Are you tired of failing at your efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle?
If so, lets understand why you keep making unhealthy choices.
Almost everyone has been in a position of committing to eating healthier and working out more, but somehow you find yourself falling back into old habits. So why is sticking to a healthy lifestyle and regular exercise so hard?
Its a FACT – over 70% of children aged 2 to 17 and 60% of adults do not met the physical activity guidelines (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and ABS 2021). In case you didn’t know, the recommended physical activity minimum is 150 minutes of moderate intensity and 2 days of muscle-strengthening activity per week.
We are all (young ones especially) becoming every day more aware of the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle on a regular basis. Yet, we just don’t manage to. We may engage in a variety of short-term projects: 1-week detox retreats, 1-month severe diets, intense sport bootcamps. Yet, the benefits these short-term activities generate are quickly lost as we are dragged back to our “bad” habits in the longer-term. The inability to stick to a healthy lifestyle makes us feel frustrated and, of course, unhealthy. What is the way out then? Why is it so difficult to stick with a healthy lifestyle in the long-term and what should you do to improve your odds of success?
The first step is to understand the issue?
- What are the main obstacles to pursuing a healthy lifestyle?
- What are the pillars of a healthy lifestyle and are they interconnected?
So what is a healthy lifestyle and fitness regimen?
A healthy lifestyle is one that allows you to live a good quality life that is active and fulfilled for as long as possible. This means a life where you are free to do what you want and not hindered by health, mobility or mental issues. So first let’s be clear about life span and health span. You may live until you’re 92, but are battling cancer for 10 years, in this case your health span is 82 years. I’m sure we all want to live a longer, healthier happier life right?
So why is it so hard for us to commit to ourselves? The answer is not as complex as you think.
Why is sticking to a health and fitness plan so hard?
There are three main reasons for this which tie into how our brain is wired:
- Instant gratification
- Decision traps
Lets deep dive into what each of these means for you and the influence it has on your health choices.
1. Instant gratification can make it hard to stick to a fit and healthy lifestyle
First up is Instant Gratification that explains the experience of feeling pleasure or satisfaction from an action without having to wait for a delayed reward. It makes us think that immediate rewards are more valuable than delayed ones.
In our fast-paced, digital world, it is easier to get what we want immediately and can be quite addictive and cause a healthy lifestyle to be so hard. From ordering food to transport to streaming our favorite games or shows, we are used to getting what we want, when we want it. Whilst this is great, it can become a problem and train our minds to expect it all the time. If you are constantly seeking immediate pleasure, you can become impatient, anxious and even depressed when it doesn’t happen.
To overcome instant gratification, it is important to develop healthy habits and self discipline. This involves making a conscious effort to avoid distractions, removing temptations from your surroundings and reguarily setting goals you can work towards over time.
To break a habit, you need to:
- Make it invisible: reduce exposure and remove the cues of your bad habit from your environment.
- Make it unattractive: Reframe your mindset. Highlight the benefits of avoiding your bad habits.
- Make it hard: Increase friction or number of steps between you and your bad habits or use a commitment device.
- Make it unsatisfying: Get an accountability partner or create a habit contract – making the costs of your habit public and painful (1)
2. Lack of time or perceived lack of time can make it hard to stick to a healthy lifestyle
Most of us work hard, manage a family, a home, activities for the kids, long commutes, meetings and have little time or mind space to allocate time to activities and choices necessary for a healthy lifestyle. Neuroscience explains why it’s so difficult to make the correct choices under stress or time constraints. “Under stress, our brains tend to be reflexive rather than reflective. When we are reflexive, we tend to go back to old habits that are the established “default” pathways in our brains” (S. Pillay, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School)
Many of us have a week’s worth of workouts planned out in advance, but then stress at work or with family throws you off your game and you couldn’t make one session or even the way you wanted to, so you just drop exercise altogether. Sound familiar?
Even if you can’t do your full workout as you’d planned, you’ll benefit from doing some form of exercise on a regular basis. Only have time and energy for a 10-minute workout or a 20-minute walk? Great. Go for it. “Just moving your legs and walking for 20 minutes can be super effective for staying consistent with your exercise routine,” Exas says.
Similarly, many of us are not in the habit of cooking reguarily and purchase lunch or dinner out meaning we consume more calories due to larger portion sizes, not to mention these meals are higher in fats, sugar, toxic chemicals and salt and lower in fiber and micronutrients. Taking just 60 minutes per week, will allow you to meal prep your lunches and dinners for the week which will not only ensure you save time and money, but also guarantee you weight management.
