Chris Mumford is the PR Content Manager for Western Governors University (WGU).
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By now, you’ve probably heard the stats about New Year’s resolutions: they’re highly popular (40 percent of you will make one) and virtually impossible to achieve (only 8 percent of you will stick to it). So, what’s a teacher who wants to improve their health to do?
No matter what the stats say, setting goals is a good thing to do, provided that they're realistic and designed with your busy teacher lifestyle in mind.
We’ve done some research based on the factors that explain how those who actually achieve their goals are able to do so, and came up with five theories, techniques and technologies that can make your health and fitness goals attainable – even on your hectic schedule.
Further Reading: Exercise and the Brain: How Fitness Impacts Learning
It sounds like sheer New Year’s resolution heresy to suggest it, but by aiming to lose weight, you may be setting yourself up for failure.
See, your body has this thing called a “set point” for your weight, which is a range of 10-15 lbs that your body tries to stay within. If you severely restrict your calories to try to push your weight below this range, your brain will release chemicals that will modulate your hunger and activity to compensate.
In other words, if you try to lose weight (particularly in drastic ways) your mind and body will literally fight back.
On top of that, weight loss isn’t necessarily the best way to improve your health. Rather, changing just one of the following factors can reduce your risk of early mortality by more than half:
It's highly likely that achieving any of these objectives will result in some incidental weight loss, which is great, but nothing compared to the long-term benefits. So when formulating your resolution for the next year, you’d be much better off focusing on one of these things, which are more specific and far more impactful on your overall health.
Ok, so maybe you’re still hell-bent on going on a diet. If that’s the case, then at least heed the advice of neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt, who is one of the leaders of the “mindful eating” movement.
Her idea is simple and supported by research: Essentially, you just have to eat when you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re full. It sounds simple, but the effects can be profound, because, as Aamodt notes, “A lot of weight gain boils down to eating when you’re not hungry.”
So rather than trying to change your eating habits through the brute force of willpower, you would be better off simply slowing down when you eat (chewing thoroughly), paying more attention to how you’re feeling, and stopping when you’re full.
You don’t have to eat like a caveman, swear off carbs, or resort to any other drastic measures to improve your diet. According to research, simply dishing up your food on 10-inch plates can reduce the amount you eat by up to 22 percent.
It's a small change, but the results can be huge: Researchers have found average life expectancy increases of up to three years among test subjects who ditched their traditional 12-inch plates in favor of 10-inch ones. This dish-downsizing concept has become so popular, there’s even an official movement devoted to it. So put down that fad diet book and pick up a small plate — your body will thank you.
If gym memberships and expensive home equipment aren’t your thing, there are a number of inexpensive apps, like Skimble’s Workout Trainer, that provide a variety of great workouts. These apps make it easier to squeeze fitness into your schedule: You can choose workouts of various lengths that you can do just about anywhere with little or no equipment.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has exploded in popularity in recent years thanks to its incredible efficiency: as little as two minutes of intense exercise is all you need to improve your health. All you have to do is exert maximum effort for 20 – 30 seconds (or more if you’re already somewhat fit), rest for the same length of time, then go at it again for another 20 – 30 seconds. Rinse and repeat for two minutes or more.
In addition to their short duration, HIIT workouts trigger a physiological response called the “afterburn effect,” which causes your body to continue burning calories at a high rate for hours after your workout. On top of that, these exercises can be done just about anywhere and don’t require any equipment — you just need to do something that gets your heart pumping (you can find a ton of free HIIT routines online).
The only kicker here is the importance of the term “maximum effort” – you really have to go all-out in order to reap any health benefits. So, if you’re just getting back into fitness, you may need to ramp up before you attempt these workouts. And as always, be sure to talk to your doctor before you try something that will push your heart rate near its max.