Power Tools for Your Health
Geoff Starling CSCS

Turning over to a new year brings with it the offer of new possibilities. It serves up an opportunity to reflect on your accomplishments from the previous 12 months and to take stock of the lessons you learned making some mistakes along the way.

Clear a few minutes to sit down with yourself from this time last year and have a conversation about the ups and downs you’ve experienced. What goals did you set for yourself and what kind of progress did you make with them? What challenges did you face and how did you approach them? What were the highlights that got you through the low times? Now transpose yourself 12 months into the future and have this same conversation. What are you most proud of? What did you accomplish and how? What did you struggle with and who was there to help you through it?

These conversations serve as a powerful tool for establishing your motivation for putting in the hard work required to make changes to your health. And having the right tools is always key to getting the job done right. Here are the 5 most effective tools that you can start using today to ensure the conversation you have with yourself a year from now is a positive one.

Tool #1: Start a food journal

No matter which way you slice it (yuk), improving your health really does start in the kitchen. Do away with scales and calorie counting and instead pick up a pen and paper and begin recording everything that passes through your gums on a given day (yes, this includes beer, wine, coffee, and cigarettes). 10 days of this should provide a snapshot of the choices you make - and those that may be made for you - over a typical night in, night out or work trip. The simple act of noting your inputs often leads to better decision making purely by the fact that you’re writing it down - in the same way that if you made like a lawyer and tracked your time in 5min increments you would likely tighten up your habits around social media and Poker Stars.

Tool #2: Go to bed at the same time every night

Forging a regular sleep pattern is challenging but delivers a mountain of benefits including improved decision-making and cognitive function, decreased irritability and lower risk of developing depression. If you’re a parent then you will have all-too-intimate experience in each of these. The myth of the ‘CEO sleep cycle’ i.e. 4-5 hours starting somewhere around midnight is well and truly busted. Arianna Huffington has channelled her post HuffPo energy into promoting this importance of sleep (see The Sleep Revolution) after she fainted from chronic sleep deprivation. You can address this starting today by heading to bed as close to 8 hours before your alarm as possible and leaving all of your devices charging in another room. It’s ok, they’ll still be there in the morning.

Tool #3: Spend 5 minutes a day breathing

Almost every top decision-maker in the world practices some form of meditation whether they consider it that or not. Taking 5 minutes out of your day to focus on your breath and be alone with your thoughts can lead to higher productivity and creativity with almost immediate effect. Examples range from traditional ‘Zen’ style meditation like sitting in a quiet space and counting backward from 10 and ‘Mantra’ based practices like Transcendental Meditation (TM) where a specific word or phrase is repeated over and over, to ‘Active’ meditation where a focus on the self is incorporated into a physical activity like running or stretching. Need help getting into the zone, try an app like Headspace or Calm which offer guided meditations to lead you through the process and give you something to focus on other than your kids or email.

Tool #4: Move your body with purpose for a few minutes every day

We all know that we should move more but that’s a very broad prescription with far too many variables. If it was that simple we’d all be doing it, right?! Exercise is like meditation in that it doesn’t have to be complicated, it just has to be purposeful. Decide to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Choose to wake up 10 minutes early to stretch before the day gets underway. Opt-in to a class or activity at the gym that you’ve been curious to try out. You could even combine Tool #3 and pay specific attention to your breath as you count your steps or chant your mantra to yourself as you navigate the +15. Whichever option you choose, if it gets you moving more than you were yesterday then it's the right one. 

Tool #5: Pick up something heavy. Put it down. Repeat

The benefits of resistance training are so long that it hardly seems fair to confine them to one paragraph. Improved circulation, reduced risk of injury, greater bone density and heightened metabolism are just a few. And when it comes down to it, every exercise in every program and muscle magazine ever written is some variation of a squat, bench press or deadlift (add push press and pull up to really round it out). If you can master each of these movements then you can follow pretty much any workout routine on the planet. Plus you’ll improve your ability to perform the bulk of the daily demands on your body. As a powerlifter I may be a little biased towards this one but believe me I use all 5 of these tools on a daily basis and most weeks this is the one that really gets me through.

As with any good toolbox, you don’t buy it pre filled but build it up over time. Pick one of these up and test it out for a few days. If it’s the correct tool for the job then add it to your kit; if not then return it to the shelf and grab the next one. Making positive changes to your health takes time so allow yourself the opportunity to try each of these on and discover the optimal combination for you.

Geoff is a father of two busy kids under six. He is a writer, speaker and fitness professional living in Calgary, Canada.