Slow and steady wins the race

by MarthaFitAt55

Over the past three years, I have focused on making changes in my lifestyle. The key one has been incorporating training sessions with a trainer. While I was a regular trail walker, aiming for a fairly strenuous outing two to three times a week, it wasn’t enough.

I knew from my reading that trying to change a whole bunch of stuff all at once to become a healthier person was not the best way to go. You either became resentful, frustrated, demoralized, or all of the foregoing, and I concluded that any attempt to change my lifestyle in this way was going to be doomed to failure.

I was also tired of the multi-tasking woman stereotype, and in the same way I had decided to make fitness a priority, I decided to be strategic in how I became healthier, and how I was going to invest in that process.

So when I made the decision to start working with a trainer, I signed up for only 12 sessions. If I could fit those in around my work and teaching, then I was going to be on the right road to success, I reasoned.

After the first 12 blocks, I signed up for another eight. This time I chose to have a standard Monday and Wednesday morning slot and the time was booked out indefinitely in my calendar.

I had heard it can take 28 days to form a habit, so signing up for four weeks of twice weekly sessions was a good way to cement the habit of learning how to train effectively.

As it turns out, the average is about 66 days to form a habit, and in some cases it can be as long as 254 days. Regardless, the key takeaway is that for most of us more time helps cement that new practice, so we should not be discouraged if it takes a little more time. That was good news for me, as after two years, I see the difference if I miss one, or even two of my twice weekly sessions for holidays or work commitments.

Now that I am quite comfortable with the training routine, I decided to look at my other habits that could be interfering with my health. I started with sleep, as my Fitbit told me daily how many hours of sleep I got each night, and whether it was good sleep or poor sleep.

I used to be a morning person. Then I had a child, and I turned into a night owl, because I was able to get so much more work done between 8 pm (his bed time) and midnight. But the data collected by Fitbit told me I was now a night owl and an early bird.

How does this affect health? Well the interval between bedtime and wake up was shrinking, and the resulting deficit was demanding an afternoon nap.

Now I have nothing against naps; they are marvelous and rejuvenating. In fact my child says my super power is that I can sleep anywhere and at anytime. But my work life doesn’t accommodate naps all that often, so I started getting ready for bed a half hour earlier to see what effect that would have. Once of the first things to emerge was my restlessness. When I had a solid seven hours of sleep that started earlier, I was less restless than if I got seven hours from a later bedtime.

Over three months I reset my sleep schedule and pushed my turn-in time from after midnight to between 10:30 and 11 p.m. There’s not a big difference if I go to bed later just once a week or once every two weeks, but too many late nights now throw my day off course. Better sleep means more stamina, fewer naps, and overall improvements in mood and perspective. Less sleep means decreased focus, more naps, and a definite downturn in my level of cheerfulness.

Now that I have fitness and sleep schedules I can maintain, I have turned to nutrition. A lot of lifestyle changes marketed for health reasons focus almost exclusively on weight loss and this is an area that is fraught for women. Right now I’m having fun exploring food as fuel rather than as a process of deprivation.

The driver here is learning to adapt my food intake to support my greater lifting goals. For example, allergies in the family mean fish is not a daily supper menu item. However since I’ve learned a few tricks on making and freezing cooked fish for my lunches, I have noticed a huge improvement in my arthritis affected hands. My grip strength and endurance have increased overall.

When I look back at my notes, I can see how making tiny changes add up to big results. It was one of the first lessons my original trainer gave me. Becoming too focused on big results meant I missed the many small gains I was making, and that included the new habits I wanted to build for the future. The best part is that I now have some indicators I can work with based on habits and practices that are sustainable for me.

— Martha Muzychka is a writer and communicator who is exploring new adventures in fitness, lifestyle, and personal health.