For many of us, the beginning of the year can serve as a signal to make positive changes in our life. We might resolve to start a new diet, for instance, or begin a new exercise regimen. So often, though, our good intentions are derailed by the multitude of demands on our time, attention, and resources. Let’s face it, change is difficult at best, and often when we are stressed, the first things to slip from our schedule are activities that enhance our health and sense of well-being. It might help us, then, to consider beginning with small changes in our daily habits, commitments that we can build on over time to help us orient our lives toward wellness. Let’s take a look at one vital habit that can enhance our wellness throughout the coming year.
MOVE YOUR BODY!
Our bodies were made to move. The evidence that regular exercise benefits our mental and physical health is well established. Regular physical activity is typically one of the first things counselors recommend when treating a range of mental health concerns including depression, stress and anxiety, sleep disturbance, ADHD, and OCD, and trauma. Regular exercise also addresses weight management, cardiovascular health, strength, and functional ability. Medical doctors recommend an average of thirty minutes of physical activity per day. While this can feel daunting, we don’t have to let our attitudes about exercise prevent us from committing to adding movement into each and every day.
HOW TO START
We can start slowly at first, in small increments, even ten minutes at a time, and notice how our body responds. As a wise yoga teacher once said, “Move in the direction of the stretch, and you will benefit.” Make it fun. We can select from a combination of enjoyable activities, including hiking, cycling, swimming, dancing, weight training, kayaking, Tai chi, and yoga. Alternate between sessions of cardio, strength training, and mobility. Seek guidance as need from a physician or certified personal trainer. We might be surprised at how commitment to short periods of movement can affect our mood, improve mobility, and enhance our motivation.
FIERCE SELF COMPASSION
As with any change process, it is important to be kind to ourselves when working toward challenging goals. We often equate self-compassion with weakness or self- indulgence, and that it is only through being tough on ourselves that we will be able to be successful. It may seem counterintuitive, but researchers have demonstrated that individuals who have a greater degree of self-compassion are more likely to achieve their goals, including maintaining exercise plans. While beating ourselves up is not the answer, Kristen Neff, a researcher at The University of Texas at Austin describes the benefits of fierce self-compassion, a concept that embodies doing hard things toward long term gains. And when we commit to doing hard things in the service of our values, we realign our lives with vitality, purpose, and well-being. More on this in future blogs. And next month, we will take a look at healthier eating habits.