HEALTH PLUS MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT
The New Year is an ideal time to set new health resolutions, but for many of us, sticking to those resolutions are troubled by fears and challenges. However, we are fortunate that science is on our side, shedding essential hacks on how to turn a goal into action and ensuring triumph. It comes down to one word: Schedules
One thing is certain: "When your schedule changes, you can lose the regular self-care routines that kept you active, eating right, and managing stress, habits we need to maintain in fighting disease," says Dr Monique Tello, Harvard Health.
Before COVID-19, the pattern of daily life was fairly regular. Dreary for many, but regular. Then the pandemic inserted irregularities into our daily schedules and countless persons are still trying to adjust. Additionally, we add New Year Resolutions, which many struggle to maintain. In fact, research from University of Pennsylvania states, “After the first week of the new year, just 77 percent of resolution makers are still on track, and after six months, only about 40 percent will have stayed the course.”
Why do New Year resolutions fail?
Why is keeping a commitment to better health so tough? Researchers have identified several culprits such as setting a goal that's too vague (I’m going to get in shape, I’m going to manage my stress) or having unrealistic expectations (lose 30 pounds by March 1st).
Essentially, it is easy to change your attitude but difficult to change your behaviour.
Outsmarting the odds, means understanding your schedule and setting doable goals (go from couch to a 5K, not a triathlon just yet) and then breaking them down into reasonable steps.
An inconsistent sleep schedule throws off your circadian rhythm, the body's internal clock. If you go to bed before your circadian sleep time, you will have difficulty falling asleep. Stay up too late, and you will likely wake up before you are fully refreshed. Either way, an irregular schedule leads to difficulty getting sufficient sleep, causing chronic sleep deprivation, mood and critical thinking problems, and an increased risk for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Circadian rhythm also affects hunger and metabolism, your body's process of expending energy and burning calories. Changes in schedules, ignoring your circadian rhythm, and you could experience more hunger and slower your metabolism, impairing the ability to burn calories.
Being at home all the time can disrupt daily meal schedules, particularly for working people. "When you're home, you're closer to the kitchen and it's easy to get a snack. Eating throughout the day means your blood sugar levels and insulin will be up all the time, and it's impossible for the body to burn fat. That can lead to weight gain. You need periods of time when you're not eating to allow your body to burn fat stores,” Dr Tello says.
Exercise habits often fall by the wayside when schedule changes. With work-from-home schedules being utilised more, your routine may have been disrupted and you may not form a new one yet. One result: "We've been seeing more people complaining of back pain and pain radiating down the leg," Dr Tello says. "It's from too much sitting and improper posture, which leads to weak core muscles and pain. Too much sitting is linked to premature death.”
A change in your activities may affect your ability to stick to a medication schedule. But sometimes skipping even one dose poses health risks. For example, if you have Parkinson's disease and forget to take your pill, you may experience muscle freezing and be unable to move.
Downtime is often lost with changes in work or family responsibilities. But downtime is considered a necessary part of self-care. Doing activities that keep you centred helps ward off stress. "Stress creates a cascade of events in the body leading to inflammation, high blood sugar and high blood pressure. It can lead to cardiovascular disease and depression and other mental health disorders," Dr Tello notes.
What can you do?
Take action when you recognise imbalances in your schedule.
1. Reset your sleep.
You sleep best when the time you sleep matches your circadian rhythm. Some people are born night owls, and others are born early risers. Figure out which you are, then go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day so it works with your rhythm. Keep the focus on quality sleep, at least six to eight hours to feel rebooted.
A regular wake time and exposure to morning sunlight will help your body adjust. At night, turn off electronic screens at least 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime, light from monitors and devices can disrupt your circadian rhythm.
2. Reboot your diet - Don’t focus on subtracting food.
Instead of making an 'I want to lose weight' pledge, try 'I'm going to put more fruits and vegetables on my plate’ adjusting your internal narrative, so the resolution is a positive action that you can perform over and over. When it's an addition instead of a takeaway, you're more likely to repeat it until the action becomes an automatic habit.
Plan for Snack Attacks
The hours between mid-afternoon and dinner time are when cravings kick in hard. As part of your meal schedules, before leaving for work, pack a 200-calorie protein-complex carb snack. Think: hummus and pita chips or almonds and a banana. Then, when the ‘snack jones’ strikes, you will have a go-to treat to avoid unhealthy snacking.
3. Recommit to an exercise regimen.
Having activity scheduled into your day will make you more likely to do it. You don't have to go to a gym. Try a home workout video, go for a walk, take regular activity breaks, or get a standing desk if you work from home.
Bite size goals – Take it a week at a time
It's easier to make a plan to go running three times this week than vow to run three times a week indefinitely. Make your fitness goals achievable week by week rather than so far-reaching, you'll have more success, and that in itself is motivating.
One big problem with making stress reduction your New Year's resolution is that it's so abstract. However, a solid stress management regimen is essential, setting specific goals and being intentional with them. It can be meditation, yoga, sitting outside in nature, or anything that helps you disconnect from stressful events or activities, pause, and reflect. It should be something you do daily, even just for 10 minutes. Before you know it, it will become a habit!
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