Everyone knows very well about the importance of exercise and training with regards to health, fitness and longevity. In fact, this, along with diets are so frequently discussed throughout all types of media to the extent that it’s starting to sound like a broken record. Encouraging a sedentary individual to commit to two 30-minute training sessions weekly is a huge achievement, and shouldn’t be understated. This is a great starting point to longer-term change, however, the commitment of 60 minutes per week leaves another 167 hours in the week, and much of this time can either facilitate or undo the amazing training work.
No one individual is the same, meaning that the way in which an individual achieves health, fitness and performance benefits are always going to vary. For some, it may be a sedentary desk-based job and a lifestyle largely based around immobility which has promoted aches, pains and inconsistent nutritional intake. For others, however, it may be the undying desire to train to the point of fatigue and illness, with poor recovery strategies to provide the balance. Regular exercise is wonderful, but it’s the habits throughout all those other hours that really do make a significant difference to one’s health and fitness.
As a Performance Coach, I am seeing some great mobility, strength and cardiovascular progressions from clients during each session, but the unfortunately reality is that for many, it’s the little one-percenters that are inhibiting greater positive change. With this in mind, I find that it’s of utmost importance to encourage and challenge clients to modify habits bit by bit; some being as simple as increasing daily water intake or doing a (just one!) stretch/mobility pattern daily. As I mentioned, many individuals are unfortunately undoing so much of their great effort with a sedentary working lifestyle, poor nutritional behaviours, and in many cases, a simple lack of awareness.
Again, it seems obvious as it is so frequently talked about, but the positive effects of walking, both physically and psychologically, can be of huge significance. Rather than trying to implement a 30-minute power walk for the suited up, stressed and overweight corporative executive, I believe it may be far wiser to challenge them to get up from their desk once every 45-60 minutes and walk around the building level, or to take the long way around to the bathroom or kitchen. Even though introducing such small adjustments may not contribute directly to composition goals for example, it’s the habit itself and the minor physiological changes that it will promote each time which will contribute to the greater change. We must consider that habits involve distinct neural networks (Yin & Knowlton, 2006), so for us to create new pathways (and therefore new habits), it’s quite a change; something which doesn’t just occur overnight. If we can, however, develop better habits for individuals and slowly progress them with compliance, then we can negotiate greater overall behavioural change, be it a simple conscious thought as to what food they are consuming or even just the awareness that they haven’t moved quite enough throughout that day. It really is amazing to see how things can develop over time once the seeds have been planted.
The biggest barrier to habits is adherence. Most people understand the logic to making changes, but it’s most often the simple absence of the acts themselves which limit progression. A coach’s job is largely based around education as a means for progression. Providing a direct and sentimental link between the individual and their habit changes is a key way to both encourage and challenge them to be better and ensure the one-percenters are taken care of. For those with a history of back or neck pain, it might be as simple as emphasizing what could be possible if prescribed mobility exercises are regularly performed, but also how pain/stiffness may have prevented them in the past. Highlighting opportunity offers choices; which is to some extent what habits are. So long as it’s realistic, constructive and portrayed in a positive fashion, I think there can be great benefits by linking education with opportunity.
As an integral part of overall health, and the moderator for general fitness, exercise is key. We know very well the benefits associated with exercise and cognitive/work performance, prevention of injury/disease, plus a number of other associated benefits. One big step has been taken by individuals to incorporate it in their busy weekly schedules, but it’s also just as important to ensure that we are getting the little things right to allow the benefits of exercise to be maximised. Developing good habits is essential to the bigger picture, as it will undoubtedly be the defining factor in achieving one’s goals, regardless of whether they are based around general lifestyle or sport-specific. Furthermore, ensuring that we get these one-percenters right and developing good habits will allow for greater behavioural change. I truly believe that only one person can drive the ship, and that it must be the individuals themselves. As performance coaches we are compasses, providing the direction for clients to get where they want and need to be in terms of health and performance.
Written By Performance Coach Jonathan Stahl
- Yin, H.H. & Knowlton, B.J. (2006). The role of the basal ganglia in habit formation. Nature Reviews, 7(6), 464-476.