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  • Writer's pictureJackie

5 Things You Can Control that Promote Wellness

Many, many factors influence health and fitness, including genetics, beliefs, and even living environment. We can't easily change a lot of those. (Did you know, for example, that if you're the child of two obese parents, you are 80% more likely to be obese? Personally, I had one obese parent, making me 50% more likely to face obesity.) It's easy to start feeling like we don't have all that much say over our health & wellness. The truth is, we have more influence than we often believe.

Some variables, like the five listed below, lie under our control. Most of the time, that is. They make up the most basic components of a wellness plan, so if you’re currently trying to spur some kind of change in relation to your health & fitness, think closely about these. How are you manipulating the following activities and habits? Which ones might you change up to get the results you seek? We can't control everything and we don't have to try (because it's impossible, not to mention annoying), but we CAN pick one or two pet projects that just might have a big impact on our health.

1. Energy Balance, aka “calories in, calories out”

By far, this has to be the most popular variable of health that most of us try to alter, usually via dieting. Basically, when energy is “balanced,” we’re in a state where the body receives just the right amount of fuel (calories) to function optimally without weight gain or loss. When we diet, we lose weight by cutting back on fuel & creating a negative energy balance. But that negative balance is just one side of the equation. Because traditional dieting almost always fails, it helps to look at energy balance as a TWO-sided formula. This widens perspective. Sometimes we could be gradually losing weight. At other times, we might be holding steady. And sometimes we might be slowly gaining weight. Thinking of weight loss/gain/maintenance as a tipping scale reminds us to create a SLIGHT and sustainable negative imbalance to lose weight and also that even subtle positive calorie intake will promote weight gain over time. This vantage point also allows for periods of “treading weight,” weeks or months when we practice simply maintaining a loss or halting a gain. I HIGHLY recommend this. People who practice weight maintenance after a major loss—before continuing to drop more weight—create slow, gradual losses that they're more likely to sustain. The CDC recommends losing no more than 1-2 pounds a week to increase the likelihood of keeping weight off. That’s smart manipulation of a wellness variable!

2. Specific Food Selections

We’ve all heard that “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie.” If you’re strictly interpreting the energy balance equation, yes, then energy is energy. BUT what we ingest causes domino effects of all kinds that can make or break quality of life. We all know that some foods, like those containing certain vitamins and antioxidants, lower disease risk, and some foods, like those high in sugar, put a person in jeopardy of developing obesity, diabetes, and a slew of other conditions that lower life expectancy. Some foods trigger cravings to overeat and some foods satiate our appetites. Some foods (such as those higher in fiber) even cause the body to burn slightly more calories during digestion. Some foods make us sluggish, and others renew us. Fine tuning the food we eat, if we're blessed to have the income and access to make wide choices, represents an enormous factor within our control.

3. Sleep

Before I read & read about lots of sleep research (which I admit I did a few years ago in large part thanks to my own chronic deprivation & desperate search for relief), I believed sleep lay way beyond my skimpy powers. A restful, solid night felt like hitting a small lottery. Feel the same? You’re so not alone. Life factors—including age, stress, habits, and medications, not to mention a crying baby or snoring spouse, can definitely impede sleep. Thank goodness there exists a whole prescription of proven “sleep hygiene” methods that can help us rack up more rest. From waking up daily at the same time (without fail) to resisting the urge to nap, we can shift behaviors and promote sleep. Personally, regular meditation and wearing a lovely sleep mask turned put to be my miraculous keys. Don’t get me wrong—It wasn’t easy, and there are still some rough weeks! But I’m definitely sleeping more than I was. To ferret out what you can change, check out my recent post, "Seeking Sleep? 10 Do's & Don'ts," as well as these recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation. Without sleep, we CANNOT physically change for the better.

4. Imposing Demands on the Body

A basic premise of fitness, this one sounds intimidating, but it basically means, when you work out, you should push your effort just a bit beyond what you thought you could do. If you can chat during your walk as if you’re lying beside the pool (okay, I’m daydreaming again), then take it up to slight huff-and-puff between sentences. If you get to rep 15 with a dumbbell and you could go to 20, grab the next heavier weight. Only when we challenge them do our bodies change for the better—processing oxygen more efficiently, fighting illness, retaining bone density, gaining muscle, losing fat, and all that other amazing stuff. Remember this when you're working out & feeling like it makes no difference: It WILL if you make it.

5. Frequency of Activity

Another type of “demand on the body” involves how OFTEN we move it. Working out one day a week won’t trigger much change. That’s why the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend we do cardio most days of the week (for at least 30 minutes) and strength train at least twice a week. These guidelines also now say—JUST MOVE! Actually, they suggest, “Any activity is better than no activity.” Same idea, right? Again, this variable sits entirely within our control. So, if you’re currently doing almost no activity, you can easily adjust the guidelines to, say, three cardio bouts and one strength training session a week. In fact, we trainers highly encourage this approach to allow the body to adjust to your new expectations.

So, what jumps out to you? Anything you might refine in your wellness routine? For most of us, it’s an ongoing, shifting project. I fully support you in yours.


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