Practice makes perfect, apparently!

Is this post, I am going to go a little more into detail about the stages of change, and how you might want to consider this if you are thinking of improving your health in someway or another. As mention in my previous post, I have been mindful of the Transtheoretical Stages of Change when it has come to improving my physical and mental wellbeing. The Transtheoretical model has been used in sport and exercise, weight loss or dieting, reducing or stopping alcohol use, other types of substance misuse, and smoking cessation.

Putting what I have learned in my professional practice, into personal use, hasn’t always been straightforward. Giving up smoking several years ago, is a classic example, I didn’t do any preparation, I just decided one evening that I had had enough of smoking. I just put a cigarette out and stopped. Not smoked since.

With regards to the current plan, and the aim to get fit, when I was in my Pre-contemplative phase, I didn’t really consider my health needs. I got up each morning, did what I did, and didn’t give my health a second thought (other than the occasional manflu, or if particularly ill, bad bouts of manthrax, where I would moan about my health to anyone too unfortunately to escape). I hadn’t really noticed my weight had increased, I put down the expanding waistline to “middle age spread” like it was out of my control. To summarise, pre-contemplative phases tend to be when a person sees no need to change, the “What problem?” phase. They may be in denial, or the thought hasn’t even crossed their mind. Think, “Head in the sand“, and you’ll catch my drift.

The Contemplation phase occurred when I had my NHS health check. This was my wake up call. I had a fairly high blood pressure (something I had historically never had), and I also hadn’t realised just how much weight I had put on (as mentioned in previous blog posts, I was historically tall and underweight). I was at risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, and that was the most alarming moment during the health assessment. This is when I started to think about my options. Do nothing, but that would likely see my health deteriorate, along with the quality of my life. Do something, but what. The practice nurse who assessed me went through various lifestyle changes I should consider, although to be fair, I knew them all (reduce saturated fat, reduce drinking alcohol and caffeinated drinks, do more exercise, etc.), it was just that until that point, I had never done anything about them. Classic examples of contemplation include those who know they are drinking too much alcohol, but they think it helps them sleep at night – most of us would not see this as ideal, but for some, they think the negatives outweigh the positive. Maybe further down the line, a heavy drinker might consider healthier options for sleeping. It’s all about doing a cost-benefit analysis.

Pretty much as soon as the health assessment was over, on my way home, I started to consider my options. I started the Preparation phase. But I didn’t put my professional knowledge, skills and experience into practice. I instantly decided I was going to learn to swim. Just to give you a bit of context, my youngest son is an excellent swimmer, had all his school swimming badges before finishing primary school, and he and I enjoyed going to the pool every other weekend, but he was much more confident, and a much stronger swimmer than I. My swimming ability consisted of me swimming widths of the pool, not lengths. However, in a warm sea, with a snorkel, I was probably far too confident for my ability (diving below, and taking photos of fish – see below). I thought, if I could get my breathing technique right, everything else would fall into place. But not so. I signed up to swimming lessons in a neighbouring village swimming pool, and the first lesson the instructor advised me that I needed to get my core strength built up. I was a bit too soft around my stomach!! I gave up quickly. I was a bit defeatist. I “relapsed” back to the contemplation phase. Sticking in that phase for a while. Proper preparation requires a plan. The what, where, when, how, etc. What do I need to do to achieve my goal? Where do I achieve my goal? (e.g. running on a treadmill at the gym, or running in the park)? When do I do it? (e.g. every evening, in my lunch-break, at the weekend, get up earlier on the way to work). How do I go about it? (get a friend, partner, family member to support me, get a fitness coach; shall I buy new equipment; join a club, etc.)

This is not Morecambe Bay!

The cycle to work scheme was my call to arms. It pushed me into the Action phase My son really enjoys cycling, and I thought this was something we could easily do together. I got myself a hardtail mountain bike, and we started to go for little rides along canal paths, cycle-ways, bridle tracks, and quieter country lanes. I also started to cycle to work, but I have to admit, I was very much a “fair weather” cyclist. Living in the north-west of England, meant that dry cloudy days are rare, let alone sunny days. I still wasn’t getting the full benefits of exercise. I need more motivation. The Cameron Grant Memorial Trust, has been that additional boost that I needed. I decided that I was going to raise some money for them through a sponsored cycle ride. Action phase is very much the phase where you know you have a problem behaviour or issue that needs addressing, you reviewed and prepared your options, and you have now started to modify or change your behaviours for the better.

