Creating sustainable behaviour change is hard. No question about it. But it can be done. If you commit to it. And I’d like to take you through a process you can follow to maintain behaviour change when you don’t feel like it!
I’d like to share with you an example of how a morning last week played out for me, when I REALLY didn’t feel like getting out to exercise. In fact, I had a bike ride planned, which I love doing by the way. But this morning in question I didn’t really feel like going for a ride… I was quite stuffed to be honest. So here is how I got over my slump:
Your 4-steps to maintain behaviour change
- I first allowed myself to reach a compromise. I would go out if I ‘allowed’ myself to go for a short ride, and at an easy pace. I’m a bit competitive, even with myself, and I know that most rides I push hard, just to beat previous efforts, and today I just didn’t have it in me! But this wasn’t enough… I was still trying to talk myself out of it!
- I then focused on the positives of the ride instead of how I was feeling; such as the sense of accomplishment I would have when back home; how much I enjoy flying down hills; how good it feels to get to the summit of a climb; and the time I would have with my own thoughts.
- Now, all these positives had to be established previously in my head, so that my brain would actually look forward to them, tipping the balance in their favour, rather than the present feeling of fatigue. In a previous blog I actually outline a process to establish a positive feeling in your brain to reinforce positive behaviours. It’s all about celebrating well earned victories, as we are subconsciously driven towards ‘rewards’ for behaviours… but have a read of that blog and try out the process for your self, in a context that applies to you at the moment. If you would like a bit of guidance, let me know by posting a comment below!
- I always leave my gear ready the night before as you can see in the featured image above. This just removes one more barrier (or excuse!). It also pretty loudly tells my family that I’m heading out for a ride, so it helps to keep me accountable externally as well. It’s a bit of a ‘walk-of-shame’ to put the bike away in the garage without having ridden it!
And here I am on the other side. Feeling great that I got out for that little spin. With one more little victory in my back pocket, that will in itself, be one of the motivations that will help me get out again when the clouds are dark…
Let me encourage you to try the process above, applied to suit your context, and I assure you that it will help you maintain behaviour change when it seems like the last thing you want to do! Please let me know how you go!
About the Author
What do exercise and a diet high in fibre have in common? We’ve known for some time now that both of these are good for our gut health and decrease our risk of colon cancer. However, it seems as though there may something extra that fibre and exercise have in common, and it comes as a fatty acid called butyrate. This link between exercise, fibre and gut health will be explored, and you’ll see that the effects travel as far as the brain.
What actually is butyrate and what does it do?
Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid produced by our gut bacteria as they break down foods that are high in fibre. Resistant starches are a type of fibre, that are some of the best fuels for these butyrate producing bacteria (Bourassa 2016). These starches come in foods such as legumes, oats and starches that are cooked and cooled like potato and rice salads.
Now butyrate is an important fuel for the cells of our colon. In fact it supplies up to 70% of their energy (Bourassa 2016). Keeping your colon cells healthy is thought to be one of the reasons why higher butyrate levels decrease your risk of colon cancer by 50% (Matsumoto et al, 2008).
However, the benefits of butyrate go well beyond reducing our risk of colon cancer. This is because healthier gut membranes improve their integrity (how closely they bond together) allowing them to act as a better barrier, which has flow on effects to improving our immunity and reducing inflammation (Ji Wang et al, 2018).
What’s the evidence on exercise and gut health?
Most of the interest on the effect of exercise on butyrate levels started back in 2008. Matsumoto and colleagues showed that butyrate levels, and the bacteria that produce butyrate, were higher in rats that exercised versus a sedentary control.
In 2014 a group of Irish researchers found that professional rugby players had a greater diversity of gut microbiota than a group of sedentary controls (Clarke et al, 2014). However a signifiant limitation in this study was that professional athletes eat very differently than the general population. And these results could possibly be related to their diet and not their activity.
We had to wait until late last year when a group from the University of Illinois designed a study that looked at the impact of aerobic exercise on butyrate. Previously sedentary individuals were asked to exercise three times a week for a 6 week period (Allen et al 2017). What they found was that there is a link between butyrate, exercise, and gut health in humans.
