I recently read a small article online authored by freelance writer Slovie Jungreis-Wolff called 5 Strategies to Find Balance in Life. While she was focusing on personal spiritual growth, each of her five strategies can also completely apply to the senior (or just about anyone really) who is looking to improve the quality of their (our) lives physically and well as emotionally.
Here’s the list:
- Take Care of Yourself
- Acknowledge the Challenge
- Anticipate and Plan
- Find Your Positive Energy
- List Your Priorities and Goals
With apologies to Ms. Jungreis-Wolff, I’m going to re-write her narrative to be more specifically applicable to the older person who is working out, changing their (our) diet, and attempting to achieve greater health and quality of life.
1. Take Care of Yourself
If you’re an older person, chances are you’ve been married or are married, you’ve raised children, and you visit with and sometimes take care of grandchildren (or maybe you’re among the growing population of grandparents raising your grandchildren). In other words, you’ve spent a significant portion of your life taking care of other people. That means, you may be very used to putting your own wants and needs on the back burner.
It’s time to change that.
In order to turn your life around and develop health related behaviors and habits, you are going to have to focus on you. This doesn’t mean being selfish and not caring about your loved ones, but it does mean prioritizing time and resources just for you. That includes funds for gym membership, food for a healthier diet, as well as time to workout, prepare better (non-processed foods) meals, and many other things related to creating a better “you”.
As Jungreis-Wolff said, by improving yourself, you are actually making the better, healthier you a gift to those you love.
2. Acknowledge the Challenge
Oh yeah. This isn’t easy. Part of the challenge is physical, that is, getting your body not only accustomed to the initial effort of working out, but then continuing to challenge yourself by increasing the degree of intensity in resistance and cardio work. There’s also the challenge of changing your diet. Losing weight and rebuilding your body to be healthier is more dependent on what you eat and drink than how much you exercise, so this is really important. But it can also seem terribly confining, especially if you’re trying to break away from some really poor (but really tasty) eating habits (don’t worry, eating healthy can be tasty, too).
Then there’s the challenge presented by strategy number one. The people around you might not want you to make so many changes, especially if it somehow affects their lives. I know that my son David has faced this challenge in terms of his diet when his family didn’t particularly want to eat what he eats. If they were munching on fast food for dinner (I’m making this part up), it required a lot of discipline to eat a better meal rather than just give up and join in.
In my case, I’ve not only got a lot of support at home for going to the gym and eating better, my wife is really, really focused on healthy eating, so junk or processed food for dinner is rarely an option.
3. Anticipate and Plan
When you first start out making life changes, it can be difficult to know what to anticipate. You may have to send up a few trial balloons, so to speak, in order to see how you and other people react. For example, if, like me, you plan on getting to the gym really early in the day, then make sure you get to bed pretty early the night before. Remember, rest is just as important as exercise and as I’ve personally experienced, not getting enough sleep really kills your workout and sabotages weight (fat) loss.
Planning for meals is critical. I make my lunch for work in the morning, so I have to be sure I have the right foods in the house by the previous evening. Otherwise, I get stuck eating unhealthy alternatives. Creating new and healthy habits takes a lot of work, especially at first. Eventually though, all this becomes interwoven in your daily life, so in the end, it won’t be much of a chore.
Of course, going on vacation or traveling for other reasons presents additional challenges, and planning ahead may help you stay on course rather than having to set aside working out and a healthy choice of meals.
4. Find Your Positive Energy
At first blush, this sounds pretty “new age-y” which I’m definitely not into, but really it has to do with establishing and maintaining a positive attitude. Let’s face it, there’s obviously things not right about our lives, otherwise we wouldn’t be working to try to improve ourselves. You can either complain about losing your strength, or you can do something about it. You can either complain about being overweight, or you can do something about it.
But there’s another side of energy I want to address. When someone first starts out trying to live a more healthy life by exercising and changing what they eat, they’re probably at least somewhat out of shape or even really out of shape. One of the consequences of a less than healthy lifestyle is a lack of energy. Just the thought of getting out of bed an hour earlier than usual to hit the gym sounds too difficult, let alone generating the energy you have to expend to exercise.
You can tell yourself you don’t have the energy to workout, or you can do something about it by working out. I know that sounds contradictory, but in order to overcome inertia, you have to expend some effort. That’s why when you start an exercise program, you start out slow, and then build up gradually. If you are a classic couch potato and you plan to turn yourself into Lou Ferrigno or Arnold Schwarzenegger in six weeks or six months, you are going to hit a wall fast and probably quit out of frustration or injury.
Plan to start doing the “do-able” and work up to what you think of as “undo-able” or even impossible. That folds into the fifth and final strategy.
5. List Your Priorities and Goals
This is about time and resource management in relation to what you want to get out all of your effort. Is losing 20 pounds important to you? Is gaining back lost muscle strength and mass important to you? Is living a longer and healthier life important to you?
How important is all that? Important enough to change what you’re going to have for breakfast or lunch today? Important enough to haul yourself over to the gym for an hour or so? Important enough to go to bed thirty minutes earlier at night so you can get your much-needed rest?
As Jungreis-Wolff says, we spend too many hours doing useless things such as surfing the web or playing online games. We’ve got too many more important tasks to get busy with to be bored or to do boring things.
I’ve been talking mainly about what to do to improve ourselves physically, but you can’t be at the gym all the time, and you’re not eating all the time. What about what affects us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually? When’s the last time you read a book to learn something as opposed to just consuming mindless entertainment? When’s the last time you turned off the television and played a game with your kids or grandkids? When’s the last time you went out for coffee with a good friend instead of just texting them or emailing them?
All of this has to do with setting goals for yourself based on what’s important to you and then achieving those goals. Once you do, then set more goals and achieve them.
Your goal for today at the gym, for example, might be to do one set of concentration curls using a 15 pound dumbbell performing at least 8 to 10 reps. In three weeks, your goal might be two sets at the same number of reps, or one set but going up to 12 to 15 reps.
I’m making those numbers up but you get the idea. Remember, although you’re doing all this for you, the wonderful benefit is that it’s also good for the people around you if you’re healthier and happier.
Like Jungreis-Wolff says:
Seeking balance while working on solutions will help us live with a positive spirit, feeling energized and better able to handle life’s challenges.
You can do this, even if you think you can’t right now. If you’re doing something to improve your life now and believe you’ve reached your limit, you haven’t. You can do better. You can be better.
When I finished reading the Jungreis-Wolff story, I clicked a link in the sidebar to an article written by Sara Debbie Gutfreund called The Blind Woman at the Gym. I’ve mentioned before how there’s a visually impaired man who regularly works out at my gym. Maybe he’ll never be super buff or break any pull-ups records, but he shows up every morning at five and he does his thing. If he can do it, so can you.
I know living each day can make it seem like you’re being pulled in a thousand different directions but you can take charge, take control, find the balance and step inside of it. Learn to move into that place where you balance your life.
People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing–that’s why we recommend it daily.