Aerobic fitness is your best health predictor. Should it be the focus of your time investment?

Aerobic fitness is your best health predictor. Should it be the focus of your time investment?

What would you say if I told you that there’s a health component that is more important for healthy ageing than the COMBINED effects of smoking, obesity, and  diabetes?? Yet, the average GP is unlikely to mention this to you, much less actually test it. Could they be missing one of the most important assessments they should be taking at your check up? and consequently, not giving you some of the best health advice you could be getting?? Ok, enough with the cryptic questions. This is going to be a short but powerful article, because I know you don’t have time to waste. The answer to these questions is aerobic fitness. That’s right, your aerobic fitness is your best health predictor and effector. Not sure how, or if, you should tackle this? Read on!

Aerobic Fitness is your best health predictor

The graph below shows the highly significant effect that cardio-respiratory fitness (CRF, or aerobic fitness) has on premature death, particularly with its effect compared to other more commonly discussed health issues. I am truly baffled that while this SHOULD be common knowledge to health and medical professionals, they rarely apply it as part of their assessment or targeted treatment!

Aerobic fitness is your best health predictor

Attributable fractions (%) for all cause deaths in over 53000 participants in the Aerobics Centre Longitudinal Study. This is an estimate of the number of deaths in a population that would have been avoided if a specific risk factor had been absent. That is, if all smokers were non-smokers or all inactive persons were
getting 30 minutes of walking on at least 5 days of the week.

Effect of increasing fitness

Sure, you have been advised by your health professional that you should introduce Meditation Training in your life… that you should get out for a walk or two during the week. The graph below shows us two critical things about this advice. First is the obvious difference in protective effect of general physical activity vs fitness. You are busy, and ‘exercise time’ is hard to schedule, so the last thing we want is for you to not get the best possible return on your time investment! This data show the multiplied protective effect that increasing your fitness has on your health compared to just ‘being active’. While your low level general incidental activity is important, having a focused and safe approach to improving your fitness will reap huge returns on your investment.

Second, if you don’t know where to start, this data show that just getting underway will give you great returns. In fact, as the graph shows, even if you shift the needle from being very inactive or unfit, to being just in the lowest quarter of either ‘active’ or ‘fit people’ you achieve the greatest return on your investment! For example if you are in the lowest 10% of either ‘active’ or ‘fit’ people, you get very little protective effect; but if you move to the 25th percentile in activity levels, you get about a 10% protective effect, but a whopping 40% protective effect for being in the 25th percentile in FITNESS levels!!

Aerobic fitness is your best health predictor

Estimated relative risk of cardiovascular disease by fitness and physical activity.
Williams, PT (2001) MSSE 33:754-761.

Let me summarise the point I’m trying to  make: While being generally active (such as going for regular easy walks, etc) is good for your health, spending time getting FITTER will give you multiplied returns, in body composition, general capacity, and primarily in health, so you can get the most out of life for as long as possible! So if you are short on time, and have high expectations on your investments, then this makes a lot of sense. NOW, if you are concerned about increasing the intensity of your exercise due to health issues, or risk of injury, please get in touch with us. We have proven systems to improve your fitness in a safe and progressive manner.

I’d like to thank Associate Professor Lance Dalleck from Western State Colorado university for presenting to the iNform team and sharing his expertise on this topic.

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A 4-Step process to maintain behaviour change when you don’t feel like it!

A 4-Step process to maintain behaviour change when you don’t feel like it!

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

  1. 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!
  2. 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. 
  3. 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!
  4. 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!

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Exercise in Green spaces for your Health. Explore and go a little wild!

Exercise in Green spaces for your Health. Explore and go a little wild!

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!

Do New Year’s Resolutions fail because they don’t have real value?

Do New Year’s Resolutions fail because they don’t have real value?

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!!

Determined to make healthy choices? Resist pressures around you!

Determined to make healthy choices? Resist pressures around you!

How is this week going for you? I hope you’ve had a great Christmas, and that you are excited for the year ahead! For many of us this time of year also presents an interesting struggle, as we start to think about the things we would like to do differently next year, while indulging in behaviours that may be in contradiction to those goals?! In the following few paragraphs I’d  like to provide you with a few insights that will help you make healthy choices despite the environment and society around you making it difficult to do so!

In my last blog we focused on a process to help you identify the right MOTIVATION and reason for change. After all, I’m sure that everyone reading this blog has a very good idea of what we should eat, what we should (or shouldn’t) drink, what’s good for us, what’s bad for us, what to avoid, etc. Yet, this knowledge alone is clearly not enough to help us  and empower us to make better choices. So the very first thing we should aim to do, is to spend time working out what we want and why we want it. So if you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to read that blog and spend some time answering the questions it poses.  The answers you come up with, and the concepts below will assist you to make healthy choices based on current knowledge, but that work for YOU.

Once you have decided what it is you want to achieve and why, and have also identified your main barriers, you will have completed the most important part of the journey! Now  we will explore some strong external forces that are likely to be working against you. Understand these will help you not be influenced by them!

Are your behaviours  being ‘nudged’ away from your ideal healthy choices?

The concept of a ‘nudge‘, from Nudge Theory, refers to any aspect of ‘choice architecture’ (the way in which choices can be presented to consumers to impact choice) that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without actually forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. This concept is so powerful, that it won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2017. It suggests that we are influenced by the choices given to us, even if they are subtle and we have the ability to chose an alternative.

For example, when you go and get your lunch, what do you see first? Do you see the salad or do you see the chips? That will very strongly influence what you end up eating. This is not always a ‘Machiavellian’ design, as we might say is the placing of lollies and chocolates at a supermarket checkout to tempt our kids while we are waiting to be served! Sometimes they are basic business choices, with good intentions at heart made by commercial inertia. An example of this may be the local café, which understands you are busy and have a short lunch break, so they place the ready made rolls in the most visible spot as you enter the shop…

How can we avoid this social engineering so you can make healthy choices?

One of the strategies we suggest in this scenario, is for you to decide what you are going to have before you get there! Don’t wait to be in the café to make a choice… the options to tempt you are too powerful!!
You should know what your next meal is, and where it’s going to come from… otherwise you risk being dictated to by external factors.

Is your social circle subtly influencing your choices?

Social norms are one of the very powerful forces in behaviour. We are influenced by what other people are doing. Not what we are told we are supposed to do – If everybody else is eating more or eating a certain kind of food, we will eat more of it, right?

If your friends are active, you are more likely to want to join them on that Mt Lofty hike. On the flip side, if they are all starting to put on weight, you are more likely to as well! Our social circles, our community, have a ‘recalibrating’ effect on our understanding of what is normal or not, hence having a very powerful influence on our behaviour.

It’s not easy to swim against the flow. The currents set by our environment (shops, etc.) and by our social networks are strong. But our success depends on it! We are here to help, and hopefully this piece has shone the light on a couple of areas that were lurking in the dark.

Here’s to a successful, fun, healthy and fulfilling 2018! Happy new Years!!