Much like the rodent study back in 2008 they found that aerobic exercise increases the levels of butyrate along with the colonies of bacteria that produce butyrate. Interestingly this effect was most pronounced in lean subjects. The overweight group did still increase the colonies of the butyrate producing bacteria (not to the extent of the lean group) but they didn’t see an increase in butyrate levels in their stools.
Exercise and gut health can also improve your brain!
Now here is where it really gets interesting. The term “your gut is your second brain” has been well used over the last decade. This has been used to explain that the enteric nervous system of the gut is not only quite complex, but it also has the capacity to signal the brain via many neurotransmitters.
We know that butyrate can cross the blood brain barrier and it is well known to suppress HDAC (Histone deacetylase; Bourassa 2016). Now HDAC inhibitors will increase the expression of BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor) in the brain. This is important for memory and learning as BDNF is like fertiliser for the brain. It helps your brain cells grow in number and connections!
So where’s the research at?
An interesting experiment, albeit in mice, was published back in 2013 where mice were given an object recognition memory task that is usually not enough to form in either their short or long term memory (Intlekofer et al, 2013). They had a sedentary group and a group that was exercising 3 weeks before the task. They also had a sedentary and exercising group that was injected with butyrate.
The non-butyrate injected sedentary mice could not successfully remember the task 24 hours post initial exposure However, both the sedentary/butyrate injected group and the exercise group could. And when it came to remembering the task 7 days after the initial exposure, it was only the butyrate group that could.
It is important to know that the exercise group only did so for the 3 weeks leading up to the task, and not during the 7 days after the task. This highlights that to get the improved learning outcome, continual exercise exposure is needed.
This mechanism of increased BDNF release via butyrate is probably why we see that children who are fed a high fibre diet perform better in cognitive tasks than those on a low fibre diet (Bourassa 2016). And it could also be the reason why it shows promise in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases (Bourassa 2016).
We also know that aerobic exercise has an effect on increasing BDNF levels, and this may be why individuals have a 20% improvement in learning tasks (Winter et al, 2007). So it makes sense to eat a high fibre diet and exercise at the same time right?
Take home points about exercise and gut health:
- It appears as though aerobic exercise continues to benefit our health in many different ways, and improving our gut health is another reason to be active. Aerobic exercise of around 30 to 60 minutes a few times a week can give you this benefit to your gut.
- Improve the diversity of your microbiota through eating foods that are high in butyrate producing fibre such as legumes, oats and potato salads.
- Combine this with regular exercise to improve the butyrate production of your gut as this have effects that travel to your brain.
- And while there is still much more research to be done, it seems to indicate that by doing this you are improving your capacity to learn and remember things, along with decreasing your risk of developing neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
About the Author
On the back of Jacinta’s recent great blog on developing a Blue Mind by being around water, I want to take you from Blue Spaces to Green Spaces. As much as I love the ocean, the hills is where I find my happy place, and the benefits of exercise in green spaces for your health – both physical and mental, are indisputable. How lucky are we in Adelaide to have both the ocean and the hills so easily accessible! So whichever you chose, the benefits you will get from each are very transferable!
Is it about scarcity and a drive to be wild??
I’m sure I don’t have to go to great lengths to try to convince you that when we are out in nature we feel good, right? The fresh air, the sound of birds, the smells of leaves and earth… the breeze blowing through the trees and on to our skin… the warmth of the sun, or the refreshing rain! Perhaps a big driver for the pleasure we get from these experiences is because they are becoming so rare?! We are busy right? Stuck indoors for most of our daily activities. Getting out to explore takes a commitment, plus at least some planning, which can start to make it all a bit too hard. In addition, the amount of green space is decreasing, even in Adelaide, with ongoing housing and infrastructure developments.
