As of late I’ve been reading a lot of social psychology books (not surprising since my undergraduate degree is in sociology). Specifically I’ve been reading a book that was gifted to me entitled, What Makes Olga Run. The book outlines the daily practices of some of the world’s most impressive athletes in their 80’s and 90’s and references the research of Ellen Langer leading me to purchase my next current read, Counterclockwise.
The research of Dr. Langer focuses on something I have always been curious about – WHY people make the decisions they do when it comes to their own health and fitness. And why is it that, as a society, we pay so much attention to our health and yet we know so little about how to achieve a healthy life? (this is where having a good fitness and health coach comes into play…just sayin’). Langer suggests that we can all SAY we believe in the possibility of improvement BUT unless we really do, we will not find it.
In one of her most ground breaking studies in 1981, early in her career at Harvard, Ellen Langer and her colleagues piled two groups of men in their seventies and eighties into vans, drove them two hours north to a sprawling old monastery in New Hampshire, and dropped them off 22 years earlier, in 1959. The group who went first stayed for one week and were asked to pretend they were young men, once again living in the 1950s. The second group, who arrived the week afterward, were told to stay in the present and simply reminisce about that era. As a young professor of psychology, Langer hoped to document through these men what she had long suspected: that our fixed ideas, internalized in childhood, can affect the way we age. In studies she had conducted with colleagues at Yale, Langer had already shown that memory loss—a problem often blamed on aging—could be reversed by giving elderly people more reasons to remember facts; when success was rewarded with small gifts, or when researchers made efforts to create personal relationships with their subjects, elderly memory performance improved. In another study (now taught in nearly every introductory psychology course in the country), she and Yale colleague Judith Rodin found that simply giving nursing-home residents plants to take care of, as well as control over certain decisions—where they would meet guests, what activities to do—not only improved their subjects’ psychological and physical health, but also their longevity: a year and a half later, fewer of those residents had died. What she found, however, surprised even her own team of researchers. Before and after the experiment, both groups of men took a battery of cognitive and physical tests, and after just one week, there were dramatic positive changes across the board. Both groups were stronger and more flexible. Height, weight, gait, posture, hearing, vision—even their performance on intelligence tests had improved. Their joints were more flexible, their shoulders wider, their fingers not only more agile, but longer and less gnarled by arthritis. But the men who had acted as if they were actually back in 1959 showed significantly more improvement. Those who had impersonated younger men seemed to have bodies that actually were younger.
So if we buy into this belief that if we can train our minds to help us live a healthier and more fulfilling life, think about this:
We know that nutritious non-processed food (ideally locally raised and grown), limited to zero consumption of alcohol/drugs, daily movement, flexibility work, quality sleep, limited to zero stress and adhering to a well crafted and designed fitness training program IS what we SHOULD be doing, but perhaps we are all thinking about it in the wrong way?
Why does the above sound weird, boring, challenging, and why when it comes specifically to our nutrition does ‘eating healthy’ have to mean deprivation & struggle?
Here is what I believe people THINK about fitness but HOW you can change your mindset with knowledge, support and learning more about what fitness is truly all about (and not according to Gweneth, Jillan Michaels and mainstream fitness models…).
1 – You think you will never eat good food again.
This year we (my husband Coach Taylor and I) have dramatically shifted our nutrition to focus on 100% non-processed food. I have NEVER felt better OR eaten better in my 39 years. I can honestly say I will continue this “program” for the rest of my life. Full disclosure it took time and some perseverance to slowly modify my diet to rid myself of things that weren’t getting me closer to my fitness goals but it was 100% worth the effort. The results? I no longer call on any type of ‘willpower’ when it comes to bowls of Halloween candy or a Starbucks sample when I order my tea. I crave real food 100% of the time.
2 – You think working out must = pain.
I train clients ranging in age from 12 to 82 years of age. We start our new members with small incremental movement, strength and fitness challenges. By the end of a three week trial membership movements that initially seemed hard are easier to do and one of the biggest take-away is how GOOD it can feel to regularly train your body with the right movements. No, fitness SHOULDN’T be about pain it should actually do the opposite and prevent you from having pain. YES, it will be uncomfortable at first. YES as you get stronger you need to constantly challenge your body in new ways in order to continually see progress. YES there might be some days when you might not ‘feel like it’ but this is where you need to reframe your mindset to see fitness as an investment in your health.
3 –You think in order to make progress you need to feel deprived.
Painful workouts, throwing up in a bucket and eating flavourless food IS NOT what fitness is all about. I receive messages on a daily basis about how drool worthy our food looks on instagram AND how my training looks fun. YES, real fitness is more focused on how great your body can feel versus how much you need to deprive yourself and sacrifice your body for the sake of achieving a heavier bench press every time you train.
4 – You think everyone else is a ninja.
I get this all the time. Oh, I’m too out of shape/old/embarrassed/busy to train with you and everyone you work with is already a ninja. OK, cool, but you’re missing out on living a healthier and happier life and you need to get over yourself. When I see the look on a face of a physio client or a new member when they see our 12 year old client stroll in or our 82 year old client get down to business with bird dogs and bear crawls, you can only imagine the sense of shock and disbelief.
Everyone gets a little nervous or shy when they start something new, and no, everyone has to start somewhere. The question you need to ask yourself is this; isn’t your health worth it? I say all this at the age of 39 having watched both my parents pass away from debilitating and painful disease far too young. If you can actively take charge of your health with the choices you make on a daily basis (Great news – you can!), don’t wait – do it!
5 – You think you won’t be successful (perhaps because you haven’t been in the past).
The most common obstacle I hear when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle is “I’ve tried it all before”. Well, unfortunately the health industry can be utterly confusing and down right shady when it comes to selling you “fitness”BUT fortunately there are health and fitness professionals who are dedicated to helping you live a healthy, happy, pain-free and independent life well into your 90’s (and hopefully beyond). Seek them out, be open minded and I promise it will change your life!
***Full disclosure in order to change you WILL need to get uncomfortable, challenge yourself and some days will be harder than others BUT focusing on changing your mindset and your outlook on how you eat and how you train your body WILL change your life, the choice is up to you.