Walk the Walk
Sorry to open this post with a view of my dog’s butt, but this is my visual multiple times a day, since I’ve been mostly working from home. (Good thing it’s a cute fuzzy butt.)
Now more than at any other time in my life, I’m living a healthy lifestyle. Even though I’ve been a vehement proponent of everything healthy lifestyle for years and years, I wasn’t truly walking the walk. As a busy clinician/ teacher/ researcher, my schedule was dizzyingly heavy and complex. But I recently chose to step off of the academic medical merry-go-round, and I’m in the process of regaining my balance. (I could go miles with this metaphor.)
And even though I’m no longer co-leading the hospital’s lifestyle medicine program, I haven’t abandoned the larger cause. In this last post for Harvard Health Blog, I boil down all the evidence as well as my clinical and personal experience around making long-lasting healthy lifestyle changes to three big-impact bits of advice, which I’ll paraphrase here for curious folks who don’t feel like reading it:
- Figure out your most powerful motivator. Note: this should not ultimately be about pounds on the scale or fitting into a certain-sized piece of clothing. Numbers-oriented goals like that are associated with short-lived results. But you really want to lose weight/ be smaller, you say? Here’s the magic: If you figure out what’s REALLY motivating to you, the weight loss/ size change will become a happy side effect. Real long-term motivators that have worked for people I know include getting physically fit enough to run marathons, and becoming a truly healthy role model for their kids.
- Make habits that you can handle. Many many years ago when I began my own personal health journey (which resulted in fifty pounds lost, and maintained lost, to this day), I started small: First of all, I established that what I wanted to accomplish would likely take years. (It took two.) Then I made myself exercise every day– even if it was only a few pathetic situps next to my daughter’s crib at nighttime, I made it all count. That was critical to my overall success, because like many people, I needed to feel like I was succeeding at something along the way. It kept me going. I also aimed for a well-rounded diet high in plant foods and low in processed carbs, for most days. And, I logged my food intake and activity daily, just jotting it all down in a notebook. Each of these was a relatively small thing, but when repeated every day, these became habits and resulted in transformation. (I became such a believer in healthy habits, I wrote an entire book about it!)
- Better manage stress. This isn’t only about taking healthy action when you’re feeling stressed. This is about being perpetually prepared, so you don’t get stressed in the first place. After all, a million things happen every day that could potentially stress you out. Why let them? How to maintain your bubble of peace is up to you, but there is plenty of science showing that regular activity works well. Even if you don’t believe the science, believe Adele, who took up weightlifting because it eased her anxiety and cured her panic attacks— and she ended up losing 100 pounds in the process. (Happy side effect.) Yoga, walking, running, strength training, dancing… It all works, if it’s done regularly enough.
Now that I’m living a more normal life– or better than normal, with flexible daytime working hours, no night or weekend expectations, working from home when I need to, unlimited vacation time, a worthy work mission and incredibly supportive team– I’m better able to practice what I preach.
Motivation: One of the biggest reasons I quit clinical medicine is also my most powerful healthy lifestyle motivator: I want to be a better parent, and self-care is the foundation for effective parenting. Long clinic days and on-call evenings, work spilling into home, competing responsibilities and distracting demands… It all had to go.
Habits: I’ve learned that I need daily vigorous activity in order to be my best, and I’ve made it a daily habit. Like Adele, I discovered the anxiolytic effect of anaerobic exercise, and I am now fully committed to trainer Nicole Gonzalez’ well-balanced, super-organized workout calendar as well as the #HardCore on the Floor support group (both free and open to anyone, see note below). Six days a week, usually between 6 and 7 a.m., I throw myself into 30 to 40 minutes of stress-busting strength training. I started this insanity in September, and by end of October I was already visibly different. I have not lost even one pound (because I’m not trying), but my clothes fit better and people keep asking me if I’ve lost weight. But more importantly– I feel strong, I feel resilient, I feel badass.
(Note: To access Nicole’s calendar, join the #HardCore on the Floor Facebook Group or Instagram feed, both are totally free. There are over 200,000 people in this group, and the feed has been inspiring. The actual workouts are all Peloton on demand, and can be accessed through the app as well as on the bike. You don’t need the bike at all for these, and the app is like, $15 a month. #HardCore is the group’s tag on Peloton. And, I do not get any sort of kickback for endorsing this group or trainer or Peloton, they’re all just awesome and I’m telling you.)
The stress thing: For me, it’s more about maintaining equanimity, and for this, exercise is huge. So the daily vigorous activity habit largely checks the box. But in addition, walking the dog every day (sometimes multiple times a day) is better than Valium. And, we’ve had more time for family activities like hiking. It all counts!
The results of all of this have been that I feel great and sleep better, and I feel present with my kids. Yes, I know it’ll take time to fully adjust to a new role in a different industry; I’m in learning mode all the time now. Thus far, however, the change has been worth it.