Recently, I have heard so many patients despair over their lack of energy and motivation around fitness and healthy eating. This time of year is challenging for most of us in the northeastern US. The weather is gloomy, the sun isn’t shining so brightly, and cold and flu viruses run rampant in schools and workplaces. It’s difficult to stay motivated to exercise when it’s dark and cold outdoors and sedentary lifestyles seem so much more appealing. Partly, we can blame low vitamin D levels, post holiday weight gain and unpredictable weather for this general malaise- but what is practical in terms of change? I just read an article by an author who documented her health after drinking 2 cups of lemon water per day for 2 weeks. The jist was that it seemed to help, but moreover it jumpstarted her motivation to address her other lifestyle habits.
At this sluggish time of year, I believe there are a few things (aside from a tropical vacation) that may help stimulate a wellness movement in one’s life. Start with the hot water and lemon… and a journal. Documenting your dietary, sleep and exercise habits (along with notes on how you feel each day) can help make you more cognizant of your lifestyle choices and what you want to change. It also may be helpful in plotting out an exercise plan to get you back in the fitness saddle. If that seems like too much work, try using a FitBit or an exercise app that can help you log your stats and keep track of your progress.
Some common stumbling blocks should be considered before you embark. These are the things that prevent people from starting or maintaining a fitness routine.
- Not having a goal – What’s the point of exercise for you? It might be to lose weight, to have more energy, to boost your mood… and it’s obviously an investment in your health! Moderate exercise boosts your mood, improves overall health, reduces risk of disease and helps your immune system. Exercise warms and moves your qi (vital energy) which keeps everything in balance.
- Not scheduling it into your week – Many of us feel overwhelmed with our schedules and commonly use the excuse “I don’t have time.” Once you are clear and fully aware of your goal, you can find ways, big or small, to fit some exercise into your day. For instance, if you work long hours several days per week, you might try a 20 minute at-home yoga routine when you get up in the morning. Or, get off at the earlier subway station and walk briskly to your destination. 10 minutes of brisk walking a couple of times a day counts as exercise. Devise a plan and then schedule it into your week.
- Lack of energy – Have your vitamin D levels checked at your next doctor visit. This time of year, many New Yorkers are deficient due to lack of sunshine, and this may cause lethargy and depression. In addition, inadequate sleep or poor diet (especially one high in sugar) may affect your energy level and therefore your motivation to workout. During winter, people seem to forget that they still need to drink adequate water. Dehydration also causes fatigue, so stay hydrated.
- Lack of inspiration/inertia – Ever feel like a hamster on a treadmill? Everyone needs inspiration. If it means reading fitness magazines, buying new gear or watching The Biggest Loser, do whatever it takes get yourself stirred up and off the couch.
- Going it alone – You will feel more encouraged if you enroll others in your goals. Make workout plans with a partner, whether for a power walk, a spin class, ski trip, etc. If you can’t find a partner, tell someone who holds you accountable to your plan.
- Wrong thinking – The biggest obstacle is often psychological, and it may take one of two forms:
the overachiever: this happens to former competitive athletes with impossible expectations. After not meeting their own unrealistic goals, they get discouraged and stop trying.
the defeatist: this happens to people who feel overwhelmed at the thought of exertion. They view getting fit as a monumental effort that it feels pointless because they are out of shape. So they don’t even bother because they feel like they have failed before even setting out.
These self sabotaging attitudes undermine the importance of consistent exercise. It is imperative to good health so instead of saying to yourself “I hate going to the gym,” think of how great you feel when you finish your workout. If you associate exercise with the payoffs (you’ve accomplished something, you’ve been disciplined, you have invested in your health and so forth), you are bound to feel more inspired and keep up with your goals.