Tis the season for resolutions. The most prevalent is a self-promise to get in shape. Both Dr. Mark McColl, a physician with Trinity Medical Associates, and Katie Ellis, wellness nurse at VitalSigns, a gym and wellness center associated with Trinity, note that after the New Year attendance at the gym increases, then falls off early in February. According to Ellis, who is both a certified trainer and a registered nurse, “you can pinpoint in the gym the people who will be there for about four weeks. It used to be six, but it’s getting smaller and smaller.”
Why? “People can’t just stay committed,” Ellis says. “We do things that have value to us, and health, for some reason, is just not. But there is a very small window where we say to ourselves ‘okay it might be,’ and you really have to grab on to that, and figure out what will make you keep going, what will keep you interested.”
After years as a trainer, Ellis went to nursing school and wanted a way to mesh nutrition and exercise to concentrate on preventative medicine. After nursing school, she found Trinity, which is heavily focused on preventative medicine.
McColl further explains that Trinity’s mission is “health care with a purpose.” Rather than looking solely to the next drug to prescribe or surgery to pursue, he also asks, “How do we improve nutrition? Because if we can improve people’s nutrition, we change a lot about their health.”
But improving nutrition or beginning to exercise are part of a larger, holistic approach to wellness, Ellis and McColl assert. Quality sleep and inner well-being, what many of us might refer to as the spiritual aspect of things, are crucial as well. And central to pursuing these areas is to move beyond promising to be better at them and ask some fundamental questions. As McColl puts it, we have to ask “why do I eat well? What are the deeper questions of my life, the deeper principles that drive me to eat well and to exercise?” When those questions are answered, a committed pursuit of wellness becomes more attainable.
Trinity opened VitalSigns based on a desire to keep patients from having to be on unnecessary medicines, preferring to work first through lifestyle changes. The practice has nurse practitioners who perform dietetic counseling, reinforced by Ellis at VitalSigns. However, they found, many people don’t consistently come to the gym on their own. “But,” says Ellis, “if they have an appointment for a meeting with a nurse, then they come.”
Accountability becomes key. Those involved with specific programs often meet with trainers three times per week, where they not only exercise, but also learn through food journaling how to pursue fitness.
“The issue is that you need accountability,” notes Ellis. “You need people to keep you invested because sometimes we don’t consider ourselves valuable in and of ourselves.” And that accountability doesn’t have to come from a trainer. It could come from a friend committed to pursuing fitness with you.
There are several issues involved with why people stop a fitness regimen after a short stint. One is over-valuing a certain appearance. According to Ellis, such a focus “is very fleeting.”
Another is going too big too fast. “Generally,” Ellis says, “people come into a gym and have unrealistic expectations of what they should be able to do because they might remember when they were younger and say, ‘Oh yeah, I used to bench whatever,’ and so they will instantly try to jump in to that and injure themselves.”
And after the injury, they stop. But often, quitting entirely isn’t necessary. A trainer can help a client avoid an injured area, like a knee, and focus instead on working out only the upper body. Ellis goes on to say that, “As humans, we have a mental barrier that if we have any kind of limitations, it puts us out, but we set ourselves up for those limitations because we go gung-ho right out of the gate.”
To avoid injury as you begin an exercise regimen, you’ll want a professional to watch your form so they can see if you are exercising correctly. They’ll explain the correct way to lift and isolate certain muscle groups. With that information, you can create regimens for yourself. Much of the challenge is in being prepared.
If you do injure yourself, seeing a doctor is important, and communicating the results of that visit to a certified trainer is crucial. A trainer can then do a postural assessment or a corrective exercise evaluation to see what a client can tolerate.
McColl adds that balance is necessary, and that people need to communicate with physicians as they pursue changes in diet and exercise. “Especially if they’re on medications,” he says. “Say somebody starts eating a whole lot better, and they start exercising more. They may not need as much blood pressure medicine, but then they keep taking it and their blood pressure gets a little on the low side.”
Looking at blood work is a better measure of success for McColl than looking in a mirror. It is “a measurement of data that changes very, very quickly and is very telling. There’s no cheating on blood work. It changes in predictable ways and only changes because certain things have happened. It’s really easy to show people their success in some of that blood work.”
He goes on to note that “success is having a good plan and then having a coach to help you through that plan. That coaching and accountability aspect is crucial.”
“The main thing,” says Ellis, “is not to sabotage yourself. Once you come up with a goal, how do you keep going? Recruit someone to hold you accountable, whether it’s a trainer or a friend. Come up with a contract with them. Really take a look at your food, and if you think ‘I don’t know what to eat,’ then seek help from someone who can help advise you.”
“You should have a goal, but it shouldn’t simply be superficial or external. It should also be fundamental: ‘I want to feel better,’ or ‘I want my labs to look better’.”
Even though attaining a certain waist size could be an important goal in the overall picture at the moment, it’s not necessarily a long term fitness goal. “If life is just about the way that we look,” adds Ellis, “it’s kind of a sad life.”
Being able to integrate exercise, nutrition, sleep, and inner well-being is invaluable. As McColl notes, “Today we have the opportunity to change and be different. Just a little bit of positive reinforcement at the right time, consistently applied, can make some great changes, so start small and build into that. Have a plan, have some accountability, have a coach, and get some good follow up.”
Though you may wish to lose a few pounds—to look good in the mirror or fit into the jeans you bought ten years ago—those might not be the most important elements to your long term wellness.
Because long term is the rest of your life.
Keith Norris is editor of Cityview.