Every January the population in fitness classes double as people flock to the gym to live up to all those New Year\’s resolutions.
Every January the population in fitness classes double as people flock to the gym to live up to all those New Year’s resolutions generated over a glass of bubbly late December 31st.
By Groundhog Day the population of newcomers drops by 50 percent, and by April Fools’ Day back to original numbers. When a supervisor asks me where everyone is, I tell her they’re training for spring marathons. She knows I’m lying. What she also knows is that the initial enthusiasm and intent my exercisers had for their resolutions has slowly ebbed with the tide of new realities.
“What’s wrong with them?” she asks. “Don’t they know that unless they get rid of the fat from their midsections, they’ll have heart disease? Someone should develop a system to help people keep their resolutions.”
Introducing the Health Action Plan—a tool that can help you make positive lifestyle changes right now that will make a big difference in your health and fitness in 2010 and beyond.
What is a health action plan?
Any action plan is a road map that will help you get from point A to point B, then to points C and beyond. There are Career Action Plans, Retirement Action Plans, and Lifestyle Action Plans. The Government of Canada even has an Economic Action Plan to help us ride out the recession and ward off elections.
By definition, any action plan involves someone taking action. They are personal, and they need to be written. Health Action Plans (HAPs) cannot, however, be written in a vacuum. You need to include a support team. Since the topic is health, the first member of your team should be your health care practitioner.
Before I teach any fitness class, I tell my participants that it is always a good idea to let their health care practitioner in on their fitness choices. I do this for three reasons:
- It really is a good idea as your doctor knows your medical history—a prior heart condition or a hernia can put you at risk in a class.
- If I go ahead and teach a class without uttering this caveat, and something happens, my liability insurance will be cancelled.
- With my moustache, nobody would want to have me perform CPR on them.
The best way to get your health care practitioner’s input on your HAP is to write it down, make an appointment, and then ask for suggestions and comments on your plan. This tactic will cement the patient-doctor relationship: you’re working as a team, but you’ve made a commitment to take responsibility for your health—in other words, you make an excellent patient.
Writing your Health Action Plan
HAPs that are of sufficient quality to impress your doctor will take time to write. You will need to do some research, self-exploration, and goal setting. Think of the time you take as an investment—one that could add a few extra years of quality living to your lifespan.
Write down your resolutions
Start by writing your resolutions in a concrete manner to help you design specific goals aimed at achieving them.
Research the reason these resolutions are important
Let’s say you want to choose two resolutions:
- I resolve to lose belly fat.
- I resolve to become physically stronger.
For each resolution, make a list of the reasons you chose it. Later, your doctor may be able to add more reasons. For example, you may learn that belly fat is different from fat on the rest of the body and packs bigger health risks than ankle fat.
Find support from others
Now you can invite more people to be part of your support team, for example, friends who have similar resolutions. Your team will keep you accountable.
Set reasonable goals
Goals are the action part of your HAP, what you are going to do to achieve your resolution. Make sure your goals are SMART—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based.
Setting Smart Goals
- Specific. Provide enough detail so you know exactly what you should be doing and when.
- Measureable. Decide how to assess your progress so you can do regular evaluations.
- Achievable. Choose goals that you know you are capable of achieving.
- Realistic. Set out to succeed with small but challenging goals that you can accomplish.
- Time-based. Set a time period to achieve your goal and when you will work on it.
Re-evaluate after time
Evaluate your HAP at specific time intervals starting as you enter the fourth month; most professionals agree that it is unrealistic (and unhealthy) to expect measurable changes to your body during the first three months. You may, however, notice small changes as you progress; for example, you might find yourself needing a new belt as that midriff fat begins to melt away. This shows that your HAP is working.
Your Health Action Plan is dynamic. It can be modified to accommodate any changes that may occur as a result of aging, changes due to stress, and changes in lifestyle. It is also under your control, because you set the goals and you control the pace.
Possibly the most important component of your HAP is that you are not following it in a vacuum. It makes you part of a team that includes you, your health care practitioner, and any friends that you included in it. You become accountable.
Once everyone has a HAP, my Groundhog Day conversations with my supervisors will go like this: “Where did everyone come from? Now I have to go out and buy more equipment. There should be a way to plan for this!”
SAMPLE ACTION PLAN
RESOLUTION 1: I resolve to lose belly fat
Reasons and facts
- The fat deposited around my midriff doesn’t make me look or feel healthy.
