10 Ways to Focus on Health in Retirement
One of my top goals was to focus on health in retirement.
Surprisingly, retirement life was hectic at first. Eating healthy and exercising weren’t consistent. Prioritizing my health took a back seat and I fell into some of my old bad habits.
But my health still mattered to me. I was making strides in other areas of my life – spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. This seemed like the last piece of the puzzle.
I wasn’t going to give up. I was going to figure this out, find a different strategy, and take control of my health.
Surprisingly, on my journey, I discovered that focusing on my health was more about establishing good habits than a diet and exercise program. I knew how to lose weight and even wrote a book about my success in the past. This time it was more about changing my lifestyle for the long-term and adjusting my mindset.
So, what did I do?
Quit Judging Myself Harshly
Once again, I had gained weight during the move and all the stress that came before. After losing and gaining the same 10 pounds, I was frustrated and disappointed with myself. I was stuck in a loop of self-criticism. This was distracting me from moving forward.
So, I forced myself to push those self-critical thoughts to the side. Chastising myself wasn’t helping weight loss; in fact, it had the opposite effect.
“Negative self-talk can drive you to overeat as a way to calm or numb yourself,” Alexandra Jamieson explains in her article, “How Negative Self-Talk is Killing Your Health and Weight-Loss Goals” for US News. “What’s more, the physical stress created by negative thoughts can create the metabolic state that makes weight loss difficult, if not impossible.”
Yup, time to show myself some self-compassion.
In other words, quit beating myself up for setbacks. As Dr. Allison states in one of the audio coaching sessions on WW (Weight Watchers): “Setbacks happen in 100% of wellness journeys.”
This is just one moment in your journey and everyday is a new chance, she adds.
Yes! I could move toward my health and wellness goals but feel good along the way. I could learn and grow, be patient with myself, and become stronger.
As Dr. Allison said; “Progress, not perfection, is the goal.”
So, I strove to look forward and start fresh. I measured my progress from that day on. I only looked back to learn from my mistakes.
Look at Non-Scale Victories
I had to learn not to get caught up by the number on the scale which can be unpredictable and stubborn – especially as we age. In the past, I weighed myself once a day. That changed to once a week.
Instead, I needed to look at the bigger picture.
In my mind, I was stuck losing and gaining the same pounds, getting nowhere. But that wasn’t true when I looked at my non-scale victories. So, I made a list of things accomplished in the last couple of months.
- I was nudging my habits in a healthier direction.
- I was taking time to distress.
- I was cooking healthy meals instead of eating out all the time.
- I was sleeping better and becoming more consistent with going to bed and waking up at the same time .
- I had joined a gym and – although not consistent yet – overall, I was exercising more.
- I was feeling more energetic and my endurance was improving.
- I was coping better and having far more good days than bad.
That was worth a pat on the back.
Structure My Time
Routine is absolutely essential to make new habits stick. As I noted in a previous blog on this subject, without a schedule, I began to mindlessly react to life swirling around me.
So, I started to using my datebook more. Not to list every chore for the day, but to make note of important things I wanted to accomplish. This helped me establish a regular routine I enjoyed that helped me feel grounded and stay on track.
“Our brains love stories and patterns,” Elizabeth Barlow, a licensed independent clinical social worker in Massachusetts, West Virginia said in an interview for Healthline. “When you engage in healthy habits, your brain has an expectation of what will happen and when it will happen. This can be useful for developing and managing a daily routine you feel in control of.”
After all, we don’t think about brushing our teeth in the morning; we simply do it. The same holds true for eating healthy and exercising. It simply becomes “routine.”
Join a Gym
When I worked outside the home and was raising kids, I hated going to the gym. Who could find the time or the energy?
But now that I’m home more, I enjoy getting out of the house. My husband and I prefer to exercise outdoors whenever possible. But we’ve had a crazy winter with tons of rain. Plus, at my age, I needed to add weight-lifting into my schedule.
Most often, I ride the stationary bike while reading a book on my Kindle. It actually feels like “me time.” Weather permitting, my husband and I enjoy hiking and riding our bikes. Then, two to three times a week I lift weights. Feels good.
As a bonus, the grocery store is next door to the gym, which means it’s convenient to pop in to buy fresh food.