Another great driving force for our attraction to green spaces is that interacting with nature is programmed deep into our DNA… don’t you think? Not that long ago (relatively) our survival depended on our exploration and interaction with nature. We are hormonally primed (via dopamine) to be explorers. Dopamine encourages us to explore our surrounding ‘wilderness’, and it triggers our brains’ rewards-centres when that exploration is successful: In the past that may have included finding food or shelter, but now, it may be as simple as when you hike over a crest and are rewarded with an amazing view…
Cycling through the Adelaide Hills, seeking out prey?!
We could be discussing golf, hiking, trail running, mountain biking, or any other nature based sport. In my case, I love to cycle through the Adelaide hills. It really is my happy place; my time-out; my opportunity to de-stress; where most of my creativity comes from. And there’s certainly something about that hunter-gatherer deep within that is awakened when I spot a cyclist a few hundred metres ahead of me…! If you ride you will know what I mean! Almost sub-consciously the pace picks up to see if I can chase him/her down! There’s an innate drive to explore, to see what is over that next crest or bend; to ride new roads, explore new trails; to feel the exertion and satisfaction of climbing a new hill! And I can truly say that I’m a better human being for prioritising the time to have those experiences (Just ask my business partner, and my wife!)!
The benefits of exercise in green spaces for your health according to the WHO
The World Health Organization has summarised the health benefits of exercising in natural spaces covered by vegetation in a 2016 review titled “Urban Green Spaces and Health: a Review of the Evidence“:
- Reductions in depression, anxiety and stress
- Reduced cardiovascular disease
- Reduced risk of diabetes
- Better pregnancy outcomes
- Reduced early mortality
- Increased happiness
So whether you are seeking the direct health benefits outlined above, or perhaps a greater balance in your week-to-week activities, can I encourage you to take advantage of the amazing green (and blue!) spaces that Adelaide provides us within a thirty-minute drive?!
And if you feel you need help developing your strength to tackle some new ‘nature’ challenges we are here to help!
Blue Mind: A mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peace, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.
We can all agree that modern life is tough. We experience chronic stress, struggle with constant monkey mind and are probably all too familiar with directed attention fatigue. We live a lifestyle where we are “always on”, and this can eventually result in burn out, memory problems, poor judgement, anxiety, and depression. Physically, chronic stress damages the cardiovascular, immune, digestive, nervous and musculoskeletal systems. It does this by lowering levels of serotonin and dopamine (our neurotransmitters responsible for making us happy) and leaves us feeling exhausted and down. And yet, the knowledge that our lifestyles have some room for improvement is just another source of stress! “Red Mind” is a term coined by neuroscientist Catherine Franssen, and is described as an “edgy high, characterized by stress, anxiety, fear and maybe even a little bit of anger and despair”. Whilst Red Mind can have its perks and be healthy at times, like everything, it should be experienced in moderation. This blog will show you how exercise in water can provide a much needed balance to “red mind” for your mental health!
Our brains are wired to constantly scan for danger, which makes sense historically. But now we’re faced with busy streets and email alerts, not lions.
Our brains like being around water because there is a high degree of predictability. This allows the amygdala (an emotions centre of the brain) to relax. However, small disturbances such as waves breaking or birds flying past give enough sense of surprise that we receive a pleasurable hit of dopamine. Because of this simultaneous sameness and change, we get a soothing familiarity and stimulating novelty when we look over the water. It’s the perfect recipe for triggering a state of involuntary attention in which the brain’s default network, essential to creativity and problem solving, is activated.
Studies have even shown that being at the beach, where there is an abundance of negatively charged ions in the atmosphere, lowers blood lactate levels and elevates mood.
Blue looks good on you
‘So how do I access my Blue Mind?’ I hear you ask. There is a very fitting quote from poet Sylvia Plath; “There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them”.
It seems way too simple, but by simply being around, in, on or under water – we trigger our Blue Mind.
There are now studies that show being immersed in water reduces stress, partly by balancing the flux between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Or that taking a spa bath can significantly lower your salivary cortisol levels. Feeling anxious? Taking a hot 5-minute shower can measurably lower anxiety levels.
So… I can just drink mimosas next to the pool?
Technically yes. But! There’s an extra level of Zen that water can offer you. And the answer has something to do with Exercise.
