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Playing consequences with your health

or why you should endure some misery for 30 minutes a day.

There are few health conditions that can't be improved by weight management and exercise. Heart disease can be delayed, many cancers can be avoided, type 2 diabetes can be offset, most thyroid conditions can be moderated, joint pain, arthritis and back pain can be eased and mood can be lifted by maintaining a healthy weight and taking regular varied exercise.

If 30 minutes of exercise a day can alleviate and prevent so much misery, why isn't it done? The answer is usually 'because I feel alright at the moment'. The future is too far off to bother mitigating right now by turning down a glass of wine in favour of the gym.

In behavioural terms, illness is an "away from" goal. It's something we want to move "away from" towards health. In comparison, running a marathon is a "toward" goal. It's an event we're preparing for without any painful prod to help us. It's been proven that we often need the painful prod to motivate us and that we find it hard to make change until we're presented with the "away from" goal. The kicker here is that by this point we have learned to live with a bunch of unpleasant compromises which just weren't quite enough to get us moving by themselves.

Think of the general sluggishness, the sore knee, the bloating or the puffy eyes. None of these things on their own is enough of a cause for action and as we become accustomed to each gripe we forget how life was before it arrived.

So now that the New Year party's over and the chocolate is almost all eaten, consider these little compromises you're making. The tiny "away from" goals that you're hiding from yourself. By tackling the small pain points you can delay and even avoid the onset of the harmful and debilitating conditions that are more common as you age.

Think of it as a game of consequences. Would you rather...

1. Feel a little bit rubbish all the time, have a niggly knee, sore neck, heartburn, avoid walking upstairs with colleagues because you don't want them to see you panting and sweaty, hate your wardrobe and live with a mild but constant dread that you're bringing upon yourself a painful and lingering decline...


2. Feel great all day every day except for your 30 minute spin class where you just feel so bad you want to scream your head off?

Alright, it's not as simple as that but most of us will have a niggle or a nuisance point that can be addressed. The trick is to make the little nasties feel as important as the life altering illnesses they eventually turn into. Once we've identified them we can use quick visualisation techniques to turn them into "away from" goals.

Here's how it's done:

Firstly, take some time to consider areas of your health, energy and fitness levels that can be improved upon. Use this scale to judge the areas of your life that you would benefit from addressing.

Secondly, visualise the new improved you without these aches. Write down the specific ways that improving these areas benefits you. How do you behave differently as a result? What's the reward for being this improved person? Think of a time before you experienced these issues. What things did you previously do that you've stopped as a result of experiencing these niggles? Take some time here to make a strong image of the pathway that took you from non-niggle to niggle and the effect it has had on your life, family and hobbies. You're turning the niggle into an "away from" goal so it's okay to feel sorry for yourself here. Think of how annoying and limiting it is. Turn up the nuisance factor and feel just how much this niggle has got in your way.

Thirdly, imagine you're in the future. You've now achieved these goals and you're looking back on the old you with the ache or the shortness of breath. How great do you feel that it's gone, that your body works better and that you're happier as a result?

You're now very close to becoming this new improved you.

Lastly, consider the steps this imaginary you took to solve the problem. If you were describing to another person how you had achieved this fix, what would you say? What did you stop, start, limit, increase, check or manage?

In conclusion, you've found your starting points to better health, you've turned them from hard to achieve "toward" goals into easier to achieve "away from" goals and you've decided on the first step to get there. Every day will be easier as the niggles recede, as you feel more energised, better rested, in control of your health and life. Well done, you know where to begin so get to it!

By taking stock of the small issues the large ones will look after themselves. It's the stitch in time that'll save your life.

Enjoy Good Health!

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