Here are some tips to help you stick to a goal or plan:
Small habits can have a huge impact on your life
We don’t notice small changes, because their immediate impact is negligible. However, these small changes, if repeated every day, can cause major changes in our lives. You might not even notice that change is taking place but over time you will see a difference. f you want to make a positive change in your life, you have to understand that change requires patience, as well as confidence that your habits are helping you progress in the right direction even if you don’t see immediate results.
If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead. As James Clear explains, “Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.”
True long-term thinking focuses more on building effective systems than setting goals. The idea is not to achieve a single accomplishment but to create a cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. If you improve by 1% every day for one year, then at the end of the year you will be 37% better. I also recommend habit stacking, which means you add a new habit to your schedule when everything you are doing is second nature.
An example was me and my morning routine. First I started with waking earlier and earlier incrementally over a period of weeks so I optimised my chance of success. I started with 6:30, then 6:00, then 5:30am, then I added exercise, initially it was 20mins and I have now extended it to 40 mins. After I had achieved regular waking and exercise, I then stacked in meditation, eventually Journalling and reading as well. This took around 66 days in total to become consistent and for these habits to become second nature.
Ask yourself is the time you spend scrolling Facebook or watching Netflix more important than spending your time doing something that is contributing to your health? If you answered YES, think again doctor’s appointments due to obesity-related conditions, being slowed down by the chronic pain of a sedentary life, and getting sick more often all take up more time.
If you don’t take time to prioritise your health and wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness
3. Decision traps make a healthy lifestyle hard to stick to
Decision traps are formed by societal influence or our upbringing which makes sticking to a healthy lifestyle so hard. A decision trap is a type of cognitive bias that can lead us to make suboptimal decisions. This can manifest in a number of ways.
Humans tend to heavily discount the future, meaning that things we have now are more valuable than things we have in a few years. For this reason, we cannot correctly weigh the cost and consequences of choosing unhealthy habits today, and we tend to give in to short term pleasures, or doing what we are used to doing even if this means we are eroding longer term benefits.
Alternatively, we may have been brought up in a family that is not familiar with how to live a healthy lifestyle, they may be over eaters, used to eating take away or out at restaurants, sedentary habits or smokers. So as adults we may not know what a healthy lifestyle or fitness regime looks like. If we do not know exactly what, how, when, and even why exactly we should pursue a specific activity, we just will not do it. We will rather engage in something that demands less thought and scheduling and is part of our routine.
The other bow to this is convenience which is also can be linked to time and planning. We may not always have convenient access to facilities that provide services or food that enable a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps you travel a lot or don’t have any ‘healthy’ cafe options near your work which provides another decision trap. We often reach for what is convenient. The answer to this is preparation and planning. Planning for these events and either taking packed lunches or meals, understanding what a ‘healthy’ option looks like in a restaurant (ie. salad with no dressing or a lean meat with vegetables minus any sauces). Additionally, pack your runners and commit to a daily walk – you can do this wherever you are.
Chances are if any of these are the case, you are more likely to not enjoy exercising, meal planning and cooking.
So what does a healthy lifestyle look like?
A healthy lifestyle can be somewhat of a puzzle composed of different pieces. Once we are aware of benefits of each piece, which ones we enjoy or find the most challenging to commit to, it is easier for us to take action and pull together a plan you can stick to.
The 5 pillars of a healthy lifestyle include:
- Physical Exercise
- Mental Health and Stress Levels
- Aesthetics and Skincare
The optimal way to eat includes several considerations – when to eat, what to eat and how to eat. Ayurveda has long used diet as a principal means of creating health within the body and mind. Hundreds of years before Hippocrates instructed, “Let food be thy medicine,”.
- Eat until satiated NOT full: It is recommended you eat 3 meals a day and fill your stomach to 80%. The idea here is that you should leave the dining table not feeling completely full. Aside from the obvious consequence of weight gain, overeating increases free radical production in the body, which in turn speeds the aging process. This avoids putting too much pressure on the digestive system, and thus avoiding the acceleration of cell oxidation (ie. the aging process).
- Don’t snack: According to Ayurvedic principles, there are three stages of digestion that must be completed after a meal. In the first hour after a meal, the Kapha energies are dominant. The body may feel full, heavy, and sedate. Two to four hours after a meal the elements of Pitta govern digestion. During this time, hydrochloric acid increases, internal heat rises, and the meal is transformed into sustenance for the body. Four to five hours after a meal the Vata energies rise. It is during this time that lightness and space return and appetite increases.
- Consume whole, fresh foods: Prana—not food itself, but your life force—nourishes the body at the most fundamental level and is responsible for the creation of health, vitality, and energy. Foods with abundant prana come straight from the Earth. Their prana has been derived through the mingling of sunshine, water, and earth energies. The moment food is picked, its prana begins slowly diminishing. Therefore, eating foods that are as fresh as possible will increase prana more readily than eating the same foods further from their harvest time.
