If you’re like a lot of folks, just the idea of making a life-long commitment to exercise and healthier habits can seem overwhelming. Maybe you just have a few pounds to lose, or a spare tire to shed around the midsection. Let’s not get crazy and insist you become a chiseled athlete!
That thought may be enough to keep you sitting on the couch, binge watching episodes of Ted Lasso.
I’ve coached many patients who honestly didn’t believe they had what it took to stick with an exercise program. I’ll let you in on a secret that I share with them: You need the highest amount of grit on the front end. Then it gets easier.
Finding the motivation to exercise is toughest when you’re out of shape and carrying those extra pounds. As someone who has climbed mountains, and run through mud and jungles, I can attest that for the person who is already exercising daily, staying motivated is just not as hard.
Once you have a mindset of resilience, commitment and perseverance, your physicality and endurance will follow.
So, if the biggest exercise hurdle is the commitment to start, what is the chemistry of commitment? It is learning how to fire up the portions of your brain that will help you stay motivated and focused.
How to Develop Healthier Habits
The recipe for commitment to exercise and healthier habits is relatively simple. You just need to remember three things: food, psychology and supplementation.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with motivation. Wow, sounds great! You want more of that, right? Unfortunately, high dopamine levels also jump start food cravings. Pretty soon, you’re raiding the freezer for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s instead of lacing up your athletic shoes.
The key is achieving a healthier dopamine balance in your brain. Eating foods rich in the amino acid L-tyrosine — the natural building block of dopamine — may give you a consistent low-grade sense of feeling good, and help you cut your ties with whatever you’re craving.
Foods high in L-Tyrosine include dark chocolate, oatmeal, chicken, ricotta cheese, edamame and wheat germ.
2. Keep it simple. Don’t overthink it.
Remember, you’re working on the ambition to get off the couch, not train for a marathon. If you just make a point of moving for three minutes, three or four times a day, you’re training your brain to make a commitment. The truth is that you probably won’t stop after three minutes. Most people end up doing 10 minutes at a time.
Certainly, if you are easily distracted and your mind is prone to wandering, it will be much harder for your brain to stay committed to exercise. For that three minutes (or 10 minutes), you want to be focused on moving your muscles. The next task on your list can wait.
3. One easy shortcut is supplementing with slow release caffeine and L-theanine.
This ingredient combination, widely available as Spartan Focus, sharpens your mental preparation and helps you stay in the zone. As important, it won’t give you caffeine jitters or make you nauseous.
No gym or special equipment required (although you do need a floor!). Our bodies are meant to lift, push, pull, jump, squat and run. Get all those movements in and you’re golden. Short bursts of structured exercise — check out HIIT workouts — boost dopamine and increase focus.
Here is an example of what that might look like:
- First set in the early morning: Find a staircase. Go up and down for three minutes or until you can’t hold a conversation, whatever happens first. Then get down on the floor and do three sets of 10 push-ups.
- Mid-day: Do jumping jacks, again for three minutes or until you can’t hold a conversation, whichever comes first. Then, find a chair. Get up and sit down on it for three sets of 20.
- End of day: Start with a light three-minute jog, to the same level as the staircase and jumping jacks. Then pick up an object that you feel is heavy for you to hold in one hand. This is about 15 to 20 lbs for most people. Find a table or chair and do single-sided bend over rows for three sets of 10 each.
It can also help to find a sport or activity that you absolutely love and want to practice more often. Take, for example, the trendy sport of pickleball that has taken country by storm. Or perhaps it’s golf, tennis or cycling.
Committing to Exercise Is Easier than You Think
So, that’s really it. Just follow these three steps and your brain chemistry will be well on its way supporting your newfound life-long commitment to fitness.
And since the true physical and emotional benefits come from exercising daily, you’ll soon be enjoying a healthier, more balanced life.
Bryce Wylde, BSc (Hon), DHMHS is a leading health expert specializing in integrative and functional medicine, homeopathy, clinical nutrition, and supplementation. As associate medical director at P3 Health in Toronto, and director of My Health Report, he blends the latest in science and technology with traditional and ancient remedies. Wylde is the author of three national best-selling books, previous host of CTV’s Wylde on Health, and is a frequent guest health expert on U.S. and Canadian TV.