Joe Piscatella wasn’t supposed to live long enough to give a speech about his new book this month.
But the cardiac bypass survivor and author of Positive Mind, Healthy Heart! (January 2010) says he continues to beat the dire prognosis he was given 32 years ago through exercise, a balanced diet, stress management and positive thinking.
“Approaching each day with hope has motivated me to follow through with healthier behaviour,” says Piscatella. “You can’t change your behaviour and then get positive. You get positive in your mind first, and then changes in your behaviour follow.”
Failure of will
Health experts say the most common reason people relapse in a diet plan, exercise regimen or fitness programme is negative thinking and beliefs.
Most tend to overemphasize behavioural changes, such as joining a gym, drinking water or adding more fruits and vegetables to the diet. But the behaviour can’t be maintained over the long term until the brain and body are connected through a successful mindset.
Only by developing a positive attitude can a person put to work the principles of diet, exercise and stress management necessary for a healthy lifestyle, he says. Research shows that out of a typical 50,000 fleeting thoughts a day, 90% are repeated and negative. Do these pitfalls sound familiar?
Mind over heart: Approach each day with hope.
“What’s the point of going out for a walk after dinner?”
“It’s cold outside.”
“I ate two pieces of cake today, so I can’t get back on track.”
When those moments of self-doubt and negative thinking hit, Piscatella uses daily affirmations, motivational quotes, tips and anecdotes to help him stay the course. His book Positive Mind, Healthy Heart! includes 365 “pick me ups” that have made him one of the longest-living cardiac bypass survivors in the US.
Working out with your head
Other health experts have advocated similar approaches in fitness training and diet management. And they are used to scepticism.
When trainer Patricia Moreno introduced mindfulness strategies into her New York cardio and aerobics classes, her hard-core clients thought the process sounded a little “pie in the sky”. What she has since dubbed “the Intensati Method” combines positive affirmations with physical action, such as a jumping jack or lunge.
The first time she did it in a class, she was met with dead silence. When she tried to explain the process, several people said they came to the gym for a workout—not therapy. One or two always leave. “It does feel a little awkward at first, but now I teach it 12 times a week, and the classes are packed with 60-100 people,” says Moreno.
Switch your brain to autopilot
Explaining this mind-over-body phenomenon, Patt Lind-Kyle, author of Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain, says changing our thinking first, instead of our behaviour, can net more consistent results.
Scientific research suggests that our thoughts actually create new neuronal pathways in our brains so that specific mental actions can become automatic. “We are all little machines of mental activity that consists of electricity and chemicals,” says Lind-Kyle. “Research says when you do and say the same thing over and over again, the neurons fire together, rewire and synchronize to create a habit.
For example, say you have the intention of going to the club and working out every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9.30am. If that thought and action are repeated for at least 21 days, it will change the neural pathway that once used to say, “I won’t be going to the club at all.”
As Lind-Kyle says, “The real estate inside the brain changes based on how strong is your intention and where you put your attention.”
©2010/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Make up your mind for health
Melonie Dodaro, founder of the Kelowna, Canada-based MindBody FX Weight Management Co. and an author herself, suggests these practices to create a mindset for achieving your ideal weight.
• Visualization. Each day, imagine yourself at your ideal weight in as much detail as possible. What are you wearing? What compliments are you receiving and from whom? What activities are you participating in? What types of food are you eating?
• Affirmations and positive self-talk. Believe you can achieve your goals (even if you don’t yet know how). Imagine how you will feel or look when you have. Say it all out loud, with emotion:
“I’m enjoying being at my ideal weight.”
“I choose to exercise regularly.”
• Replace negative thoughts. Each time you have a negative thought, interrupt the thought process and replace it with a positive one. Try visualizing a stop sign.
• Reward yourself. Rewarded behaviour increases in frequency.
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