We are coming into the Holiday season where many of us have a long history of eating more and exercising less. Here are a few health and fitness tips that if implemented today, could lead to habit formation over the next few months, just in time for the start of the new year. According to the website Psychology Today:
“Habit formation is the process by which new behaviors become automatic. The behavioral patterns we repeat most often are literally etched into our neural pathways. The good news is that, through repetition, it’s possible to form new habits (and maintain them as well).”
This is the week that you actually want to start changing your mindset and begin focusing on the following principles that if done correctly could lead to habit formation. Keep in mind the old adage of it takes 21-days to form a new habit does not actually hold up when you look at the research. That statement actually came from a book back in the 1960’s. Research has shown it takes about 66 days for that habit to form and in some test subjects it was as high 256 days. The good news is if you start following these suggestions today, habit formation has a good chance to be fully baked and delivered come the new year!
Focus on Getting More Sleep
Sleeping more is your primary focus. Look at your sleep patterns over the next three nights and determine the average number of hours of sleep you’re getting. If that number is less than seven hours, work on building it up to 7-8 hours a night. A sleep study was done by Mah and colleagues on Stanford University’s mens basketball team. They had members of the team work on increasing their amount of sleep from 6.5 hours a night to 8.5 hours and saw a 13% improvement in all aspects of sports performance. Additional research has demonstrated people who reported sleeping fewer than five hours per night significantly increased their risk of having or developing type 2 diabetes. As you continue to get more of the second principle (exercise), you improve your chances of sleeping longer and deeper. The reason why sleep is your main focus is because when you don’t get enough of it you suffer on two fronts – nutrition and exercise. Studies show individuals who get insufficient sleep tend to eat more unhealthy foods and end up skipping exercise or if they do exercise, they lack the energy to have an optimal workout.
Focus on Regular Exercise
This can be difficult if you’re traveling for the Holidays but try to plan it out ahead of time and be prepared with workout gear etc. When there is a holiday or work party on your calendar, focus on getting to the gym before and after each event to expend some additional calories. During the week when you have social events at night focus on increasing your daily activity and steps. A personal goal could be walking 10,000 steps and climbing 10 flights of stairs each day before going to a party that night. Focus on short, intense circuit strength training sessions and short, intense interval-based cardio sessions. The key here is to challenge your body more than you typically do by burning maximal calories in minimal time. Here are two free cardio sessions from Koko FitClub to help you do just that.
Focus on ELMO
Follow the ELMO rule: Eat little meals more often. This is a great tool for your tool-box during the Holiday season. Don’t fall of the wagon with your eating schedule. There could be lots of pies, cookies and other home-made dishes that could side-track you – stay focused. Eat a good healthy breakfast each morning and do the same for lunch during the day. Give yourself a treat only after a healthy lunch or dinner. Focus on eating a protein-focused meal/snack every 3-4 hours. Make sure you eat at least 20 grams of protein per sit-down, this in turn will keep your blood sugar levels stable. This is important because it will decrease the chances of any high-glycemic (high carbs) cravings that you may have.
The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players (2011). Cheri D. Mah, Kenneth E. Mah, Eric J. Kezirian and William C. Dement. J. Sleep. 34(7):943–950.
Role of Sleep Duration and Quality in the Risk and Severity of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (2006). Knutson KL, et al., Archives of Internal Medicine (2006). 166(16):1768.
Association of Sleep Time with Diabetes Mellitus and Impaired Glucose Tolerance (2005). Gottlieb DJ, et al., Archives of Internal Medicine. 165(8):863.