fitness wake-up call can be a powerful catalyst for change.
For Matthew Richter-Sand, it came during a flight home to see
flight hit some turbulence, the 30-year-old felt his belly fat
bouncing up and down along with the plane. "I was so
disgusted; (being obese) wasnít me," said Richter-Sand
of Los Angeles. "Right then and there, I swore to
new fitness habits isnít easy, but as Richter-Sand quickly
learned, itís the key to success. Habits ó unlike
resolutions ó last. The behaviors become wired so deeply
into our brains that they occur without thinking, possibly
freeing up the old noodle for other matters. And though habits
take longer to establish and change, they are worth the
patience and work.
still debate the time it takes for a behavior to become an
ingrained action, but some findings show it takes four to six
weeks of "consistent" action, said sports
psychologist Gregory Chertok of the Physical Medicine and
Rehabilitation Center in New Jersey.
Richter-Sand, it took about two months before his workout
pattern felt automatic. "In the beginning, I did what
most people do; I overcompensated," he said. "I
tried to change everything at once, which is a disaster."
lasting change involves going through stages that arenít
necessarily linear, said Chertok. People fluctuate and
transition between the stages. Knowing how to move through
them can get you where you want to be. Here, we take a look at
READY TO CHANGE
like: You might be unaware your behavior is causing problems.
Unfortunately, "pre-contemplation is where most people
are at, with regard to lifestyle changes," said Lisa
Menninger, a Utah-based wellness consultant. You may be aware
that doing things differently could be beneficial, but there
is resistance. This is where people tell themselves: "Itís
going to be hard. Itís going to take too much time. Itís
going to hurt," Menninger said.
through it: She often tells people stuck in this stage that if
they avoid discomfort now, it will only get worse and become
can at least get the wheels turning and help them into the
next stage. It doesnít require they do anything, except
merely consider this reality," she said.
like: Youíre considering change, looking at the pros and
cons, perhaps because, like Richter-Sands, youíve had your
wake-up call. Youíre not actually doing anything yet, but
you think it might be a good idea.
through it: Mental images are good here. Visualization ó or
writing something down on paper ó can also reprogram the
neural circuitry of the brain, which has a direct impact on
performance, said Chertok. "Think about how your life
will look if you donít change," he said. "Then
visualize the types of clothes youíll be wearing, how youíll
feel when looking in a mirror, the response you get from your
partner or children when you do," he said.
like: Youíre building momentum by setting small goals ó
making the appointment with the trainer, getting the gym
membership, buying equipment or enlisting someone or something
to help you track your progress.
through it: "The accountability factor is really
important," said Gina Lombardi, a spokeswoman for the
National Strength and Conditioning Association. The right
person is key. It could be a certified personal trainer or
wellness consultant or a coach. It can even be a friend who
works out regularly, but make sure you find the right fit,
said Menninger. "The trainer needs to meet the client
where he or she is, striking the right balance between setting
and meeting challenges."
like: Youíre doing something! In the action stage, new
healthy behaviors have been established; the tricky part is
sticking to them. If you have accountability ó it should be
more painful to skip your habit than to actually do it ó and
you remember why you want to change, youíll have more
success in this stage.
through it: A common mistake, however, is doing too much too
soon, or getting injured because people think theyíre in
better shape than they are. Richter-Sand, an Air Force
veteran, worked out so hard that two days after he started, he
couldnít get out of bed. "It was a science
experiment," he said. "I had to find the right
things that worked for me."
family and friends help you avoid tempting places, such as
restaurants, and get to bed on time, Chertok suggested.
"Sustained change sometimes requires the guidance of
somebody with pre-existing healthy behaviors," said
start keeping a food log, said Menninger. The right food will
help keep the workouts going; if youíre eating poorly, you
wonít have enough fuel.
Raines, 52, of Winston-Salem, N.C., maintains her fitness
habits by making her workouts fun and setting goals for events
ranging from charity bike rides to triathlons and half
marathons. When she first joined the YMCA, her fitness trainer
set her up on the FitLinxx system, which gave her points-based
weight-lifting and aerobic activities. "Seeing my
progress even just in terms of activity helped to motivate me
and establish fitness as a habit," she said. "Later,
tracking my workouts using a Garmin and heart rate monitor was
useful in motivating me."
UP A NEW HABIT
like: After six months of sustained change, youíve hit the
"maintenance" phase. Itís still easy to slip, but
"if youíve changed lifestyle habits for yourself,
rather than doing something because you Ďhave to,í this
stage is easier," said Menninger. "Itís shifting
from ĎI have toí to ĎI want to.í"
through it: If it feels weird to do things for your own
benefit, remind yourself that you want to have options as you
age, said Menninger. Without health and strength, youíll
have to make compromises and youíll limit yourself, she
said. "When weíre clear on why we are doing what we are
doing, we will stick with it ó for good."
now sees fitness as a hobby. "So itís not just a habit,
itís a pastime," she said.
Richter-Sand, now a personal trainer who runs an online
nutrition and fitness company, found that his habit was more
sustainable when he stopped trying things that worked for
others. "Thereís no silver bullet ó you have to
experiment and see what works for you," he said. "Itís
taken me two to three years to where I feel good about where I
am. And Iím still learning."