- There is a correlation between the amount of belly fat and the risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
- A 2006 study shows that dieting alone does not reduce the ratio of large to small fat cells around the waist, but diet combined with exercise does.
- There are recognized benefits to cardiovascular exercise that occur collaterally to the loss of belly fat, including stronger heart and lungs, increased bone density, reduced stress, reduced risk of heart disease and some types of cancer, temporary relief from depression and anxiety, more confidence about how you feel and look, better sleep, more energy, and an opportunity to set a good example for your kids to stay active as they get older.
- It takes at least an hour of walking to burn off the calories consumed in a Starbucks 16-ounce Grande Mocha Frappuccino (380 calories).
- People who eat breakfast are less likely to be obese than those who skip breakfast.
- Studies show that obese people watch 10 percent more television—which may lead to sedentary snacking—than those who are of average weight.
- I will undertake to have my percentage of body fat measured as I begin my HAP, and again after four months.
- I will reduce the portion sizes of my meals by 10 percent for the first four months. (For more help with portion sizes read Portion distortion, page 67)
- I will eat more—but smaller—meals per day, including breakfast for four months; I will substitute fruits and vegetables for chocolate and chips during my mid-afternoon snacks.
- I will attend three hour-long exercise classes, three times per week for four months.
- I will use reduced-fat milk and cut the sugar in my gourmet coffee for four months.
- I will reduce the amount of television I watch by 10 percent per month for four months.
Refer back to the SMART goals you set four months ago. Has there been a reduction in body fat? If there has, then the plan is working. If not, the plan may be working, but not showing results yet; you may have to change some of your goals.
For example, an additional 5 percent reduction in meal portions may help, or perhaps, a closer examination of the quality of food—an apple is healthier than a handful of potato chips, for example. You could also consider adding another type of fitness class or taking up an active sport in addition to the weekly exercise regimen.
What about the other aspects of your health?
- How have you been feeling about the program, and the results, as time progressed?
- Did you feel you reached any of your goals?
- Did you cheat?
- Have you been healthy?
- Is it worth pursuing this resolution in your HAP?
- If so, are there other goals that could be added?
Finally, have your health care practitioner and the rest of your team evaluate your progress.
SAMPLE ACTION PLAN
RESOLUTION 2: I Resolve To Become Physically Stronger
Reasons and facts
- I have always wondered if I could train myself to be stronger.
- Using resistance training, it is possible to increase muscle strength and size.
- Muscular strength refers to the ability to generate force against physical objects.
- Strength can be measured by how much weight you can use for specific strength training exercises and different exercise equipment.
- A recent study shows that many exercisers self-select weights and exercise with weights that are insufficient to increase strength.
- A technique known as “lifting heavy” can help you increase your muscular strength.
- Larger and stronger muscles increase your resting metabolic rate so you burn more calories—even while at rest.
- Muscle takes up less space than fat. The more muscle you have, the slimmer you appear.
- Strengthening bones and connective tissue can protect your body from injuries, and stronger muscles can make you quicker, improve endurance, and better equip you for daily living.
- You may experience improved balance and stability.
- As you become stronger, you will look better, become more confident, and have better self-esteem. All of these factors can play well in your overall success in life.
- I will undertake to have my percentage of body fat measured as I begin my HAP, and I will begin a weight-training program in either a private gym or a community centre, and I will set up an appointment with someone to provide me with a written program.
- I will write my resolution to become physically stronger on an exercise card that I will keep in my gym bag.
- I will go to each station on my routine and find a weight that I can only achieve one repetition with; I will try to do a second repetition, but I will not be able to complete it.
- I will write down the value of that weight on my exercise card, paying close attention to whether the weight is in pounds or kilograms.
- I will work out with a weight that is 60 percent of that heavy weight for three months.
- I will do five sets of 12 repetitions of that weight three times per week for four months.
After four months, evaluate your progress by attempting more than one lift of the original heavy weight. If you are successful, select a new upper limit by selecting a heavier weight and attempting to do more than one lift. If you cannot lift this new, heavier weight, resolve to work out with a weight that is 60 percent of the new heavy weight for another four months.
If you are unsuccessful at lifting the original heavy weight more than once, work out with 80 percent of the original heavy weight for another four months. The beauty of the “lifting heavy” routine is that all the goals are SMART and they are self-evaluative.
The program, by its nature, is progressive. It sets a limit and gives you the opportunity to approach and surpass that limit. Further, it allows you to live up to the original resolution to become physically stronger.