January 15, 2013

Virender Sodhi, MD(Ayurved),ND

Happy New Year and happy Makarskranti (Winter Solstice) to all of you, and with it, hopes for fresh starts and lasting changes. Makarskranti is Indian festival, which denotes the change in the Sun energy, days starts to be longer and energy of the planet changes. Starting the year with a blank canvas, millions of people set their New Year’s resolutions, with goals of exercising more, eating less, losing weight, or just getting back into shape. While we start out the year with the best of intentions, reality soon sets in; and with that reality comes the fact that 92% of New Year’s resolutions fail to be met. Before we look at why these resolutions fail, consider the following facts about New Year’s Resolutions:

  • 85% of New Year’s resolutions involve self-improvement or health related goals, including exercising more, losing weight, eating healthier and quitting smoking.
  • 75% of people stick to their resolutions for one week;
  • 71% stick to their resolutions for two weeks;
  • 65% stick to it for one month;
  • 46% make it for sixth months.

Looking at these statistics, it is natural to wonder why so many people fail to stick to resolutions that will improve their life. Researchers studying why we don’t stick to our resolutions found common similarities, including:

  • Setting extreme or unrealistic goals. Many of us set broad goals, such as losing 100 lbs, quitting smoking, or exercise more. Many of our resolution goals require a detailed plan and cannot be achieved on a whim.

  • Expecting unrealistic results. When we set resolutions, we need to recognize the results will take time to achieve. Unfortunately, in our fast paced, results-driven society, we are conditioned to expect immediate results. When we aren’t seeing the results we expect, in the time we expect it, it is common for many of us to just give up.
  • Failure to make the resolution a habit. It takes at least 28 days to add something into our daily routine, making it a habit. Any resolution that stands a chance of succeeding must become a part of your everyday life. Failing to recognize this results in frustration and failed resolutions.

So, reading the above information, one may wonder why anyone would set resolutions at all! It is important to remember that while 92% of resolutions fail, 8% do succeed! We need to focus on successful resolutions, including how to set them and what makes them successful. Let’s look at a number of New Year’s resolution favorites, and examine each one in depth.

Exercise Resolutions

Regular exercise often tops the list of many New Year’s resolutions, and it is no wonder why. With a staggering 60% of adults considered overweight or obese, there is a real need to increase exercise and physical activity. Exercise is important for a number of important health and lifestyle reasons. In addition to helping lose weight, regular physical exercise improves almost every aspect of our lives, including:

  • Relieving stress and anxiety, improving mood. As little as 30 minutes of brisk walking has been shown to stimulate chemicals and hormones in the body that relieve stress and make you feel great. Interestingly, physical activity has also been shown to relieve stress and prevent aging at the cellular level.
  • Improving Energy. Regular exercise improves oxygen and blood flow throughout the body. This means that every cell, organ and muscle are constantly receiving an energy-boosting supply of oxygenated blood, leaving you feeling energized and ready to go.
  • Improving Mental Capacity. Regular physical activity not only leaves you with more energy, it also stimulates the release of important hormones in the brain, stimulating the brain’s ability to process, make connections and learn. In fact, several studies confirm that adults consistently perform better on cognitive tasks after participating in as little as 10 minutes of physical activity.
  • Improving Sleep Habits. Along with providing increased physical and mental energy while awake, regular exercise encourages the release of dopamine and serotonin, two hormones responsible for sound and restful sleep.
  • Healthier Sex Life. Regular exercise not only leaves you looking and feeling better, but according to the Mayo Clinic, it also increases sexual arousal in women, while decreasing the incidence of erectile dysfunction in men.
  • Hundreds of Physical Benefits. While most of us exercise to control weight and feel great, regular exercise also reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease; increases muscle, joint and bone density; and helps control blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Strategic Planning is Key

With all the benefits of physical activity, it is a wonder why everyone isn’t exercising on a regular basis! While many of us want to, hence the New Year’s resolution, we often jump right into it. To be successful, we need to develop a plan that progresses at a sensible pace and is customized to our individual needs. This plan needs to take a number of important factors into consideration, including your goals, current fitness level, age and any other health concerns. Prior to starting any physical activity program, a through physical and consultation with your medical professional is recommended. As you develop your exercise plan, consider using the F.I.T method to guide your planning. F.I.T. is an acronym, short for Frequency, Intensity and Time.

Frequency

Frequency, or how often you will exercise, is extremely important in this process. Exercise too often, you will burn out; not enough, you will not see the results you desire. So how much exercise is enough, how much is too much? These are great questions, which need to be answered individually. However, as a general guideline, when starting out, plan to participate in at least 30 minutes of physical activity, minimally 3 to 4 times a week. As you progress, you can add more sessions each week. Remember, the key is to start sensibly, increasing in moderate, but appropriate increments.

Intensity

Intensity, or how hard you will exercise, is often the “make or break” factor when it comes to sticking to your New Year’s resolutions. Intensity needs to be appropriate for your age and current fitness level. For instance, you are not going to go out tomorrow and run as fast as you can for 30 minutes straight! Doing so is not only dangerous; it is a guaranteed way to not stick to your resolutions! Start slow, perhaps walking for 30 minutes, gradually increasing your speed over time. When incorporating strength training, start with lighter weights, working your way up as you become stronger.

