These are the times that try men's souls. The temperature dips into the single digits. The sky is gray, the sidewalks and streets icy.
New Year's resolutions to get fit and eat healthier often curl up and die as hope dwindles and waistlines expand.
A survey by tech product review company Gearhungry revealed that when on a health kick, people only manage to last 7.8 days before being tossing in the gym towel and returning to bad habits and junk food.
But now's not the time to shrink from fitness or diet goals.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health's 2017 estimate puts 36 percent of Pennsylvania adults as overweight and 32 percent as obese, meaning about 67 percent of all Pennsylvanians are either overweight or obese
Gearhungry's survey indicates the average Pennsylvanian would not be prepared to walk a mile or more, to get somewhere they wanted to go.
The survey found that on average, the longest Pennsylvanians would walk to get somewhere is 18.6 minutes (about 0.9 miles).
No wonder America struggles with obesity levels. Troubling data from the federal health officials showed that in 2016 and 2017 over 40 percent of Americans were obese, a sharp increase from the decade before. Data also showed the sale of fast food had increased by 22.7 percent between 2012 and 2017.
All the more reason to stick with those fitness and diet promises made on Jan. 1, said Kathy Hensler, the healthy living director at the Rose E. Schneider Family YMCA, 2001 Ehrman Road, Cranberry Township.
“People use the weather as an excuse to overeat and eat the wrong things,” said Hensler.
“People need to redefine 'comfort food.' Instead of mac and cheese and potato chips which clog your arteries even more, reach for fresh fruit and vegetables and salmon,” she said.
Hensler said junk food bingeing can turn into an unhealthy spiral.
“You are not feeling good, you're feeling bloated,” said Hensler. “And people turn to foods that make them feel more bloated instead of vegetables and nuts.”
What Americans are good at is dishing up excuses for not visiting the gym.
According to the Gearhungry survey, 77 percent of respondents say they are too busy to exercise and 74 percent say they are too busy to eat healthily. And what is worrying is more than one in 10 adults admitted they would not exercise more even if their lives depended on it.
Kellie Donahue, the Butler YMCA's personal trainer coordinator and a certified personal trainer and certified health coach, said, “When I ask my clients to list the reasons as to why their exercise/health/wellness resolutions are slipping away, I gently remind them that almost every excuse can be debunked by remembering your 'why,' being more realistic and very clear about your priorities.
“I am a firm believer that a person's 'why' as it relates to becoming healthier physically, which will support one's mental health positively as well, needs to have a big picture, lifelong vision attached to it,” she said.
“Our short-term goals add up and create this big picture personal 'why' we all need to have,” she said.
Some of the many “whys” I have heard over the years are all different, but they all focus on overall quality of life,” Donahue said.
“People want to feel their best and maintain good health so they can ... travel the world when they retire, be an active part of their children/grandchildren's lives, to live independently as long as possible, and many more like this,” said Donahue.
Donahue added, “My best advice to everyone wanting better health by making changes with their diet and/or exercise is to start with the big picture, the lifelong goal and work your way backward, move onto your short-term goals, and then create actions, habits and rituals that support all of it.”
Once someone breaks a resolution, the impulse is to say “Well, that's the end of that, hand me the remote and the onion dip.”
Nonsense, said Hensler, one slip is no reason to abandon a resolution. Maybe you should just lower the bar and try again, she said.
“People set too many goals and try to do too much,” she said. “Start small, do one or two things at a time,” she said.
“People get depressed that they break a resolution,” she said. “But starting small, such as taking a water bottle to work or having a basket of fruit on your desk instead of a candy jar, is doable.”
“With exercise,” she said, “there is so much value in working with a friend or a with a personal trainer or in a small group.”
A person is less likely to quit a program if he's working with a small group or a trainer than if he is exercising alone, Hensler said.
Donahue listed some how-tos she shares with her clients:
Keep your short-term goals and the actions that support them realistic. Do not set yourself up to fail. “You know you better than anyone, be honest with your self-expectations while challenging yourself some as well.” she said.
She recommends that those who are absolute beginners start with the back to the basics of health and wellness, such as drinking more water, focusing on better sleep, walking every day, eating less processed food.
“As soon as you feel successful with a few of these basics, then move on to even more challenging lifestyle changes,” said Donahue.
Apply the Big Rock Theory. If you were filling a vase with big rocks, pebbles and sand, the big rocks must go in first for everything to fit. “The vase is your daily life, and the big rocks represent the things that are most important to your overall well being. Make your new healthy living actions like exercise and meal planning two of your big rocks,” said Donahue.
Hensler added the YMCA has social programs that don't involve sweat and exercise to help people reach their fitness goals.
“We have a healthy cooking club, a movie club, a social club. We have different ways to make it fun,” said Hensler.