We’re well aware of the wonderful things exercise does to our brain on a neuro-chemical level, like release endorphins and endocannabinoids (the brain’s natural cannabis-like substances), which reduce the brain’s response to stress and anxiety.
The feel-good effects of swimming have actually been assimilated to the “relaxation response” triggered by yoga. When we swim, our muscles are constantly stretching and relaxing, and this movement is accompanied by deep, rhythmic breathing. All of which put us in a quasi-meditative state. On top of this we have to use a level of cognitive effort to learn and coordinate swimming strokes. This cognitive and aerobic combination can provide the brain with the satisfying stress-reducing feeling of “flow”.
Meet the power couple – Exercise in water for mental health
So when you feel yourself getting stressed, tense and a bit tightly wound why not utilise the powerful effects of exercise AND water?
So why not go for a run along the beach each week? Or go for a swim at your local pool? You could even learn to surf with the kids next weekend? Or how about simply going fishing? Perhaps paddle-boarding is more your style?
It’s that time of year. Many resolutions have been made, and unfortunately, but not surprisingly, most of them have already been broken. How are yours fairing? One of the key reasons why our resolutions fail is because we haven’t given them enough true value. If you really valued them, you would commit to them right? In fact, they wouldn’t even be New Year resolutions, because you would probably already be doing them!! This piece will highlight what tends to go wrong, how you can increase the real value of your New Year’s Resolutions to ensure they become a reality in 2018.
It’s a question of pleasure vs pain!
There are two types of New Year’s Resolutions: Those that focus on achieving an idealistic and perfect picture of the future; or those focused on improving something
Psychologists have been telling us for a long time that two strong forces motivate action: The achievement of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. From a survival perspective we are much more strongly motivated to avoid negative events and experiences, over the achievement of positive ones.
Can you guess which group most resolutions fall into? That’s right, the aspirational hopeful group (!), such as deciding that 2018 will be the year you become a better looking, thinner, richer, French speaking, instrument playing version of your current self!
These type of resolutions are less likely to be accomplished, because there’s less pain associated with NOT achieving them! And quite likely some short term pain and discomfort in trying to accomplish them!
To increase the chance of a New Year Resolution succeeding, I would recommend you start by focusing on something you want to change, something that you are currently unhappy with, something that creates some ‘pain’ (not necessarily the physical injury type of pain) just due to its existence; rather than an aspirational picture of the future.
Not only does a resolution need to be truly motivating for it to have a chance of being achieved, but it should also be sustainable … and beyond the month of January! A key way to ensure the sustainability of your new behaviour is to adopt it as a way of life. Which means we need to frame the goal in a context and language that implies long term change:
Telic and atelic activities and goals.
We could define our resolutions by terms used by the philosopher Kieran Setiya, explains that many of our activities are either telic or atelic, where almost anything we call a ‘project’ will be telic: such as buying a house, starting a family, earning a promotion, getting a job. These are all things one can finish or complete.
In contrast, atelic activities do not aim at a point of termination or completion: a final state in which they have been achieved and there is nothing more to do. For instance … you can go for a walk with no particular destination. Going for a walk is an ‘atelic’ activity. Further, aiming to run a marathon is a telic goal, while running because one enjoys the benefits of it is atelic.
Setiya proposes that if a goal gives purpose to our life, then when we complete it, that purpose disappears, and so, in “pursuing a goal, you are trying to exhaust your interaction with something good, as if you were trying to make friends for the sake of saying goodbye” (philosophers have a great way to portray concepts, don’t they?!)
Process for increasing the value of your New Year’s Resolutions
To ensure you succeed in sticking to, and benefiting from your resolutions, I would encourage you to focus on three key points. Firstly, focus on something that is relevant to you now that you are not happy with and you want to change. Then frame it in a way that ensures sustainability, so that it can become a lifestyle change. Turn the more common telic type goals such as “I want to lose 5kgs” or “I want to be able to run 5km” or ” I want to get rid of my low back pain”, to more atelic, lifestyle behaviours such as “I want to eat foods that are healthier for me…”, “I want to run often because….” or “I will identify and modify the daily things that are affecting my back pain”.