There are various recognised routes for the coast to coast. I think the original route was developed by Alfred Wainwright, for walkers, but other routes have been created, including the Way of the Roses. I am doing a variation of the Way of the Roses, and more of that on another time. I’ve really started taking the cycling more seriously, to the point that I am turning into the dreaded MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra), I’ve got cycling apps, got padded pants, started to watch Youtube clips for ways to improve technique etc.. I’ve been riding with my son, on my own, with pacesetter Nigel, and anyone else who wants to ride. I have gone from seeing 10 miles on the flat as a long route, to recently cycling 41 miles uphill and down dale (still a small jaunt for more seasoned cyclists, but for me it was a significant benchmark). I need to keep in mind that the coast to coast is 120+ miles (depending on the final route), and the Pennine hills are a big obstacle to overcome. I am not, in anyway going to kid myself and think of doing this in one day, and apparently it can be done in 6 hours! I am thinking of 3 days (2 night time stops on route). I am practicing where I can, and now it is Spring, and the days are getting longer, I will be able to get some further practice in, during the evenings. The great knock on effect of this, is that I am getting fitter (I’ve lost a few kilos since starting), and my sleep is improving (due to being knackered), I am also feeling my mental wellbeing is improving. Doing exercise releases serotonin and dopamine in the brain which is linked to improved mood.

I am in the process of finalising the route, and I will keep you updated on that in future posts. If anyone wants to join me in part or all of the route, do get in touch.

Every journey begins somewhere, here is mine…

Okay, so let me begin (and stick with me on this). I’ve never really enjoyed sport and exercise. As a kid, I was clumsy (actually, as an adult, I am clumsy), I have/had very little ball/eye coordination – so I was always picked last in cricket, rugby, football, basketball which were all played at school. I was okay at long distance running at school, as I was tall and lanky, and had good stamina – I was rubbish at other track and field events, as I didn’t have the muscle mass. I never filled out, I was one of those kids that could eat, and eat, and eat, and put no weight on.

As a young adult, I did the occassional hike, I liked going for a swim in warm sea (so you can rule out my local sea, Morecambe Bay), however in recent years, it’s been a case of walking the dog down the lane or around the local cemetery for 30 minutes per day, if my dog is lucky (can be as little as 20 minutes). If he is really lucky, my dog would get to go to the local beach (the one too cold for me to swim in).

I hit middle age recently, and like all middle aged guys in the UK, I was invited to have a health check with a practice nurse at my local NHS health centre. This took place at the end of 2016. Having worked in health and social care most of my working life (sexual health, mental health, substance misuse services, etc.) I knew pretty much what the nurse was going to say, “You’re overweight, at risk of type2 diabetes, your blood pressure is too high. You need to do more exercise, reduce unhealthy fats in my diet, increase fibre…”, the list went on. I got enthused, this was the motivational kick up the backside I needed! Or so I thought!

This was a classic example of “Do as I say, not as I do”. Anyone who has wanted to change a significant behaviour, such as stopping smoking, getting fitter, losing weight, etc, will know that it requires some background work. Rarely (although not unheard of), can someone just say “Right, I am going to stop smoking right now” after a lifetime of smoking 20 cigarettes per day. Usually, some little thought in their head makes them think they need to stop. It could be a health scare, it could be they want to save money, it might be a partner telling them to quit. The Transtheoretical Stages of Change model explains the steps that most people will need to go through if they are to be successful in their behaviour change. So my plan to get fit, fell by the wayside quite quickly, as I jumped form “Contemplation” to “Action” too quickly. I didn’t weigh up my options. I signed up to swimming lessons, but gave up when my instructor advised me to build up my core strength first. This was the beginning of 2017. There was a lot of time being back in the pre-contemplative phase.

I went back to the drawing board, and stuck with the preparation phase of the model a little longer. It was around this time, that my youngest son, was very much into cycling. So I took full advantage of the government backed Cycle to Work Scheme. For anyone who is reading this blog who is in employment, they might want to see if their employer is taking part in the scheme, and if not, encourage them to consider it. If you are student, some colleges and universities hire our bicycles at a very reduced rate, and might be an option for you. I took advantage of the scheme and I got myself a Scott Aspect 940. It was a great decision – a great bike for someone getting back into cycling, and exploring bridle ways, tracks etc in my local area with my son. The problem was, I still wasn’t getting out on the bicycle often enough, or pushing myself a little harder to really reap the rewards. I needed more motivation!

My motivation came from my work. I realised that I was often talking to students about the 5 Ways to Wellbeing as model to improve mental wellbeing (and more of that at a later date), but not always using the model myself, and I was wanting to get a better work/life balance. I decided that I was going to implement the 5 Ways into my own life, which would hopefully improve my work/life balance, and get me fit at the same time. It was also around this time that I became aware of the Cameron Grant Memorial Trust and the work they do through the Cameron Coasters. The trust were incredibly generous in creating some customised coasters for the University of Cumbria, and I thought as a way to give something back (and part of the 5 Ways), I would raise some money for them. I raised a modest amount through Facebook for my birthday. And then I had the brainwave of raising more money for the charity, via a sponsored cycle ride! This is where the journey truly starts!