Making Changes - and making them last 

Where have the last 12 months gone? How is it that the festive season is already upon us?!  Cast your mind back to January - did you set any new year’s resolutions? It may be that you declared confidently ‘This is the year - I am going to sort my work life balance. Step one : I will go to the gym ; Step two : I will hit my daily target on my FitBit; Step three: I will have a quiet time before work.’ Sound familiar?!

If you were one of many of us who set some new year resolutions which faded a little too rapidly, then fear not. You are in good company. Depending on the study, 80-90% of us won’t have maintained that resolution by the end of January , nevermind by the end of the year.

I am sure that I  will be speaking for many of us when I say that I know that I need to make some changes - because I will always be a work in progress. God cares about our physical, spiritual and emotional health. Familiar verses from Hebrews 12:1  (NIV) remind us to ‘run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’ God wants us to make the most of every moment, to live to our full potential and to honour Him as we do that.

So this isn’t about feeling virtuous regarding whether we have maintained any resolutions or achieved a goal - or feeling frustrated that we haven’t. This is about honouring God, and releasing our full potential.  Deuteronomy 6:5 says we should “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and all your strength.”  We need to think about all three of these areas as we prioritise our health and wellbeing - physical, emotional and spiritual health.

But we know this in theory of course. It’s just making changes that we find more difficult. As Paul says in Romans 7:15 ‘I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.’ In a world where we are connected 24/7, with so many more pressures on us, we just don’t have time to look after ourselves better - or so we think. Of course there are seasons of our lives where the pressure is on - perhaps we have added caring responsibilities, or it’s an unusually pressurised period at work. At other times we tell ourselves we haven’t got the time - but maybe we just aren’t prioritising making those changes, or setting goals and aims in effective ways. 

Positive Impact of Extercise

How much attention do you pay to your physical health? . How much exercise do you do a week? It’s well documented that we should do 30 minutes of exercise several times a week for the positive impact on our physical health - but what is less well known is that it is also a very effective way to improve our mental health, with potential for positive impacts on depression and anxiety. Exercise also helps us manage stress better, and improves our sleep patterns. In fact, some studies suggest the overall impact of introducing regular gentle exercise into your life can be as powerful as some antidepressant medications.

For many exercise is a scary word, but don’t be put off. This is about starting at where you are at today. If you are already doing regular exercise then keep it up. Think about what you can do to exercise other muscle groups. If you aren’t, why not walk rather than take the car to run that errand? Is there a sport that you enjoyed as a child that you fancy taking up again?

Fresh Air

Another interesting side to exercise and mental health is the power of getting out in the fresh air. Studies have compared the same exercise routine in different venues - and looked at how much it lifted the mood of those who took part. Exercise in the fresh air seems to lift mood much more than when it is done inside. Now - this may not be the best time of year for this - but when you can, why not get into the great outdoors? It needn’t be high tech - go for a walk with a mate, or dust off that bicycle and see what a difference it makes.

If it helps to set yourself some goals then do - but be kind to yourself. Break the big goals down into bite sized chunks - so small, that it’s almost impossible to fail. Too many people are way too ambitious when setting exercise goals. ‘I will go to the gym 5 times a week’ or ‘I will go for a run every day’. Aim at something really manageable - and if you are keeping up with that really well you can always increase what you aim to do. Remember that small changes really do add up - and achieving goals helps to motivate you to keep them up. So celebrate your successes and try not to be too ‘all or nothing’ in your aims. Introducing exercise into your life doesn’t mean you have to be triathlon fit in a month. Enjoy being more active, find ways to make it fun, share your exercise with friends and be creative!  

Help Yourself

Don’t forget that to make change happen, we need to help ourselves. If I want to go to the gym before work, there’s some steps to be taken.  I need to get to bed earlier, pack my work clothes and prepare my breakfast to take with me (no point cancelling out all that effort with an unhealthy breakfast grabbed on the go!). If any one of these factors are not addressed, the likelihood of me being at the gym reduces dramatically. There’s also a definite link between telling one of my friends that I am planning to go to the gym and the chances of me going. It seems that accountability is a powerful motivator. 

So with all this in mind, what is the best kind of exercise to do? It would be easy to overcomplicate the answer, but perhaps it is as simple as choosing one that you enjoy. Why not brainstorm a whole list of things you could try and get together with a friend to find out which really work for you? One (wo)man’s exercise nightmare is another’s dream - so see how many different things you can try and don’t be put off if you try something that you don’t get on with! 

If all else fails, follow the ten minute rule. If motivation levels are low, tell yourself you only have to do it for 10 minutes - chances are you will do it for longer, and be glad that you did.

Sharon Bell  works in further education, but outside of work volunteers as  a Life Coach with Fitfish,  a Health and Fitness Organisation which helps Christians find balance in Physical, Emotional and Spiritual health.
More information on Fitfish and their weekend retreats, day courses and much more is available on 
Sharon Bell, 22/12/2017
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