I had the pleasure of teaching a class about starting to exercise this week. The group of women were super eager to learn. Their excitement about improving their health was contagious. One of the women asked me if it is better to start working on nutrition or exercise first. The short answer to this question is either one! Considering both of these take some time and energy to get started, here are some pros of both as well as tips to get started.
Where Have You Had Success In the Past?
As a health coach, one of the things I help clients with is recognizing where they have had success. Often times, you don’t have to start from scratch. Consider a time when you were successful at exercising regularly or eating nutritiously. Next, think about what was in place that helped your success.
For example, a client decided she wanted to fit in more strength training. She just didn’t feel as strong and toned as she used to. One of the first things we did was to explore a time when she was able to fit in strength training. She remembered that she was successful when she had a strength training program to follow. It gave her a plan to focus on, exercises to complete, and a progression that helped her see results. With that in mind, I helped her set a goal to begin a 6-week strength training program.
What Excites You Most?
Another tool I use often is called decisional balance. You can use this tool yourself to decide whether to start with exercise or nutrition. To make things simple, just consider the pros or what excites you most about exercise or nutrition. Make a list for exercise and make a list for nutrition. Think of things that are personal to you. For exercise, maybe you are excited to buy some new workout clothes. Or, you would enjoy getting outside more. As far as nutrition, you think the meal planning aspect would also help save you time. And, you tend to have more energy when you eat healthily. When you’ve finished listing all of the things that excite you about each, you can select the one with the highest number.
Starting with Exercise
There are some proven benefits to starting to exercise. For many people, starting to exercise improves sleep, mood, and self confidence. Exercising regularly also helps lower blood pressure, raise HDL cholesterol, and decrease the risk of many diseases. Often times, once you’ve completed a hard workout, you don’t want to undo the hard work by eating poorly.
A simple way to get started exercising is to pick one focus area (cardio, strength, or flexibility). Then, set a goal for the time you’ll do it and the number of days. For example, you could decide to walk your dog three times per week for 30 minutes each afternoon when you get home from work.
The key is not to overthink it – pick a place to start – and then give it a try. After the week is over, review what went well, any changes in how you felt, and what you’d like to change.
Starting with Nutrition
What you eat each day has a profound effect on how you feel. According to Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, “New research suggests that a single meal high in saturated fat (think hamburger and french fries) reduces our arteries’ ability to carry enough blood to our bodies and brains.” The result is what scientists call a “high fat hangover.” However, the opposite is also true. If you choose foods high in nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants (think salmon and broccoli), you tend to have more energy and feel better.
The good news is – if you feel better due to eating healthily – you are also more likely to exercise! A good place to start is including all the colors of the rainbow in fruits and vegetables on a daily basis (check out my blog post on Breaking the False Nutrition Cycle for more on eating the colors of the rainbow).
No matter which one you choose, making a decision to prioritize your health is a positive one. Don’t feel like you have to get it right the first time. Sometimes it’s hard to guess exactly what will work. One thing I tell my coaching clients is to think of each week as an opportunity for a new experiment. Keep your overall vision the same, but tweak your smaller goals based on what worked well the previous week, what didn’t go so well, and what you are excited to try. Log this information in a journal so you can look back at trends.
And – if you’d like to have some support in getting started – I’d love to help you!