Better health requires better motivation
June 1, 2021 | View PDF
Q: How do I get my aunt who stays with me to do some form of exercise? I know it will help her and I’ve even offered to exercise with her so she isn’t alone, but she is still resistant.
A: Physical activity is an important part of healthy aging. Frequent, repetitive, and enjoyable exercise can be a challenge. Many individuals see exercise as a fun social gathering as they walk outdoors or in the mall, but others find it tough just to get started.
Any change is created through small steps. While good intentions make logical sense, a few months later they are often abandoned. Studies show within four months of making a new resolution, 25 percent are dropped. And those who succeed only do so after five or six failed attempts.
Different types of exercise to stay healthy varies by person. Some sort of physical activity aids in mental health and keeps individuals independent and mobile in the aging process. The key is to start slowly to build endurance, strength, balance and flexibility.
How do I take the first steps toward a healthier physical lifestyle?
1. Find what motivates your aunt toward happiness. Does she find joy in baking pies together? Maybe if there is agreement between the two of you to exercise three times per week, the reward is a homemade pie to look forward to once per month. The passion to bake for others can be a motivator to exercise.
2. Even if your aunt is highly motivated, she likely will not go out on the first day and walk five miles after being inactive. Successful micro steps need to be taken slowly and methodically managed to stay focused. Using the smallest step of just setting your shoes out every day creates intention. Both of you can place your shoes in the same spot each day. Do that for a few days, although it may seem silly. This creates a habit of positive intention. Evidence points to neuroplasticity, meaning our brain is constantly evolving and changing. Positive intentions sprout new neural pathways in our brain and resources to support it. The more positivity created by those cerebral networks, the stronger those neural structures become.
3. Discouragement sets in when lofty goals are set, but full achievement of those goals seems overwhelming. After determining your aunt’s motivation, then helping create intention, a change in attitude occurs. The more positive energy that is set toward a conscious decision, every cell within our body rallies in alignment with the intention and vibrates at that same positive frequency. The mind and body are so entwined that frequent positive attitudes are building superhighways of nerve cells transmitting solid messaging becoming shaped into our existence. Neurons that fire together wire together, which then fortifies those same circuited networks.
4. Finding ways to incorporate physical activities into everyday tasks will make working out easier. Making physical workouts part of a social activity, family gathering or taking a class with others can keep everyone motivated and full of personal rewards. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, you should do at least two and a half hours per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Being active at least three days a week is best but doing anything is better than doing nothing at all. If possible, try to incorporate muscle and strengthening activities like sit ups or lifting weights two days per week in addition to balance training. And most importantly, if you have specific health conditions, discuss your exercise and physical activity planned with your healthcare provider.
No matter what health and physical abilities one has, a lot can be gained by staying active. Lack of inactivity often leads to increased doctor visits, frequent hospitalization, and additional medications. Not only does staying active improve strength so one can stay independent, but a person will also have more energy to do the things they want to do and reduces fatigue. Improving balance lowers the risk of falls and decreases stress by helping older adults sleep better. The benefits of improving or maintaining some aspects of cognitive function, such as the ability to shift quickly between tasks, also increases mood and may reduce the feeling of depression. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s potential to create neural pathways and to reorganize itself according to how it is being used – or not being used. The more the mind and body work together, the greater overall benefits there are.
Karen Casanovas is a Professional Certified Coach that oversees a private practice specializing in aging and health. She’s a Fellow with the Institute of Coaching and former member of the Anchorage Senior Citizens Advisory Commission. If you have a question for Karen, email her at email@example.com.