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  • Writer's pictureJackie

Doing Something is Better than Nothing

It's been a while since I first perused the changes to the most recent Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (revised in 2018), but one phrase still pops out every time I refer to them: “Some physical activity is better than none.” Back then, my eyes popped out, too, because while this edition contained the previous specific recommendations on the time & intensity needed to reap the benefits of exercise, it also surprisingly seemed to “meet people where they're at.” What a breath of fresh air! In my own health efforts and in working with clients, I've come to adopt this phrase as a mantra—related to ALL aspect of wellness. Doing something is better than doing nothing when it comes to cultivating wellbeing.

It's a tough reality: There's no magic pill or regimen that will instantly and permanently change our health & fitness levels. Making lasting change means making baby steps that layer over time into a longer, sustained journey. While we can't control every single aspect of health, we CAN make little choices throughout the day. Those little choices steer the course of the larger journey, for better or worse. (In fact,according to the World Health Organization, 60% of related factors to individual health and quality of life are correlated to lifestyle.) The guidelines suggest that, faced with whether or not to take our daily walk, accruing some steps is better than skipping the walk altogether, even when we don't think we have the time, energy, etc to meet our goal that day. Again, something is way better than nothing, and this is true in many facets of wellness.

Simple Examples, Substantial Benefits

I could probably apply this idea to a hundred examples in the typical daily wellness routine, but I'll spare you! Instead, just think about these five simple instances that would positively impact health:

  • There's no time to meal prep for the week, but taking 15 minutes to chop & bag fresh fruits & veggies will boost the nutrition of snacks for days.

  • You know you need to go to bed an hour earlier. Shifting bedtime just five minutes each week will eventually add up to an hour, bestowing the invaluable health benefits of regular, adequate of sleep.

  • For some reason, we all seem to think we need to meditate for an hour a day for it to be “legit,” but proven health benefits arise from practicing just 10-15 minutes a day.

  • One glass of water is a step toward eight or so per day, while zero is not. (Go ahead. Call me Mrs. Obvious.)

  • Doing one set of strength training exercises (versus the recommended 2-3) will keep your habit going and keep your body in a groove, making it easier to jump back into the additional sets next time.

The concept is so basic, it may seem laughable. The truth is that, while we often know the obvious simple step to take in the moment, we just don't. Why not ask, on those sludgy days, What small thing could I do that would be better than doing nothing at all?

Won't This Just Let Us “Off the Hook?”

In a culture that seems to value a punishing, hard driving approach to health & fitness, “doing something rather than nothing” can sound like the under achiever's motto. It can be, if we hide behind always fulfilling only the least common denominator. In that case, we might quite honestly not be ready to change or in a stage of life that allows us to change (said with NO judgement). In general, permitting ourselves to do “something rather than nothing” frees us up: on especially challenging days; or to take a simpler step when a larger goal feels overwhelming; or to just step back, breathe, and be present in a day sans fitness goals.

It is not cheating or letting ourselves off the hook when we build some flexibility and space into our routines. In fact, many, many “hard chargers” burn out. (The entire diet and fitness industry bets on this. When people regain weight or lose muscle, many return to hardcore commercial diet & exercise plans.) Wellness is actually larger than just a journey. It's a lifelong pilgrimage, each day putting one foot in front of the other.

So, any time we think we should just give up—for the day, or the month, or until XYZ happens—we can always just do SOMETHING. It never adds up to nothing.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio


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