- Reduce cold foods and beverages: It is recommended to eat fresh warm foods and drinks to ensure your digestive fire known as agni is not depleted.
- Eat mindfully: Eliminate distractions whilst eating, connect with the energy of the food you consume, see the colours, flavors and bring awareness to your eating. Focus on your senses for a few minutes at a time.
- Stop eating 3 hours before bedtime: During sleep the body should heal and repair whilst the mind digests thought, emotions and experiences from the day. If the body’s energy is focusing on physical digestion, the physical healing and mental digestive processes are halted. It is recommended that your last meal of the day is light and 3 hours before bedtime, so you can heal deeply during your sleep.
- Favor herbal teas between meals: tea is not just a palate pleasing beverage, it is also a powerful healer that can aid in restoring health, vitality and happiness. Teas should be minimally consumed with meals (no more than 1/2 cup). However, between meals, teas can be enjoyed liberally and act as herbal remedies. Herbal teas fill the body full of liquid medicine, curbing snack cravings whilst detoxifying and increasing digestive fire.
- Eat your largest meal at lunchtime. Your digestion is at its strongest when the sun is highest. By consuming the largest meal of the day at noon, the body is able to use its powerful inner fire to breakdown and assimilate nutrients with less energetic output than at other times of the day. The noon meal is the best time of the day to integrate heavier or difficult to digest foods. his is also the most ideal time for a splurge food (think an icy drink or sugary treat). By eating the largest meal at midday, the body remains well supplied with energy throughout the afternoon hours, thus helping to alleviate the “afternoon energy slump.”
2. Physical Exercise
Staying active regularly is essential for good physical and mental health and wellbeing. This is true no matter how young or old you are. But the amount of activity varies, depending on your age. The Australian Government has provided some guidance on the minimum physical activity should be.
- Children: At least 1 hour of moderate to vigorous activity involving mainly aerobic activities per day. Vigorous activities should be incorporated at least 3 days per week. Several hours of light activities per day. With no more of 2 hours screen time per day. They require 8-11 hours of sleep.
- Adults: Be active on most (preferably all) days, to weekly total of: 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate activity or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous activity or an equivalent combination of both. With 2 days a week focusing on strength.
Physical exercise does not need to be too demanding, it should not take more than 30-45 mins of your day, otherwise your chances to commit over a period of time are limited. Things like Yoga, Walking, Pilates are great examples of exercise. The real trick here is to find a few things you enjoy and mix it up a little and introduce the habit into your routine. I find that I have to exercise in the morning, otherwise too many excuses or ‘things’ get in the way of me committing to it.
3. Mental Health
Physical health and mental wellbeing are inextricably related. Physical injuries can lead to mental health issues, and vice versa. Our bodies and minds are not separate, so it’s not surprising that mental ill health can affect your body. The connection between mind-body-spirit is well documented and increasingly understood these days so it is important to consider your mental wellbeing if you are going to be physically healthy. A great example of this is if you are feeling down, or depressed, you are unlikely to want to exercise, however if you do get out, breathe some fresh air and move your body, you are more likely to improve your mental state. Taking time to quiet the mind and practice on the mat can do wonders for conditions such as anxiety and depression, especially when you get those endorphins going.
Sarie Taylor a psychotherapist and coach explained: “It is impossible to separate our mind and our bodies as they are intrinsically linked, they speak to each other and work in harmony. (3) For example, stress causes inflammation in the body, hence you may find that if you have vulnerable areas or injuries, this may be where you feel it most, or you may experience tension in the body, stiff neck, sore hips or knees etc…
Studies have shown that emotional states such as anxiety and depression can increase insulin resistance, which over time can lead to not only diabetes but increase the risk for other chronic illnesses that are associated with insulin dysregulation. Equally our emotional condition is mirrored by our immune response meaning that depressed individuals are more likely to have depressed immune systems. Depression is linked to an increased incidence of certain chronic and long-term illnesses, like diabetes, stroke, and heart attack. On the flip side, practices like gratitude, meditation, and even increasing happiness have a direct effect on the immune system, cortisol and other regulatory hormones.
When it comes to protecting your mental health, there are many factors in your control that you can modify to improve it:
- Nutrition – reducing or eliminating processed foods and sugar and following our advice above.
- Exercise – even though you may not feel like it, put your runners on and start with a walk around the block. Walking more and getting just 20 mins of strength or cardio exercise a day will have a significant impact.
- Meditation – will focus on calming the nervous system will also improve your overall mental and physical health.
- Community – Having positive social relationships and helping each other in a social circle has been proved to be one of the most important drivers of mental health. If you have an objective and clear idea in mind, at all points of your journey, of what you love and want to do with your time, it will help you release stress and live happier.
