Discipline, healthy habits and routine:
What is it about January that makes us behave like we are on a permanent weekend? I know it’s not just me – all of my patients who came in this month have been the same: socialising, sleeping in, having time to stay up late and eat sinful food, forgetting to exercise. We’ve all been there, and actually it’s heavenly, but now, it’s time to get back into routine.
The only way to achieve change is to apply discipline. This is one of the most boring things that I can tell people, but realistically, it’s true. If you want to improve your sleep, you have to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every single day. No sleeping in on weekends, no binge watching on Netflix and staying up late. Routine begets better health. Sleeping-in works while you are in your 20’s, but sadly, in your 40’s and beyond, if you fall into this habit, all that will habit is that you end up with a sleep hangover after a weekend, feel awful, just catch up and do it all over again.
Exercise has a similar fate. Not exercising regularly allows us to lose fitness rapidly – after only two weeks of inactivity, your VO2 max (an indicator of fitness) will decline by up to 10%. If you don’t use your muscles, the body is highly thrifty and will shrink muscle cells, with strength declining noticeably after around two weeks of sedentary behaviour.
Eating in a holiday mindset leads us down the same path of gentle destruction. Never mind that we can eat like a finely tuned spartan the rest of the year – for some reason, holiday season is unfairly populated with bowls of tasty snacks, boxes of chocolates and opportunities for more alcohol consumption than is truly necessary.
So here are, January is about to end, school has started back, and it’s time to get back into the routine of achieving and staying healthy. For the next 10 months, at least..
Tips to help achieve better habits:
- Aiming for a regular routine of behaviour will help you to avoid bad habits, so it is worth structuring a weekly diarised schedule. I often find that having a diary note on your phone, or printed out on the fridge means that it is set in stone and you are more likely to go to the gym, or for a run, if it is scheduled clearly.
- Set an alarm to go to bed and turn the lights off, so that you don’t keep staying up just a little bit later every night.
- Do a meal plan for the week, buy the food that you need, and stick to a few self-set rules, ie. eating a low carb diet, avoid white food, or only have carbs at night, or start eating within a set time window in the 16:8 style of eating.
- Give yourself alcohol free days – aim for 4 nights off the grog every week, and check in regularly as to how much you drink, how it affects your mood, your sleep and your overall health. Consider doing FebFast – it’s only 28 days!
- Set achievable goals. Nothing big and nothing vague. Saying “I want to run a marathon” is impressive, but without training and setting a date, it means less than saying “I will attend Park Run every Saturday until Easter” and then setting another goal, if needed.
For any help with tackling the details of how to eat well and manage your health, please see me in clinic. Otherwise, good luck with achieving better health through better habits and discipline.
31 January 2020.