A pharmacist's perspective on health and metabolic disease
It’s the New Year, a time when traditionally people make resolutions about their health, often with over ambitious plans that will never succeed. What does your resolution list look like?
In reality, people quickly stop going to the gym, and get bored, disillusioned, or distracted with their other plans. Soon most people are back to where they started. This is because most people change their diet or activity levels for extrinsic reasons (reasons that are external or different to the activity). These may include getting fitter, entering a race, losing inches or kilos, or fitting back into clothes.
Intrinsic reasons to change are those coming from within and directly relate to the activity. The activity IS the reward. Eating certain foods because you truly prefer them and WANT to eat them, rather than “because they are healthy” or running (or any other sport) for the sheer love of the sport and a strong desire to be out there doing it.
Public health campaigns for health usually target extrinsic motivations. “Be there for your children” or similar in stopping smoking campaigns. “Don’t miss New Zealand’s largest fun run & walk” gets up to 75,000 people entering Round-the-Bays, one of the world’s largest fun-runs. Businesses, other corporations and community groups put teams together, individuals and families enter and it raises money for several charities. Collectively, Round-the-Bays targets many common extrinsic motivators to get people running, walking, being pushed or towed (pushchairs, wheelchairs, hospital beds….) along a beautiful 8km course. Almost anything goes (bicycles, and dogs not allowed) and the camaraderie of the event keeps people coming back.
The New Year can pull people like this. Slogans like “A New Year, A new you” abound (often from gyms). Lets encourage people, who are thinking about changing habits with potential activities – like joining the gym.
However, it can be easy to fall back into old habits, so some will argue that only intrinsic motivation, or sheer enjoyment of the activity, keeps people going with their exercise patterns.
I’m not sure about that. When I examined motivations and activity patterns for participants in a women’s entry level triathlon (300m swim, 10k cycle and 3k run/walk) both before and three months after the event, “Competition” and “Challenge” were the stand out reasons for participation and continuation in activity. Social connection was also a big motivator. Are these intrinsic motivators? And does it matter?
I know I go to the gym for extrinsic reasons – to try and stay fit and healthy enough to be able to do the things I want to do – things like tramping and skiing which I can’t do all year round. I do use a personal trainer because Nick helps to keep me motivated and challenged and I suspect I would drop out quickly otherwise!
So for those of you setting goals it doesn’t matter if your reasons are intrinsic or extrinsic, or whether you need to start with the New Year.
To maximise success, I do suggest that you set real and achievable goals, with ideally with short time-lines. This may be as simple as saying that you will switch from full sugar sodas to diet drinks, or eat more non-starchy vegetables each day. Perhaps you could use your phone to track your step count and aim for 10,000 every day.
Sometimes the small goals don’t seem like much, but when you can tick them off that sense of achievement may be the motivation for trying the next one. (e.g. diet drinks to water!) Soon you will be on your way to achieving the big goal you have in mind.
(I’m no stranger to being over-optimistic with goal setting. I thought about running a half-Marathon in July. The Engineer suggested I start with 5km first and see what I wanted to do from there. He knows me well.)
However, if now is not the right time for you and your goals, just remember:
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb