My favourite wellness tip: use your diary

I am a doctor and a wellness coach. I have made my living designing and delivering health & wellness services of one type or another. For 25 years now. I know what is healthy and what is not. I am, in all seriousness, something of an expert. And yet my own wellness journey has been rather different from what you might expect…

I have avoided smoking, drugs, excess alcohol (mostly). I have never been overweight. I have avoided hospitalisation entirely (since my tonsils were cruelly removed at age 9 or 10). So it has not been a disaster. But it’s exercise I have struggled with. I know how important it is physically and mentally. I do not unduly dislike working up a sweat. I have had fit years when I could (and even did) run a half marathon in under 2 hours (and then needed 2 knee operations, but that is another story). But I have also had (many) unfit years when I hardly moved from the couch at all (literally, almost). I have just struggled to develop a sustained habit of living actively. And I have never used the most commonly offered excuses: time and money – I know there is enough time for anything we decide is important enough and I know that exercise needn’t break the budget. In truth I am not sure what the problem has been. Maybe it’s that exercise can be boring (certain it is if you do something you actually dislike). Maybe (no, definitely) I am not a strong morning person. Maybe my variable work and travel schedule creates interruptions rather too often. All of these I guess, and yet I suspect there is something else I have simply not figured out.

The big change

For the last 3 1/2 years I have lived actively. I have consistently done at least 3 hours of proper exercise (sweaty out-of-breath stuff) every week, often more. This has included hiking, cycling, and kayaking mainly (no gym; I hate gyms). My resting heart rate has been around 60. I have been and I am fairly fit.

What changed? I started using my diary as a wellness tool. Specifically I booked adventures and trips, paid deposits, and diarised the dates. These were typically mountain hiking trips (something I really enjoy and something our country is richly blessed with). Trips that I knew I could not complete without being fit. I have always had at least one trip booked and diarised and I have done 2, 3, or 4 trips a year (e.g. Drakensberg Grand Traverse, Tanka Camino). THIS has made all the difference. On those mornings when I am tempted to skip my training I just have to think about the hike coming up next month to decide “no, I have to get out and get active”. It really works for me. It really is this simple. Enough said.

The bottom line – If you are anything like me, and I know that many people are, this might really help you. You want to exercise. You know you can. You do, sometimes. But you are not consistent….Take my advice and try using your diary. The trick is to book something a good few months ahead. Make sure it is something you enjoy but something you need some fitness for. It might be a mass-participation race or event, a long hike, a slack-packing walk, some bicycle touring, whatever works for you. Once it’s booked you’ll be “forced” to train. Simple as that. It really does work!