Health In A Box
I worked as a personal trainer for well over a decade. Typically, clients would schedule themselves in for a session 1–3 times per week. Whilst a few clients saw their PT session as one part of their total health focus, for many — perhaps even most — their sessions were the sum total of their health focus. Let’s look at a few numbers around this.
There are 168 hours in a week. Making a few assumptions, we probably make 21–42 eating decisions per week, spend something in the order of 60 hours per week sitting down, perhaps 10 hours per week driving in commuter traffic, and miss 10 hours of sleep per week. All of these events, which take up a very significant proportion of our life, play a very large role in determining our health.
Yet the strategy for many is to schedule maybe 2–4 hours of exercise per week (be it personal training sessions, yoga classes, etc.) as the sole means of attaining ‘health’. This is what we call the compartmentalization of health, or ‘health in a box’; a reliance on a big-ticket health strategy, that can be scheduled into your weekly diary, after which you can tell yourself ‘I am healthy’.
Now don’t get me wrong, spending time with trainers, teachers, nutritionists, and so on, can form part of your overall focus. It is just that there is only so much these experts can do in the relatively short amount of time you spend with them compared to the many other aspects of modern life which can compromise your health. Analogous to this would be scheduling a weekly ‘deep clean’ session with your dentist but not brushing your teeth in between. The big ‘dental health in a box’ strategy probably isn't going to offset the damage from not having a good twice daily oral hygiene habit threaded through your day.
This brings us neatly to one of the biggest mistakes we see with individuals looking to improve their health one way or another — they are too focused on one or two big ‘tick-the-box’ plans that they can nicely and neatly compartmentalize into their week, while giving insufficient importance to the smaller habits we can add to our day. The dentist becomes more important than the toothbrush.
Yet it is these smaller habits which, over time, dwarf the effects of our bigger and flashier scheduled strategies.
Finding twenty 3-minute opportunities to stand throughout your day would probably outweigh sitting all day and spending 60 minutes on the treadmill after work. Going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night is almost certainly better than sleeping in for 3 hours on a Sunday morning. And 10 minutes in the bright natural sunlight talking to a real person is going to be as good a pick-me-up as a quick coffee in the staff-room whilst you scan through InstaTwitFace (though I’ll admit this is highly-dependent on the real person and the coffee!).
Ultimately there is more to be gained from daily ‘brushing and flossing’ — type health habits that can be clustered together and integrated into your day than there is from one or two weekly/monthly/annual ‘deep clean’ type approaches to health. Indeed, this is the basis of our 10 Healthy Habits. Grab a piece of real food that will help you sleep; forego a piece of fake food which won’t. Stand up more often; add a few extra steps each day; maybe do that in the sun; maybe with a friend. Use engagement with physical play as a way to help manage your thinking and to add fast movement and strength into your day.
Such diversification of your health portfolio doesn't leave your health relying on you making it to the gym a couple of days per week. If you slip in one area, you will receive a degree of health insulation from the other strategies you have deployed. Just as it is far easier to floss while you are in the bathroom to brush, integrating your small health ‘habits’ with each other reduces the burden on your overall day and gets you away from that mind set of needing to schedule 10 different health strategies into your time.
Whenever you decide to make a concerted effort regarding your health strategies, try not to fall into the trap of boxing your health up into one or two strategies scheduled into your week, all going well, with a hope these will offset everything else working against you. Instead of looking for those big chunks of time, see where you can find a few minutes here and there, while seeing which of our 10 Healthy Habits you can routinely integrate into your day. By doing so, you might be surprised just how much less pain you will need to endure from both your personal trainer and your dentist.