Huffing and puffing up the hill, putting one foot in front of the other. I never thought that my return to running would feel so hard. But after gaining weight and becoming inactive I was a far cry from my marathon running days when I shuffled from lamppost to lamppost that morning. And yet I did it, taking a step at a time and learning a valuable lesson in the process.
It all seems to be about instant success, quick results and immediate gratification these days. Shed the pounds quickly and get healthy now. But how many of us have tried this approach with the same result: quick success followed by back to square one before you can even say “bikini diet”.
What if there is another way? What if better health is achievable by implementing small, gradual changes? Obviously, in some cases more drastic action is needed – lifesaving interventions are necessary for some. However, a large group of people are teetering on the fringes of poor health. Not really ill (yet) but not truly well either. And for this group taking those small steps to better health might be just the ticket. But where and how to start you may ask as I did a few years ago on my return to fitness.
Have a look at this example – you might even recognise yourself in this. A person drinks 2 cups of tea per day, both with 2 teaspoons of sugar. And has a biscuit with every cup. Life’s too short, right? Over the course of a year this seemingly harmless habit adds up to a whopping 10,000 grams in sugar or close to 40,000 calories. Whaaat? Yes, you read that correctly. That is enough calories to feed the average woman for 20 days. Blimey! And most of us have these habits – it doesn’t have to be sugar in tea or daily biscuits. Large glass of wine after a long day at work, anyone?
Giving up those habits completely is a hard lifestyle change to sustain. Think about all the social occasions or celebrations where you would have to turn down food or the like. So what about just halving the amount of sugar, having one less biscuit each time? Yes, it may still take a little getting used to but it’s not as drastic as giving it up completely. Sticking to this new way of doing things will be much more manageable and forms a great platform for further changes. Meat-free Monday is another perfect example of embracing a healthier lifestyle without turning everything on its head.
And the same approach can be taken with exercise. UK government guidelines suggest 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week and strength exercises on 2 or more days. I know that when I was inactive these guidelines appeared an insurmountable task. Setting smaller daily goals to me was the first step to forming better habits. Just starting by doing 5 squats a day or dancing in the kitchen for 5 minutes daily will make a difference. My goal was to get running again, so I went out not with the intention of running 5 miles but just to run for 2 minutes at a time. And after a month, increasing the amount or duration will feel much more doable. It did for me.
Many people are put off from making positive changes to improve their health because the mountain seems too big to climb or they don’t know where to start. Or they go all in on some crazy plan with big promises of success that makes them yo-yo or stop altogether. Either way, nothing permanently changes – how frustrating.
Beginning with tiny steps may not be the advice in the latest diet or exercise book. It could, however, be the winning formula for improving your health for good. Start now and give it a go, one small step at a time.