Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Prescriptions for Exercise

Yesterday, I came upon an article in the Wall Street Journal that talked about prescriptions for exercise.  This article fascinated me for several reasons.

  1. I have not been to a medical care provider for anything other than an acute GI issue or subsequent to a fall while running since November 2010.
  2. For many years I did not exercise (August 1999-January 2006), but since January 2006, I have gotten myself into shape, taken off approximately 25 pounds and kept them off, and run xix marathons including a 3:09:49.
  3. I recognize that to go from no exercise to a marathon did not occur overnight.  Even from the time I began being physically active again to being comfortable running a half marathon distance (which I had not done since 1986), took me 20 months until Labor Day weekend 2007.
  4. Despite my success I recognize clearly that what has led to my success has largely been driven by accountability.  Accountability to a coach who designed a training program for me to follow from mid-July through the weekend before Thanksgiving and accountability to a friend with whom I trained who challenged me not to let me dream of running a marathon faster than 3:10 slip away in the last four miles.
So,  what are the parallels I see between physicians writing prescriptions for exercise, my own experience, and some basic habit changing (and habit forming) approaches that can lead to success in multiple types of business and career situations?

First, there needs to be a trigger to change a habit.  For me, it was seeing the scale hit 185 pounds, looking at myself in the mirror, and just feeling not good.  For some, it will take someone in authority, like a physician, telling them they need to make a change.

Second, the change needs to start small.  I didn't even run for the first several months.  I just took my dog at the time on longer and longer walks.  That was a level of effort that I could reasonable make.

Third, the change needs to be accompanied by a longer term goal.  Why set the short term goals?  To reach the even longer ones.  but having only long term goals does not usually work.  It is necessary to to find something rewarding long before the long-term goals completely materialize.

Fourth, there needs to be accountability.  In the case of the patients getting prescriptions for physical activity they are accountable to their physicians.  In my case, I was accountable to my coach and fellow runner.

So--a trigger, short and long term goals, and a sense of accountability can be brought together for an incredible outcome.  The challenge is that medical care providers feel so overburdened that sometimes even taking the couple of minutes to discuss physical activity and write a prescription can seem daunting.  And for those who have not been performing any physical activity, when they look at their counterparts who are running 5 to 7 days a week and getting in 30-40 miles per week, they may think, "I could never do that."  But as I tell my less active friends--you don't need to do that.

This type of approach--finding something to trigger a change that is associated with short and long term goals and someone to whom a person is accountable--can generalize to almost any habit a person would want to start (or break).  This could improve personal outlook, job performance, or many other things and make a person happier, healthier, and perhaps even wealthier over time (spending less on health care and perhaps even health insurance premiums in the example here).  Guarantees?  None--as with much else in life.  The only thing even close to guaranteed is that change is more likely to continue with the combination of things discussed above than without.  Ultimately, sticking to the change and making the best of it is left to the individual. 

1 comment: