Harvard’s School of Public Health (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/staying-active-full-story/) is quick to tell of all the prevention advantages of exercise. We know that getting more movement and exercise into our lives can help prevent the onset of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and osteoporosis. Exercise can be vital to positively affect the course of these illnesses once they are diagnosed as well. What is perhaps even more motivating is not just avoiding illness, but discovering how exercise can improve our mental functioning and improve the quality of our lives.
“Exercise is the single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain function” says Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey (Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain). He and fellow neuroscientists are showing us that exercise can combat the toxic effects of stress and make us more resilient. “Adding exercise to your lifestyle sparks your brain function to improve learning on three levels: First, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, mood, and motivation; Second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and Third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus.” Research is showing us that exercise can help lift depression, improve memory and mental performance, relieve insomnia, boost immunity, and even help stave off Alzheimer’s.
It’s always nice to get a bonus. An unexpected pay-off for some effort of ours puts a grin on our face and increases our chances of continuing that activity. Often we see people create a wellness plan and do their best to increase activity, improve their nutrition, etc., only to find that the changes they hoped to see are slow in coming. The person seeking weight loss may hit a plateau and the scales just stare back at them. Rather than sink into discouragement, we might ask “What else am I noticing?”
When people focus on the scales as the single indicator of success they set themselves up for some real motivational challenges. As we improve our wellness the scales will move in the right direction, but while we are getting there we need to fuel our motivation by noticing what bonus benefits we are gaining. When we take stock of our whole lives we start to realize that we may be sleeping much better, have more energy, feel less fatigued, be able to walk, hike or bike longer, or simply get up off the floor or out of a chair with greater ease.
Focusing on the benefits of exercise alone, research is showing us astonishing bonuses we didn’t even anticipate. The windfall of advantages we gain can motivate us through that weight loss effort and provide incentive to the person with a slim body type who mistakenly thinks they don’t “need” to exercise.
Diversify the exercise you do. Include flexibility, strength and endurance though a variety of activities and cash your bonus checks often!
The Coach’s Take Away
Convincing or persuading our clients to exercise is not an effective strategy in wellness programming, or especially in coaching. However, if your client is:
• Someone who is up for increasing their mental performance at work
• On the edge of readiness to begin exercising
• Someone with a slim body but unaware of the multitude of benefits exercise offers
• Someone with or without a “weight problem” but who needs the benefits of exercise to more positively affect the course of a chronic illness
• Someone you are coaching around stress, insomnia, etc.
Then sharing this kind of information may provide just the “tipping point” leverage they need to make some lifestyle improvement.
James Prochaska always says that people underestimate the benefits of change, especially exercise, and overestimate the costs. Help your client tip the scales in a healthy direction. And…don’t forget to be the sharpest coach around by taking advantage of these benefits of exercise yourself!