It’s 2021, the age of information. Everything you need to know is only a click, swipe, or scroll away. But that's not always a good thing, especially when it comes to the health and wellness space. Whether you have guidance from a trained professional or are choosing to navigate independently, the wealth of information available is confusing and can sometimes seem contradicting. The simplicity of small-scale lifestyle modifications that establish longevity and positive results is often overshadowed by the new 5-minute abs, diet trend, or pursuit of a quick fix. What we must then ask is, “Is this sustainable?”
In my practice I strive to improve human function through all types of movement, leading my clients to appreciate physical activity and its proper role in their daily lives. The goal is to establish new habits and convert them into an improved lifestyle that includes physical activity as a foundational element… Easier said than done right? Infrequent but not uncommon though, do clients return for the same issues I have already treated. The return conversation usually lays out a foundation of brief consistency with a structured exercise program that effectively manages their symptoms, followed by a gradual tapering off, back to their original levels. The expectation is that the improvement will last without consideration for maintaining the progress achieved in physical therapy. Experiencing this a few times early in my career pushed me to reflect on a missing piece in their care.
This principle applies to many seeking changes in their physical well-being through the development of a wellness program. Physical therapy is a means to an end, a way to reach physical goals structured by gradual lifestyle modifications that build a higher level of function. Such changes promote overall longevity, improved quality of life, and a direction of maximized human performance. The problem almost always lies in their transition to independence and the details of such program -- an issue of sustainability.
My first goal is to establish an understanding that something must change. It starts with small habits and slowly builds. Everyone is advertising “the solution”, but what is “right for you?” It’s important to be confident in your actions, but how? Here are a few tips that I share with all my clients to win over and establish sustainability in their programming.
1. You are the only you. What works for me may or may not work for you. If you’re speaking to a healthcare provider and they are preaching a “my way or the highway” message, that should be a red flag - proceed with caution. Every interaction with a professional is a great opportunity to learn, however do not blindly assume that that information contains the best strategies for you. Listen, learn, and apply direction to discover your winning recipe. Maybe you prefer HIIT over strength training, or maybe your body is telling you to stretch and recover. That's ok! It has taken me years of trial and error to understand what my body wants, and it is honestly an ever-evolving process. This shouldn’t be a discouraging realization, but is extremely important in figuring out how to achieve (and maintain) your goals.
2. Trust the process: it’s not purely linear. Much like a roller coaster, there are ups, downs, and all-arounds. Know that with time and the right mixture of interventions, progress occurs, whether visible or not. It is important not to jump ship because you haven’t seen the progress you imagined in the time you were hoping for. You never know what improvement is waiting just around the corner. Your body is constantly adapting and improving its composition, but it requires external stimuli. Noticeable strength gains can take weeks or months to achieve. Still, the evolving quality of your bones and soft tissues that occurs slowly with consistent and progressive loading on the body, is rarely considered with training.
3. Prevention, prevention, prevention. A significant shift in medicine at the moment is towards the early identification of and risk for injuries, impairments, or conditions. One of the most common statements I hear from my clients is that they wish they had begun taking care of their bodies sooner. The best time to start will always be now. Most musculoskeletal impairments that decrease the quality of life are delayed - or even entirely prevented - if addressed promptly. The specifics of the action often matter less than starting any action or making a change. Here is where habit formation can lead to the outcomes you desire. For example, developing the appreciation for a 10-minute walk to start your day can blossom into a great morning routine that just might change your life.
4. The best program is the one you’ll do… and keep doing. In the first meeting I have with every patient, I give direction on exercises or activities to complement our therapy goals. The goal of that initial home program is to establish a routine for a single gradual lifestyle modification that will, in the long term, support the progress made in therapy. Start with one (exercise, activity, workout, etc.), make it a habit, and gradually add more frequency, intensity, or volume over time. The first goal MUST be simply to form the routine, then grow to scale. For years I have watched my mother start her day at 5 a.m. with what was once with a personal trainer, became Barre classes, and is now Pilates. With all the advancements in at-home technologies and services, the opportunity to find something that's perfect for you is endless.
5. Keep it fun, ALWAYS! The clients that gain the most from the process are the ones that find ways to keep it fun. Having an energetic and stimulating therapist is part of it, for sure, but it is a two-way street. The more a therapist sees your engagement, the more willing they will be to pour it back into your care. Accountability buddies are great and with ARENA you can even share a platform in real time for an efficient partner workout. Find someone you enjoy being with and make a pact. Some of my closest bonds are with the people that I train with. Finally, don’t be afraid to try something new. I recently picked up kickboxing as a cross-training activity and am loving the process of learning something new. It is fun, stimulating, and forces my body to adapt to new movements. It's a simple fact that if you enjoy what you are doing, you are far more likely to continue. It is totally fine to step away from something that you do not enjoy. By doing that, space is made for new activities to fall into place.
If anything at all, let this be a message of encouragement. Whether you are in the middle of a program, spinning your wheels trying to find a new one, or are at the beginning of your journey, keep working at it. You will know when you have found your “recipe.” The body is fantastic when it comes to efficiency and optimization, so keep up in your pursuit. Fall in love with the process - it really should be fun.
Cody Prizer, PT DPT