The psychology of keeping fit and healthy

Getting fit is one thing, but maintaining a high level of health and fitness is another altogether. We've all heard it (or said it), the old 'I used to be really fit'... Most generally healthy people have been fit in their earlier years, and loved it, but how do we now, as adults get a healthy body, and keep it up? This post shines some light on becoming, and maintaining a healthy body & mind.

There is far more to health than eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly, our minds play a vital role in being the force behind this health and fitness regime for our optimal health. If you've ever decided that you want to become fitter and eat better, but then a few months, or even years, found that you've 'fallen off the horse', you'll know that it isn't quite so simple.

“Through understanding our thoughts, being compassionate to ourselves, being prepared for lapses, and creating high self esteem, we can achieve the health we've always dreamed of."

Let's explore some of the fundamentals of getting your mindset right for the healthiest version of you!

Set Your Intention

Decide what you want, and make a plan for how you're going to achieve this. Brainstorm the things you enjoy doing, plan your week and allow yourself time to achieve your goals. Know the reasons why you want a healthy body (for increased energy, decreased depression and anxiety, for better bone density, to feel stronger and better able to cope with stress, to live a vibrant life, spiritual practice, and so on). Each time you exercise and eat well, remind yourself of why you're doing it, and notice how proud and empowered you feel. Make sure your intention is strong, and even back yourself up with research and evidence to support your case if you know that you're someone who can easily talk yourself out as soon as an obstacle gets in the way. For example, if your intention for doing yoga is to become more flexible, as soon as you have a morning when you feel tired comes along, maybe a sleep in will take priority over flexibility. If your intention is to do yoga for flexibility, strength, better mood and energy, as well as improve your hormone balance, digestion and for the anti-aging effects on the body and brain, to look and feel great (yes, using the ego here can be a good thing!) then all of this has much more power over sleeping in... The key is to reaffirm yourself of your intention every day. So long as you're getting 7-8hrs sleep per night, you probably don't need a sleep in, everyday... ;)

Plan for your excuses

We all feel tired, can't be bothered sometimes, life gets busy, and we get overwhelmed. Know that these feelings will come up, be mindful of them, and let them go. Reaffirm to yourself what your intention is and remind yourself of how good you'll feel after you've done what you've planned to do.

How do you really feel about fit and healthy people?

Are fit and healthy looking people, who eat well, exercise regularly and seem happy, people that you (a. relate to (b. know you are (c. people you never think you'll be, or (d. other...?

I remember (subconsciously) thinking that those super healthy looking people must have simply been brought up differently, or maybe they just loved exercise and found it easy. I honestly didn't think that fitness and strength were really possible for me, so therefor didn't do much more than a light walk and maybe a couple of exercise classes here and there when I got into a motivated mood twice a year! To stay thin I'd simply not eat, and drink a lot of coffee, which was impossible to maintain and ridiculously unhealthy. My weight would yoyo from summer to winter, always gaining 5-10kg in winter. I was anxious, stressed, tired, found it hard to focus and impossible to maintain a healthy mood.

It wasn't until I was studying naturopathy and learnt about health and human biology on a deeper level that I realised everyone has the same kind of body, made up of a muscular system, nutrients and nervous system etc etc. No one has a special 'fit' body innately, we all have the ability to work our bodies and create better health, and we all have the ability to become unfit, at any stage or ability in our lives. Even those who have lost limbs or battling chronic illness can work on their health and fitness. You only need to watch the paralympics to see what CAN be done.

So be mindful of your attitude towards being the healthiest version of yourself. Mindfulness is noticing, without judgement, what your thoughts are. Once you realise your feelings, if they aren't positive, see if you can trace your feelings back to the source, and see if you can work out why, then see if you can release yourself from any negative feelings.

For people who have low self esteem (which is most of us in varying degrees) this can be an enlightening process, especially for those who have dealt with abuse in their lives. Seeing a psychologist or social worker may be the most important thing at this stage, which can greatly compliment your exercise and diet plan.

Stages of fitness (or change)

There are 5 commonly known stages of change:

1. Pre-contemplation

(Not wanting or planning to change)

2. Contemplation

(Contemplating change within the next 6 months, not quite ready but starting to think about change.)

3. Preparation

(Planning to take action soon, considering options and getting ready to change.)

4. Action

(Taking action, using willpower to make the changes and doing the work. The exciting stage!)

5. Maintenance

(Doing the work necessary to maintain the changes, preventing a relapse into old habits. Avoiding boredom & keeping up enthusiasm).

This model was created by Prochaska and DiClemente's, and can help us to see clearly where we may be at with our current situation.

Be your biggest fan

For your health and fitness, it's helpful to cheer yourself on! Being your own supporter helps to eliminate the need for others to approve, or ignore if they disapprove, of what you're up to. Unfortunately there are people out there who become jealous, or feel left behind when they see others changing and growing. Instead of listening to the exact words of these people who may be close to you, try to see why they're not so supportive and what's going on for them that has them being so negative? You may even be able to help them achieve their own goals depending on where they're at with their stage of change.

Every time you keep to your health goals, congratulate yourself, literally tell yourself how proud you are of what you've achieved. Any time that you have a lapse, or don't achieve what you've planned, aim to understand what happened, or what got in the way. Don't be harsh on yourself, simply understand, reset and keep going. Our minds love to quit, and take the easiest path. Sometimes the easiest path doesn't lead us to our healthiest life, so 'outsmarting' the mind helps to keep us on our path to wellness.

Motivate Yourself

Motivation is key to maintaining your health and fitness. Learning more, going to classes, talking to people, reading books and articles, and making friends, can keep you interested in health and provide inspiration to keep moving forward.

Keep in mind that everything can become boring after a while, so have a plan for what you'll do when you start to feel that boredom enter. Write an inspiration board, or have photos or rewards for yourself if that might help. Remind yourself of the good work your doing for your body, mind, and long term health by keeping active and healthy. The more motivational words and pictures you feed your soul with, the better!

They say that 80% percent of success happens by simply showing up! So even on the days that motivation is non-existent, try simply showing up. Sit, or lay, on your mat, and simply notice your thoughts. You may find that meditation is exactly what you need to clear away any negativity, and make way for a beautiful yoga sequence!

Above all, be kind to yourself. Everyone goes through times of low energy, it doesn't make anyone a failure. Make small changes, everyday, and take all the help and support that you can get!

Xx Kate

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