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Getting Back to Good Health

By Andy Scott, Physiotherapist

Starting the Journey: 3 out of 10 ain’t bad…

Why is it so hard to change our habits..?

We all know that regular movement and activity are good for us – the research for their health benefits are overwhelming, not just at an individual level but across families and communities. When we mention the word exercise though, some recent research has not been so inspiring. In a 2013 study which looked at people on a physiotherapy program to manage long term back pain, as many as 70% of subjects admitted they had not followed their home exercise plan. So, what’s the problem?

The mind and body are about patterns - if a pattern produces comfort or reward, it will probably be repeated, enough repetitions and it becomes a hard-wired habit. This produces its own cocktail of neurochemicals which we then seek to maintain, using all our best powers of self-persuasion.

‘3 out of 10’ for effort…

Guiding people with chronic pain, I’ve found it really useful to combat feelings of doubt, fear and hopelessness with just a little glimmer of ease, repeated regularly. We’re starting to understand some of these links between mind and body now. Pain is a pattern, with its own neurochemicals and behaviours. If you always have back pain reaching down to put your socks on, you will learn to stiffen your spine as you begin to bend past your ‘safe’ limit. Let’s say your nervous system starts to ring alarm bells when you reach past your knees and its painful when you get to your shins… This pain management approach would slowly question where the alarm bells should start, and what volume they ring at by making a few easy, non- challenging reaches to the mid-thigh. The nervous system thinks ‘Yes, of course I can do that, no problem…’ Repeated over time, let’s say 3 (the magic number!) reaches a few times a day, the nervous system gets used to the movement and loses interest. It is forced to re-assess what is ‘dangerous’ for it…

Making a Change

A key thing with change is to find a goal that inspires you, gives you a positive focus. If we try and jump straight to that goal, our learned responses crowd in with doubt, tempting alternatives, fear of failure. So, we’re back to our ‘3 out of 10 for effort’ approach: find something that seems like a tiny slice of your ideal, and repeat it regularly. Want to start running? Start by parking further away from work and walking through the park on the way, ‘Of course I could do that…’ The new neurochemicals produced from this small change allow you to keep building your efforts. Slowly you might notice that you might want to do more, and that your ‘3 out of 10’ has become a 30 minute walk. You might find the inclination to push a little harder once or twice a week…

Make it Fun

So, what would you feel inspired to do? Can you think of an ‘of course I could,’ to start yourself off..? The study finished with a conclusion that supervision and interaction produces behavioural change. Engage a friend or family member, make some fun goals and start building towards them, choose the easy path first and enjoy the journey. Come down to The Well Studios at The Tannery and we can get you started.


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