Healthy attitude pays off

By Kim O’Hare

As memories of the holiday season are packed away along with the decorations, many people are now struggling with those New Year resolutions which seemed like such a good idea at the time. pictureBe patient if your plan to get fit isn’t paying instant dividends, it could be a reflection of your impatience, rather than an actual lack of progress. It usually takes about one month of regular exercise before your routine starts becoming second nature.

“At that point, your hard work will all seem worthwhile,” says Walter R. Thompson, PhD, a kinesiologist, at Georgia State University. That’s how long it takes for both your mind and your body to adapt to your change in schedule - and for you to start noticing results, including weight loss and increased strength and energy.

Part of being patient is being sensible and realistic. If you want to maintain your new routine over the long haul, it helps to slowly transition into your exercise program. Remember you’ve spent the last few years being inactive, so instead of going from zero workouts to a seven-day-a-week routine, commit to just three or four days of exercise.

Only increase the frequency of your exercise routine as the dividends roll in. Allow yourself a day off because it gives your body a break and it also gives you something to look forward to. 

Recruit an exercise buddy. Look for someone whose age, abilities and goals are similar to your own. The exercise buddy should not be someone to compete with but someone with whom to share your successes and setbacks. pictureOr find an e-mail buddy to “report” to every evening on what you did for exercise that day. You can also be your own buddy and mentor. If you’ve skipped the lunchtime workout, try this. Call home, and leave a message on your answering machine reminding you to hop on the treadmill first thing to make up for it.

Set both long term and short term goals. Keeping an eye on the longer term goal will help you overcome the disappointment of minor setbacks, if you hit a plateau from time to time. And be realistic in your goals.

The “new you” should include more than fitness alone. Don’t forget mind and spirit. Take a lesson, join a club, make time for that hobby you’ve always been interested in. Aside from toning up your body you should be developing other elements of your life.

Negativity may appear to be a great defence mechanism: if you keep your expectations low enough, you won’t be crushed when things don’t work out.

New research reveals that the tendency to be a wet blanket in just about any situation - a trait the experts call “dispositional pessimism” - doesn’t merely ruin a good time and prevent you from making friends. It seems that it’s a bad strategy by about every measure.

Optimists, it turns out, do better in most avenues of life, whether it’s work, school, sports, or relationships. They get depressed less often than pessimists, make more money, and have happier marriages. And not only in the short run. There’s evidence that optimists live longer, too.

A nine-year study of cardiovascular health in men and women in the Netherlands found that pessimists not only die sooner of heart disease than optimists, but they also die sooner of just about everything. It’s enough to drive a pessimist crazy - and sure enough, pessimism has been linked to higher odds of developing dementia.

Don’t try too hard to be happy

Suzanne Segerstrom, PhD, a researcher at the University of Kentucky and author of Breaking Murphy’s Law, says it takes only a few changes. They’re small, gradual - and not what you’d expect. If happiness is illusive, you may be trying too hard.

Researchers asked a group to use a beautiful piece of classical music to raise their moods, while telling other volunteers simply to listen to the symphony. The result: the music didn’t help those who were focused on lifting their spirits - but the others wound up feeling much better.

“Instead of working at being happy, aim to be engaged. Engagement bypasses pessimism,” says Segerstrom.

“When you’re fully involved in something, it can distract you from a pessimist’s favourite pastime - rumination. When you’re ruminating, it’s not just a bad day - it’s always a bad day, and a bad life, and you’re a bad person. Everything is blown out of proportion.

“Try to find quick distractions you can use when you realise you’re stuck on the same negative thought. Try activities that demand your full attention: Go to a yoga class or a kickboxing or aerobics class, where you have to commit fully to avoid falling on your face.”

It’s not your fault

Don’t be afraid to blame someone else. Researchers have learned that optimism and pessimism both boil down to little more than our “explanatory” way of interpreting life’s ups and downs.

When something good happens in a pessimist’s life, they tend to think of it as a fluke, a one-off that just “happened”.  Optimists, on the other hand take full credit.

When something negative happens, pessimists tend to blame themselves, while optimists see bad events as having little to do with them, and as one-time problems that will pass quickly.

A pessimist who misses a shot on the tennis court says: “I’m lousy at tennis.” An optimist says: “My opponent has a killer serve.”

University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin EP Seligman was the first to discover that a person’s explanatory style is fairly consistent and that it often explains why pessimists fail when optimists succeed. After all, it’s easier to keep practicing your tennis serve if you’re sure you’ll do fine against someone at your level.

Because of this different explanatory style, optimists have an easier time even when things go wrong.

Optimistic breast cancer patients are just as depressed by bad news as their pessimistic counterparts, researchers have found.

But women with an optimistic disposition are more likely to expect their cancer ordeal to have a positive outcome, studies show; not surprisingly, these women report significantly greater emotional well-being during treatment, while pessimists suffer more distress.

Be persistent pictureLong after pessimists have given up and gone home, optimists keep trying to solve problems. In one study, optimists continued to work on unscrambling an impossible-to-solve anagram 50 to 100% longer than pessimists.

There wasn’t a lot of payoff for persistence in the anagram exercise (and the pessimists are still thinking, suckers!). But in the real world, studies show that persistence leads to more success in school, a fatter paycheck, and a host of other perks.

In fact, in a study of law students, Segerstrom found that a person’s level of optimism in the first year of law school corresponded with his or her salary 10 years later. The impact wasn’t measly: On a 5-point optimism scale, every 1-point increase in optimism translated into a $33,000 bump in annual income.

Surround Yourself with optimists

One of the easiest ways to improve your outlook on life is to hang out with optimists.

A year-long study of more than 100 college-age couples from the University of Oregon found that both positive thinkers and their partners have greater satisfaction in their relationships than optimist-free pairs, in part because happy-go-lucky types tend to see their partners as supportive.

Sanjay Srivastava, who led the Oregon study, says: “If you are the partner of an optimist, both of you will be more satisfied in the relationship and more constructive in resolving conflicts. It’s not that a rosy worldview is contagious, it’s just that you’ll feel more positive about the relationship.”

So if you want great things to happen in 2011, don’t just focus on aerobics - consider attitude as well. 

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