Focus on the Process Not the Goal
That phrase is taken from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. I’d highly recommend this popular book, by the way.
Make a commitment to tiny sustainable, unrelenting improvements, he suggests. “Success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross. It is a system to improve, an endless process to refine.”
As Dr. Allison says in a WW audio coaching session, setting goals like losing 50 pounds is overwhelming. “Success comes when we stop focusing on where we want to be and start focusing on how we’re going to get there.” she says.
Identify with a Healthy and Strong Woman
“I am…I said,” as Neil Diamond sang. I’m taking his advice. I am healthy, I said! I am strong, I said!
The theory: If I acted like a healthy person long enough, I will become one.
“Closing the gap between where you are and where you want to be isn’t about more strategies, tactics, or tools,” Allyson Chevez writes in her blog. “It’s a shift in identity and a shift in your internal thought processes,” she adds. “I wanted to identify with a healthy, slim woman, and she didn’t eat food for comfort. She drank tea, or danced, or went for a walk.”
Clear agrees with this philosophy. “Identity sustains a habit,” he writes in his book. “You do it because it’s who you are and it feels good to be you.”
I like that.
He gave the example: “You’re not fixated on getting six-pack abs, you’re just trying to keep the streak alive and become the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts.”
Realize That Small Steps Add Up
“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward,” according to a Chinese proverb.
Clear suggests focusing on getting just one percent better everyday. According to his book, modest, incremental, everyday change adds up to a significant amount of positive change.
“Realize small steps may not show for awhile but have amazing results in the long run,” he writes.
In other words, be patient and don’t get discouraged. Not my strong suit, but I’m working on this mindset.
It’s remarkable what you can do if you just don’t stop, Clear says.
Reduce Exposure to Cues that Trigger Overeating
Turns out losing weight and exercising more is not all about will-power, despite common belief.
“Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one,” Clear writes.
I looked at trigger points that made me want to overeat. For example, in the late afternoon or evening when I was tired and stressed, I’d watch a movie, read, or listen to music to relax. But I couldn’t seem to do that without grabbing a bag of chips and a glass of wine.
So, I found other ways of relaxing during that time. For example, taking an evening walk or sipping tea by the fire.
I also changed my thinking. The book gave an example of a person relieving stress by smoking. Another person relieves stress by running. “Your current habits are not necessarily the best way to solve the problems you face; they are just the methods you learned to use once you associate a solution with the problem. You keep coming back to it.”
Time to reset.
Clear also suggests designing your environment for success because it’s better to avoid temptation than resist it.
“Another way to change your habits is to tweak your surroundings to make certain tasks harder or easier to do,” Michelle Crouch writes in an article for AARP . “If you have a practice of snacking regularly, for instance, move the chips or cookies to a place that’s hard to get to, or don’t have them in the house at all. Then put the healthy options front and center.”
Okay, out went the chips and I had hubby lock up the booze.
Note the Bad Consequences
State adverse effects of unhealthy habits out loud or write it down in a journal. For example, if I eat late into the night, I will feel miserable and not sleep as well. If I don’t go to the gym, I’ll feel guilty and stressed.
And of course, we know all the health issues that can possibly develop if you don’t eat right and exercise, especially as you age: heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and increased chances of certain kinds of cancer.
Likewise, write down all the benefits of living a healthier lifestyle. For example, I feel more energetic. I am sleeping better. I can go hiking. I can keep up with my grandchildren. I can live longer.
Remember Perfection is not Attainable
No matter how consistent you are with your wellness habits, perfection is not possible. We get sick, an emergency pops up, we take a trip, and life gets in the way.
Clear advises in his book, “Just never miss twice.” Miss one day at the gym, okay, but get back to it as soon as possible.”
“The first mistake is never the one that ruins you,” he says. “It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows. Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.”
He also cautions against falling into an all-or-nothing cycle. “Realize how valuable it is to just show up on your bad days. Going to the gym for five minutes may not improve your performance, but it reaffirms your identity.”
Are These 10 Strategies Helping?
So far, so good. I’m pleased to say, although I’m only in the beginning of my journey, I’m finally making progress. Because this time, it’s more about just losing weight. Its about my habits, my identity, my routine, and finding a sustainable healthy way of living.
Are you focused on your health? What have you found helpful? Please share your wisdom in the comments below.