The Globe & Mail: Want to work out more? Defend yourself against decision fatigue
Published on December, 15th 2014
By Dr. Greg Wells
Enjoying the summer? I’m loving it. Summer makes it so much easier to get outside and get active. But despite no longer having the weather as an excuse, Canadians still don’t come even close to getting enough physical activity.
A recent report on Canadians’ activity levels showed that only 15 per cent of us are getting enough exercise on a daily basis. (Keep in mind that the minimum standards that we are not meeting are designed to keep people from getting sick.) That means that 85 per cent of Canadians are at risk of chronic illnesses like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes simply because they are not physically active on a daily basis.
While as little as 15 minutes of exercise each day can decrease your risk of certain cancers by 35- to 50 per cent, in general you should be getting about an hour of physical activity each day to be healthy, happy and minimize your risk of chronic diseases. That hour can be broken up into short increments: Go for a quick walk, stretch at night in front of the TV, do some gardening on the weekend, take a yoga class at lunch. Any type of exercise helps and any intensity is better than sitting on the couch.
In a previous column, I wrote about the power of being 1 per cent better. Spending 1 per cent of your day on exercise means taking about 15 minutes to walk, jog, run, stretch or play. But still we don’t do it. Why not? What’s missing?
One of the most interesting ideas I’ve come across recently is the idea of “decision fatigue.” Basically the hypothesis is that people have only enough mental energy during a given day to make a certain number of decisions that are hard to make. Decisions like “I am going to sit down and get this project done,” “I’m going to the gym,” “I’m not going to have that treat that I want to eat right now.” Once you’ve burned through your mental toughness for the day, you’re done. At that point your habits take over and you’re a slave to what you normally have done up to that point.
So if you’re looking to make positive changes in your life like sleeping, eating and moving better, then you need to take decision fatigue into account to make sure you make the right choices throughout the day. Because as you live your days so you live your life.
Here are a few things you can to live a world-class life and overcome decision fatigue:
1. Many people end their days by crashing out on the couch and watching some TV to “relax.” Unfortunately that’s a recipe for a bad night’s sleep. The flashing lights from your TV activate your brain and make it hard for you to fall asleep quickly. Have a plan to help you fall asleep. Get some books. Put them on the nightstand by your bed. Make it easy on yourself to do the right thing when you’re tired.
2. To improve your nutrition you have to plan ahead. This takes work and some effort but if you don’t do this then you’re going to be faced with hunger or cravings at some point during the day – and that’s when you’re most likely to go get something fast that’s brutal for your body and your brain. You only have to look at the lineups for Starbucks or Tim Horton’s at 3 p.m. to know that this is the reality for many people at work. Take food with you from home. Having some healthy snacks to rely on during the day is a lifesaver that can make a huge difference in your health and performance. Nuts and berries are great options.
3. If you want to exercise more, then make sure you build it into your schedule when you have the smallest chances of something else getting in the way. I exercise first thing in the morning before anyone else in my family gets up. Work can’t get in the way and neither can helping my daughter put on yet another princess outfit. Find a time during the day when you know you’ll be consistent and you won’t get interrupted or rescheduled.
World-class performers build routines that they follow almost religiously that protect them from decision fatigue. Workouts are scheduled, nutrition is planned in detail and sleep is a priority. Routines, planning and scheduling help them do the right things at the right times despite the exhaustion that comes with training full time. We can all live better lives and make the right decisions that we all want to make to be healthier, happier and to perform better.
What do you do to overcome decision fatigue and live the life of your dreams?
Thoughts, questions or comments? Tweet to me @drgregwells.
Health Advisor contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging.
Dr. Greg Wells is a Professor, Scientist, Broadcaster & Author. He is the author of Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes, which explores how generics and DNA, the brain, muscles, lungs, heart and blood work together in extreme conditions. You can follow him on twitter, Linked In and Facebook. You might also enjoy his podcast!
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