Time

Time is perhaps the most confusing aspect of an exercise program. We are programmed to think the longer we exercise the better the results. However, that is simply not true. In fact, the quality of the exercises completed is much more important that the time you spend in the gym. When setting your fitness goal, devote 45 minutes to each session; this allows 15 minutes for proper warm-up, stretches and cool down and 30 minutes for actual physical activity. Again, it is important to recognize that you can always increase time as you progress through your exercise program.

Pitfalls to Success

What keeps us from succeeding with our exercise goals? The answers are quite simple, poor planning, time management, and overtraining. Overcome these three obstacles and you will succeed with your exercise goals. Specifically:

Poor Planning

As you read earlier, sustained meaningful exercise is not something that you just “do”, it requires careful and calculated planning. I recommend setting a monthly plan, using the F.I.T. principles, and reviewing the plan on a bi-weekly basis. The key is to remember that your exercise plan is fluid, constantly changing based on your needs.

Time Management

As you plan your exercise program, success depends on setting the appropriate time aside to properly complete the program. If you have a busy day, consider rising an hour earlier each day; if you are a night owl, set aside time for exercise after the dinner or the kids are in bed.

Overtraining

It is great to be motivated and result-driven when exercising; that is going to lead you to the body you desire. However, train too hard to early and you will burn out. Burnout shows itself in two distinct ways, mentally and physically. While both are dangerous and impede progress, physically burnout is an indication that you are doing too much, too fast; if you are feeling sore for more than two days after working out, ease up on workout intensity to avoid serious injury.

Achievable Exercise Goals

While exercise goals are specific to each individual, the American Council on Exercise recommends using the S.M.A.R.T method of goal setting when determining your fitness goals. S.M.A.R.T stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timed; using this method will keep your fitness goals in site, and reachable.

Weight Management

Losing weight is perhaps the most popular, and most unachieved, resolution set on New Year’s Day. While a staggering 60% of the population is overweight, losing weight proves to be much harder and more frustrating than it first seems. While there are a number of physiological and psychological reasons associated with obesity, the formula for losing weight has remained consistent forever: In order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in. While most people understand this concept, taking it from theory to practice – on a daily and constant basis – proves to be problematic.

Weight loss is important for a healthy and meaningful life. Carrying extra weight, not only causes significant self-esteem issues, it poses serious, sometimes life threatening conditions; these issues include:

  • Heart Disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Stroke
  • Respiratory Problems
  • Joint Problems

Strategic Planning for Weight Loss

While there are a million different diets on the market today, none of them will produce the long-term weight loss goals you are looking for. Most of these fad-diets promise immediate results, but fail to deliver sustained weight maintenance; meaning you will add the weight back overtime. The only tried and true successful method of sustained weight loss is a lifestyle change that includes a healthy diet and exercise plan. The primary focus of a successful weight loss plan needs to be on your diet. Experts agree that 75% of successful weight loss occurs by altering the foods you eat; exercise accounts for the other 25%.

Like setting your exercise goals, weight loss resolutions need to be systematic; I recommend setting S.M.A.R.T goals for weight loss too. Remember, S.M.A.R.T goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable Relevant, Timed goals that guide you on your weight loss journey. Let’s look at each step in a little more detail:

Specific

Setting specific goals are important for success. Too often we set broad goals that lack the personal connection needed for real change to occur. We often say “I am going to lose weight”; specific goals need to answer certain questions, including: Why and How? So, “I am going to lose weight”, becomes: “I will lose weight to be healthy for my kids. I will lose weight by measuring my food portions and exercising on a regular basis”.

Measurable and Achievable

Measurable goals give you something to shoot for. For our example, we need to add a measurable number. It is common for people to say “I am going to lose 100 pounds”; while that may be measurable, is it achievable? Some may say that it is, but I would recommend we break it down a little more, how about this: I will be healthier for my children, I will lose two pounds a week. I will lose two pounds each week by measuring my food portions and exercising at least 30 minutes three times a week”. This goal is specific, measurable and attainable.

Relevant

Relevant means the goal needs to matter to you. For example, using our goal from above, if you aren’t accustomed to exercise, just saying “by exercising at least 30 minutes..” doesn’t make it relevant to you. Relevant means incorporating something you are familiar with, good at, or passionate about; so here, we make the adjustment, and are new S.M.A.R.T. goal looks like this: “I will lose two-pounds a week by measuring my food portions and walking, jogging, or bicycling at least 30 minutes three times a week”

Timed

Timed goals give you a finish line to shoot for. So, considering my goal is to lose two pounds a week, and overall I need to lose 50 pounds, I should reach my goal in 6 months. My final S.M.A.R.T goal looks like this:

“I will lose weight for my children. I will lose two pounds a week by measuring my food portions and walking, jogging, or bicycling at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week. My July 1st, I will have lost 50 pounds.”

Now compare that to our original resolution: “I will lose weight”. See the difference?