- Find something you like – A purpose is recommended, something you enjoy doing that is just for you. Ikigai is a very specific Japanese term which translates to “meaning/mission in life”. Each individual in Japan will gradually find in his/her life a passion or mission. If you have an objective and clear idea in mind, at all points of your journey, of what you love and want to do with your time, it will help you release stress and live happier.
Sleep is vital for health and you need 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep every night. Getting good quality sleep will:
- Boost your immune system
- Help prevent weight gain
- Strengthen your heart
- Improve your mood
- Increase productivity + concentration
- Increase exercise performance
- Improve your memory
The bottom line is along with nutrition and exercise, taking care of your sleep is an important pillar of your health. Lack of sleep is associated with many negative health effects including increased risk of heart disease, depression, weight gain, inflammation and sickness.
If you are struggling with your sleep, reach out to your Kinesiologist for help – yes kinesiology can help improve your sleep!
5. Aesthetics and Skin Care
Often, we think of skincare as a purely aesthetic practice. While most of us are obviously in favor of having better looking skin, the potential health and wellness benefits are largely overlooked by most people. Having healthier skin can mean a lot more than just looking prettier. It can also create a meaningful difference in the health of our bodies and the wellbeing of our minds.
Skin is one of the largest organs of the body. Because of this, caring for your skin can directly affect your overall health. Your skin acts as a protective shield and is most vulnerable to outside elements. It’s affected by more factors than you may think. For instance, the following can play a role in your overall skin health:
- exposure to UV radiation in tanning beds
- exposure to chemical toxins in tobacco
- unprotected sun exposure for long periods of time
- not getting enough rest, fluids, or nutrition
Taking care of your skin should include the following activities:
- Cleansing daily with a mild natural cleanser. A thorough cleansing will remove the residues of dirt, oil or make-up and keep your pores clean.
- Exfoliation is the next essential step in your skincare routine. Scrubbing stimulates your lymphatic system lying underneath the multiple layers of your skin, thus ridding the body of toxin build-up. It is also a great way to stimulate various senses. Exfoliate twice a week.
- Moisturise: A good moisturizer will not only hydrate your skin, but also prevent dryness and keep it smooth, supple and plump. But, to achieve a holistic benefit for your skin, a simple moisturization won’t do. You need to practice abhyanga or the old Ayurvedic tradition of self-massage. Warm a bottle of oil and gently massage your skin in circular motions. It helps detoxify your skin as well as your body’s deeper tissues.
It’s also important to protect your skin from too much sun and sun damage, which may increase wrinkles as well as lead to skin cancer. Cover your skin or use sunscreen to protect your skin from the damaging rays of the sun. See your doctor or dermatologist if any skin irritations or problems arise.
Kinesiology, Goal Setting + Mindset Changes
If you are struggling with your health or fitness goals you are not alone and sometimes you may have tried everything and are still not able to remain committed. As covered above, the more significant and the more distant in time a goal is, or the more elements needed to make it happen, the harder it becomes to achieve. So, the more daunting the task becomes.
When we are setting our goals, other personal motivations and sabotage programs come into play (like our desire to relax instead of knuckle down to a task). Our goals must align with our values and fit into the broader picture of our daily lives for us to be able to maintain motivation and momentum.
We must understand why we want to achieve our longer-term goals. For us to maintain the persistence needed to achieve goals, it is essential to be engaged in and dedicated to the process.
Kinesiology can assist your subconscious mind to cooperate with your conscious desires. It does this by uncovering past events, inherited or learned beliefs that have shaped your attitudes towards your success. Kinesiology will also help you remove energetic blockages to allow the flow of energy to propel you forward. Kinesiology can help you determine other factors such as sabotage programs that may be preventing your ability to set and achieve your goals.
A Kinesiology session will support you in achieving your goals by helping you to find useful techniques for setting and achieving goals and tools to enable you to change your behaviour to support your health and vitality.
One of the most difficult things to do is adhere to a healthy lifestyle. In fact, the temptation for unhealthy foods or skipping exercise habits may seem insurmountable at times.
Many of you may know what you should be doing, but it can feel hard and daunting when faced with the reality of making a change in your day-to-day life.
However, it’s important to realize that small shifts to your lifestyle will have big impacts over time, if you are having trouble committing, reach out to your Kinesiologist for help.
- Atomic Habits – James Clear (source: https://mindwave.app/blog/atomic-habits-james-clear/)
- Physical activity and exercise guidelines for all Australians (source: https://www.health.gov.au/topics/physical-activity-and-exercise/physical-activity-and-exercise-guidelines-for-all-australians)
- Source: https://www.livescience.com/how-mental-health-affects-physical-health