Raise your hand if you want to improve your health, but don't know where to start or how to stick with it long enough to see real, sustainable results. Is that you?
We hear ya. Listen, improving your health is a great goal, and we've all heard stories of people who underwent amazing health transformations. And yet, the approach that worked for the gal or guy down the street—or in that magazine article you read—won't necessarily work for you.
That's why tailoring your wellness program is vital; aligning goals and action steps with your needs, medical history, personality, preferences, and even pet peeves. That personalization enables you to stick with the plan--with less effort—and reap real improvements (finally!).
With that in mind, we'll help you take the first steps to building a wellness plan that can become as routine and painless as your daily coffee habit. Sound good?
What's a Wellness Program?
First, let's get clear on what a wellness program is. Wikihow defines it as a plan of action aimed at achieving a "state of multidimensional health and satisfaction," encompassing the physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, social, occupational, financial, and environmental dimensions of your life. In this post, we'll focus on the physical aspect.
The good folks at Livestrong emphasize that effective wellness plans are highly personal: only you can decide what changes are needed in your life, and how you can get there. So, where to begin?
1. Get Clear On Your WHY
Why do you want to change? What would your before-and-after picture look like? And what would be different about your daily routine, relationships, and the way you feel and act if you could erase or reduce the obstacles hindering your wellness today?
Here's why this step is crucial: We only change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing. If you're going to undertake a transformation, you need to be crystal-clear on what benefits await you on the other side.
Before we move on, can we first talk about the financial benefits of a wellness program? There's a good reason why nearly all companies with 1,000 or more employees offer some type of free wellness program, according to insurance brokers Poms & Associates. So do many healthcare providers.
It turns out good health is great for your bank account. According to Poms, dozens of peer-reviewed studies report that, on average, healthcare costs drop by $3.27 for every dollar spent on a wellness program. It makes sense: As your health improves, your need for doctor visits, tests, medication and treatments should drop considerably.
2. Identify Your Goals
What problems do you want to solve? Livestrong advises making a specific, measurable list of at least three things you want to change in your life, like lowering your weight by X pounds, or reducing headaches to X (or none) per month.
We've written about how to make goals stick here. The bottom line: Make your goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
3. Get an Action Plan
Before you can reach the Promised Land, you need a clear picture of where you stand today.
Wikihow suggests inquiring about physical evaluations at your local fitness center. If you're overweight or have a history of medical problems, talk with your physician to identify any medical issues (like anemia or diabetes) that might require exercise restrictions.
In any case, the following are good starting points for most people, according to Wikihow:
- Walk more. "Most people can start a walking regimen on their own," says Dr. Tim Church, Chief Medical Officer at ACAP Health in Dallas.
- Choose activities you want to do, not things someone talked you into.
- Eat food that is as close to its natural form as possible, cooking from scratch and limiting processed or prepackaged foods.
- Drink more water.
Also be sure to start small. "People who take on too much exercise in the beginning often give up," says Dr. Derek Ochiai, as reported in this earlier post about how to choose an exercise plan.
4. Track Your Progress
As the old adage goes, "you can't manage what you can't measure." By now you know the importance of having measurable goals, so be sure to track your progress along the way.
5. Aim for Steady, Incremental Growth
Change takes time, and sustainable results require change that's also sustained long-term. Give yourself 30 days to form new habits and evaluate their effect, Wikihow advises.
Also be mindful that, when making a change, your body may go through an uncomfortable transition or detox. Don't give up yet. You'll get through it.
As your body adapts, aim for steady, incremental growth, and watch small changes snowball into big benefits.