end of the day, your intentions and mindset are just as important as setting the initial goal.

And in terms of goal setting, I think it’s important to be realistic at the onset. I didn’t want to be one of those crash & burn victims with the slick work out gear and attire I had received over the holidays that jumped in trying to do it 3-5 times a week. Those tended to be what we call in the gym, “the short-timers.”

Instead, I started out gradually – committed myself to working out once a week, on a specific day and time frame. That helped me go and keep going after the first few weeks of the New Year. And as a foot note, it’s been 12 years since I made my work out commitment, and I really couldn’t imagine functioning without it.

That said, I realize when some folks miss a workout or get takeout because…well, life happens…they may get discouraged and throw up their hands. So then, what are some ways to get them back on track and avoid these kinds of slips?

Mihaela: Planning ahead! Planning ahead can help you figure out how you'll slip up and how you’ll recover from those mistakes. And that’s a really important part of preventing a misstep from turning into a permanent failure.

For instance, I have a hard time waking up early to work out, but it’s the only time in my day that I’m free to do it. To combat this, I’ve been working out with my dog in the mornings since I walk her before clocking into work anyway. It allows me to sleep in a little longer and I’m able do both at once. I do lunges and jump squats as I walk her. It’s a funny sight to see, but it’s a system I’ve put in place to keep myself going…by planning ahead.

Al: I see. Agreed. A little planning by way of your online calendar or if you’re old school, a daily planner, goes a long way toward making good habits routine. But again, what if you do slip up? What then?

Mihaela: Be kind to yourself. If you fall off track, don’t beat yourself up. Forgive yourself. Don’t become overwhelmed with self-criticism. You do not need to surrender your resolutions just because of a mistake—simply reflect and move on from it.

Al: Well, I have to say, self-recrimination is overrated and counter-productive for that matter.

And I know the trap I’ve fallen into is over scheduling and what I’m realistically capable of taking on which can make New Year’s resolutions or daily action items for that matter feel unattainable.

So, how would you advise someone in navigating this kind of roadblock?

Mihaela: Have achievable goals. Instead of having a general goal as to what you are working towards, break your goal down into smaller achievable milestones.

Monitoring your progress is key to creating lasting change. If you want to lose 10 pounds, for instance, have milestones of losing a pound or two per week. Seeing the numbers consistently be what you want them to be will keep you motivated all year long.

However, keep in mind that goals may shift as you work towards them. And that’s OK.

Al: That’s a really good point. I try not to get too ahead of myself employing the “K.I.S.S. Keep it Simple” model!

And to your point, breaking individual resolutions down step by step makes them appear far more attainable.

However, there is the tendency to lose steam or some of our edge after reaching each milestone. So then how do we keep that initial momentum going or as the politicians used say, “Keep Big Mo rolling?”

Mihaela: Treat Yourself. When you’ve hit your milestones and are making progress on all of your goals, you’ll want to reward yourself for your hard work. Of course, you’ll want to choose a reward that won’t undo all of that hard work either. This could be a day at the beach or a massage—maybe even some new fitness swag. Celebrating your success will keep you going.

Al: I’d like pizza myself! Just kidding.

Those are all great ideas, and I could get behind each of them. Now, any parting thoughts you want to share before we pack it in?

Mihaela: Remember, new habits are not born overnight; you have to keep working at them.

Al: Yep, and Rome wasn’t built in a day either.

Well, Mihaela, thanks again, for sharing your research and cogent insights with us today.

ClearPath: Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about retirement security and the intersections of health and financial well-being. You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s Podcast Central and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org

I’m your host Al Waller. Until the next time, stay safe, be well, and thanks for listening.

Clearpath is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.