Use a health action plan
Every January the population in fitness classes double as people flock to the gym to live up to all those New Year's resolutions.
Every January the population in fitness classes double as people flock to the gym to live up to all those New Year’s resolutions generated over a glass of bubbly late December 31st.
By Groundhog Day the population of newcomers drops by 50 percent, and by April Fools’ Day back to original numbers. When a supervisor asks me where everyone is, I tell her they’re training for spring marathons. She knows I’m lying. What she also knows is that the initial enthusiasm and intent my exercisers had for their resolutions has slowly ebbed with the tide of new realities.
“What’s wrong with them?” she asks. “Don’t they know that unless they get rid of the fat from their midsections, they’ll have heart disease? Someone should develop a system to help people keep their resolutions.”
Introducing the Health Action Plan—a tool that can help you make positive lifestyle changes right now that will make a big difference in your health and fitness in 2010 and beyond.
What is a health action plan?
Any action plan is a road map that will help you get from point A to point B, then to points C and beyond. There are Career Action Plans, Retirement Action Plans, and Lifestyle Action Plans. The Government of Canada even has an Economic Action Plan to help us ride out the recession and ward off elections.
By definition, any action plan involves someone taking action. They are personal, and they need to be written. Health Action Plans (HAPs) cannot, however, be written in a vacuum. You need to include a support team. Since the topic is health, the first member of your team should be your health care practitioner.
Before I teach any fitness class, I tell my participants that it is always a good idea to let their health care practitioner in on their fitness choices. I do this for three reasons:
The best way to get your health care practitioner’s input on your HAP is to write it down, make an appointment, and then ask for suggestions and comments on your plan. This tactic will cement the patient-doctor relationship: you’re working as a team, but you’ve made a commitment to take responsibility for your health—in other words, you make an excellent patient.
Writing your Health Action Plan
HAPs that are of sufficient quality to impress your doctor will take time to write. You will need to do some research, self-exploration, and goal setting. Think of the time you take as an investment—one that could add a few extra years of quality living to your lifespan.
Write down your resolutions
Start by writing your resolutions in a concrete manner to help you design specific goals aimed at achieving them.
Research the reason these resolutions are important
Let’s say you want to choose two resolutions:
For each resolution, make a list of the reasons you chose it. Later, your doctor may be able to add more reasons. For example, you may learn that belly fat is different from fat on the rest of the body and packs bigger health risks than ankle fat.
Find support from others
Now you can invite more people to be part of your support team, for example, friends who have similar resolutions. Your team will keep you accountable.
Set reasonable goals
Goals are the action part of your HAP, what you are going to do to achieve your resolution. Make sure your goals are SMART—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based.
Setting Smart Goals
Re-evaluate after time
Evaluate your HAP at specific time intervals starting as you enter the fourth month; most professionals agree that it is unrealistic (and unhealthy) to expect measurable changes to your body during the first three months. You may, however, notice small changes as you progress; for example, you might find yourself needing a new belt as that midriff fat begins to melt away. This shows that your HAP is working.
Your Health Action Plan is dynamic. It can be modified to accommodate any changes that may occur as a result of aging, changes due to stress, and changes in lifestyle. It is also under your control, because you set the goals and you control the pace.
Possibly the most important component of your HAP is that you are not following it in a vacuum. It makes you part of a team that includes you, your health care practitioner, and any friends that you included in it. You become accountable.
Once everyone has a HAP, my Groundhog Day conversations with my supervisors will go like this: “Where did everyone come from? Now I have to go out and buy more equipment. There should be a way to plan for this!”
SAMPLE ACTION PLAN
RESOLUTION 1: I resolve to lose belly fat
Reasons and facts
Refer back to the SMART goals you set four months ago. Has there been a reduction in body fat? If there has, then the plan is working. If not, the plan may be working, but not showing results yet; you may have to change some of your goals.
For example, an additional 5 percent reduction in meal portions may help, or perhaps, a closer examination of the quality of food—an apple is healthier than a handful of potato chips, for example. You could also consider adding another type of fitness class or taking up an active sport in addition to the weekly exercise regimen.
What about the other aspects of your health?
Finally, have your health care practitioner and the rest of your team evaluate your progress.
SAMPLE ACTION PLAN
RESOLUTION 2: I Resolve To Become Physically Stronger
Reasons and facts
After four months, evaluate your progress by attempting more than one lift of the original heavy weight. If you are successful, select a new upper limit by selecting a heavier weight and attempting to do more than one lift. If you cannot lift this new, heavier weight, resolve to work out with a weight that is 60 percent of the new heavy weight for another four months.
If you are unsuccessful at lifting the original heavy weight more than once, work out with 80 percent of the original heavy weight for another four months. The beauty of the “lifting heavy” routine is that all the goals are SMART and they are self-evaluative.
The program, by its nature, is progressive. It sets a limit and gives you the opportunity to approach and surpass that limit. Further, it allows you to live up to the original resolution to become physically stronger.