The science of habit formation tells us that being accountable to others can be a powerful motivator to maintain healthy habits.
And yet during the pandemic, many of us have lost the “others” who kept us accountable as walking buddies, fellow group exercisers, motivating personal trainers and work colleagues who share your passion for healthy living have all but disappeared.
But you still can be accountable to yourself – and with some adjustments, to others also.
Now that we are months into the pandemic when fatigue may be setting in, this is a good time to share some tips for slowly getting back into increasing accountability:
1 – Track Key Health Behaviors and Metrics
Spending more time at home has put a spotlight on the importance of practicing healthy habits – sleep, physical activity, eating, de-stressing/fun and weight control make up the ‘health portfolio’.
When you optimize all these habits, you function at your best, boost your immune system, and have the most energy to enjoy life.
The best way to focus on these behaviors and ensure you are meeting your own personal goals is to track them.
Most wearable activity trackers can be used to monitor the ‘24-hour activity cycle’ – sleep, sedentary behavior, light-intensity physical activity (walking, house cleaning, gardening) and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (running, cycling, virtual exercise class).
With this data at your fingertips, you can make adjustments to strike a healthy balance.
Healthy eating patterns can be reinforced by using one of the multiple commercial or government trackers available online or from the app store.
Tracking can be done real time – as you eat and drink, or proactively – in advance as a strategy to plan your day. Additional nutritional information about calories, sodium or sugars can also be monitored.
Depending upon your medical condition, there are also 3 health metrics that you can monitor at home to keep in control.
If you have hypertension, consider purchasing a home blood pressure cuff.
If you have diabetes, your healthcare provider may have asked you to monitor your own blood sugar.
And if you are managing your excess weight or have any condition that may cause water retention, checking your body weight on a bathroom or WiFi scale will give you actionable information.
2 – Join groups – virtually
My patients who have been most successful building healthier habits during the pandemic are the ones who have joined virtual groups for relaxation, socialization, exercise or just plain fun.
Whether it’s a yoga, Zumba, meditation, resistance training or a dance aerobics class, virtual groups offer a new kind of accountability.
Also, many hobbies you enjoyed pre-pandemic offer virtual options and some may be free or offer free trials.
Joining a virtual card, gardening, painting, piano, guitar, healthy cooking or book group can be a great diversional and de-stressing activity.
Also, any boost to your mood will be a boost to your motivation to eat better, be more active and may even help you sleep better.
3 – Reach out to others who share your passion for healthy living
I discovered something new this week – that video calls are not just for groups.
After doing a Zoom call with a colleague, I decided to arrange more video calls one–on-one with other colleagues and friends.
Yes, you may have to brush your hair and pay more attention to what you’re wearing, but what this does is make you ‘show up’. Communication is not just verbal.
Do you have a friend who loves healthy cooking? Curious what a neighbor is planting in her vegetable garden this Spring? Is your walking buddy trying new routes? Consider face timing to share ideas.
As we all navigate through this difficult time, increasing accountability can motivate all of us to achieve better health habits – despite the pandemic.
Stay safe and be well!
Robert Kushner, MD