Following is a practical process to help you along: of primary and most significant importance, is the choice you will need to make. Because at the end of the day, it will be you who will need to implement change; and that will be so much easier once you are convicted that it’s because you TRULY want to change.
So, I’d encourage you to ask yourself the following questions, which I have modified from an earlier blog:
- What is the main thing that you are not happy with and you want to change?
- How good will it actually feel if you achieve that goal, and why?
- What are behaviours that you feel put you at greatest risk of not achieving that goal? (such as eating too often/too much, etc)
- How good do those behaviours ACTUALLY feel when we do them? Have you experienced that sometimes the ‘idea’ of those behaviours is actually more powerful than the behaviour itself… for example, if drinking a lovely wine and eating cheese was actually SO good, you would be doing it all the time right? But you don’t, you can actually put those behaviours aside… see where this is heading?
- I hope this next question doesn’t sound patronising, as I certainly don’t mean it to be so…. Can you have a good time without overdoing your particular behaviours in question?
- How much better will you feel when you get home from that party and you succeeded in not overconsuming??!
- Does that feeling of victory and control outweigh the short lived feeling had you eaten/drank more than you wanted… How nice to not have to regret anything, right?!
The third key point is support. While it is you who will need to make the changes, having the right team around you, at least at the beginning, while change is harder to implement, will go a long way towards increasing the value of your new year’s resolutions. Please remember that we are here to help. And a practical way we can do that is via our “Draw a Line in The Sand” campaign, which is designed to closely support you and equip you to create change, and which we have extended until the end of January.
Here’s to a great 2018!!
I’m not surprised you may not have enough time to exercise, or to look after yourself. It is very clear that our society has it’s reward system back to front; despite the evident negative outcomes such as lack of energy and stiff bodies. I’d like to take this opportunity to boldly share with you our mission at iNform to push back against this tide and urge society to start rewarding differently, more smartly. We will be fighting the status quo for your health!
Invest a small amount in exercise and be rewarded with productivity
The research is very clear that when we invest a small amount of time out of the day for some brisk exercise, we get paid back in stamina and the ability to do more. Yet, our society does not reward this “timeout”. In executive circles, constant pressure to perform, whispers are hard to ignore that time spent at the gym or working-out is a waste of productive time. We have all bought this lie.
So, here’s a simple challenge that will pay you a solid dividend. Find 20 minutes before you leave for work in the morning, or build a half hour break time into your day, treat it as Stephen Covey’s Urgent And Important task, and get in a walk or a run or a cycle or climbing of stairs. Leave a few minutes for a shower if you have one at the office. Start this without telling the world about it. Let them see you start.
And here is what you’ll notice:
People will ask what you are doing and why. This will give you the chance to let them know that you are re-engineering the way our society rewards our behaviours.
You are doing this because everyone around you and the Australian economy, will stand to benefit from a fitter population (and workforce) with sharper thoughts and better stamina.
It all starts by finding any means possible for turning our backs on old habits and putting our backs into smarter efforts that will yield a bigger prize that we’ll all be around longer to enjoy.
Why should we reward ourselves?
Smarter rewards systems are needed in family time too! In the early decades of preparing for and then building a family, where do most of us place our health in the order of tasks and priorities? Nowadays, the ever-growing list of demands means that many women and men who run households and families, put others before themselves at a great and hidden cost.
The cost is all those moments when exhaustion has robbed us of exercise or tight finances have robbed us of health options like exercise physiologists or gym memberships.
There is just not enough time to go around and people with strong parental instincts yield to our inbuilt reward system of giving us an endorphin rush when we sacrifice ourselves for our loved ones. However, that healthy reward system evolved during a time of unavoidable physical labour.
So, we have a battle ahead, but evidence-based approaches to short, structured fitness plans like we provide at iNform Health and Fitness Solutions can give back to your body the strength and capacity it was always destined to have.
Yes, clocks can be turned back, despite all the momentum that tries to pull us away from taking personal time out to invest in our health. So come and join us in fighting the status quo for your health!