Pitfalls to Weight Loss

As mentioned earlier, lasting weight loss is achieved not through fad diets, rather lifestyle changes. While changing your eating or exercise habits may seem like a simple task, the actual process is very difficult, demanding, and often frustrating. As you progress through this change, you will encounter several roadblocks, pitfalls and setbacks. Remember that these challenges are natural, and setbacks are common along the way. Rather than beat yourself up over a setback, use it as a learning experience and then get back on track. Common pitfalls to weight loss include:

Skipping Meals

While eating may seem counterproductive to weight loss, it is one of the most important steps you can take. While on your weight-loss plan, strive to eat 5-6 small meals each day; this may include breakfast, lunch, dinner and two small snacks. Eating throughout the day keeps your body in constant calorie-burning mode. Eating this way also regulates your blood sugar, minimizing the energy crash that typically causes us to binge on salty, sweet or fatty junk foods.

Misjudging Portion Size

Measuring food portion is a must for successful weight-loss. For example, a serving of fish, chicken or meat should not be more than 3 ounces (100 grams); with the exception of meats fried in oil, 3 ounces of meat has only 100 calories. One serving of fruit is equal to ½ cup of sliced fruits; I encourage you to consume at least 2-3 servings of fruits per day. One apple, a banana, one orange, or ½ cup of berries equates to one serving of fruit. A similar serving of vegetables is one cup of sliced raw vegetables; a serving of cooked vegetables is ½ cup. I encourage eating 6-7 servings of vegetables per day. Vegetables are extremely low in calories; amazingly, one pound of spinach has just 104 calories. Not measuring your meals is a sure-fire way to overeat, adding extra calories into your diet. For precise measuring, invest is a kitchen scale and ensure you know exactly what you are eating.

Eating Out

Who doesn’t love dining out? It is a great time to relax and enjoy time with friends and family. However, when watching what you eat, dining out can be a challenge to even the most disciplined eater. Restaurants are all about large portions of great tasting foods, this often means adding flavor by frying, using butters, oils, dressings or salt. When dining out, don’t be afraid to ask the wait staff to describe how certain dishes are made; it will save you hundreds, even thousands of calories. In addition, when eating out, look for foods that are raw or steamed, they tend to be lower in calories and fat. I usually order soup which do not have heavy creams, my favorites are Thai soups, these are filling and low in calories. If you are concerned about portion size, ask for a “to-go” container when your meal arrives and pack half away for lunch or dinner the next day. Once you are finished with your meal, have it cleared away immediately to avoid picking at the leftovers.

Achievable Goals

As discussed when setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, our goals are more achievable when we have a systematic plan of attack. Considering that we need to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound of body fat, cutting 500 calories a day from your diet should result in a net loss of one pound per week (500 calories per day x 7 days = 3,500 calories lost). So, setting a weight loss goal of one to two pounds per week is a realistic and healthy goal.

In addition to cutting calories, if you are exercising on a regular basis, you will burn additional calories each day. Thirty minutes of brisk walking burns roughly 200 to 300 calories; walking five days a week can burn an additional 1500 calories each week. A weight loss goal of three to four pounds per week when cutting calories and exercising is also a realistic and healthy goal.

Meditation and Yoga

As you progress through your exercise and weight loss journey, consider practicing meditation and yoga to support achieving your goals. Mediation, commonly used to reduce stress and anxiety, encourages deep breathing as a way to connect your mind and body to the present. As you move through the challenges associated with an exercise or weight loss plan, meditating for as little as ten-minutes a day can help. Specifically, turn to your deep breathing to fight off cravings, urges to binge, and the moments of weakness. Breathing itself is a thermogenic process, which means you burn calories when you breathe. I encourage fire breath, a special breathing exercise where you are forcibly exhaling out through your nose and then passively breathing through nose. After a few minutes of meditation and deep breathing, refocus and make a decision that supports your New Year’s resolution.

The ancient art of yoga is a great way to break up the monotony of a daily exercise plan; the gentle stretching, poses and deep muscle movements used during yoga provide a great mental and physical workout for any age or fitness level.

Herbal Supplementation

While not a common, everyday approach to supporting exercise and weight-loss, the use of certain herbs have demonstrated to be beneficial in supporting these goals. Consultation with a naturopathic doctor is recommended before using herbs or herbal supplements. When used in conjunction with an exercise or weight-loss plan, the following herbs have demonstrated results with increased energy and metabolism:

  • Green Tea Extract
  • Kelp
  • Green coffee
  • Commiphora mukul (Guggul)
  • Bauhinia variegata (Kachnar)

Spices like garlic, onion, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, long pepper, and cayenne pepper all have important thermogenic properties. For maximum thermogenic benefit, add these essential spices to your food immediately before serving.

While sticking to your New Year’s resolutions is never an easy task, become one of the 8% who see their goals through, achieving amazing results along the way! Approach each resolution with a sensible, realistic plan and an understanding that lasting results happen with meaningful lifestyle changes. To further support attaining your exercise and weight-loss goals, consider supplementing your exercise and weight-loss program with meditation, yoga and energy and metabolism-boosting herbs. Cheers to a very happy and healthy 2013!