In this segment from the Motley Fool Answers podcast, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp are joined by Chief Wellness Officer Sam Whiteside to give your New Year's resolutions a turbo boost before they fall by the wayside. They'll talk about the health-improvement tips that finally worked for them, building good habits, and finding the motivation that suits you.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Jan. 16, 2018.
Alison Southwick: This year, much like the years that came before, getting healthier and exercising more were the most popular New Year's Eve resolutions, and each of us here in this room has resolved, at one point or another, to get healthier. Sometimes we fail, but sometimes it really sticks. Today Sam Whiteside, chief wellness Fool here at The Motley Fool, is going to join us and we're all going to share what finally worked for us to get healthier. Again, except Rick. In all our planning meetings, we were like, "Yeah, this finally worked for me!" and then Rick was like, "No."
Robert Brokamp: That's not true. He's got some things.
Sam Whiteside: We found it, I think.
Brokamp: It's just harder to do.
Southwick: He's not going to...
Whiteside: He might be reluctant to share.
Rick Engdahl: I'm with the people. I'm with the people. The people who listen to these shows and say, "Oh sure, they got their act together." It never works for me, though.
Southwick: Well, we'll see. We're going to try and get you. Between our stories and Sam's advice we will make something stick. After all, it is your birthday today.
Whiteside: It is his birthday.
Brokamp: Happy birthday!
Southwick: And at times like these, as one gets older they begin to think of, "Oh, gee!"
Brokamp: Oh, gee!
Southwick: I don't remember being this hung over the last time I had a few beers with the mates.
Brokamp: Just hypothetically speaking.
Southwick: I don't know why I specifically went there, because that's certainly not why you are looking like a sad human being behind the glass today.
Brokamp: A little loogy, as Alison would say.
Brokamp: Oh, it's logy? Loogy's a different thing.
Whiteside: What is it?
Southwick: So, Sam, you have joined us for many episodes in the past, and I want to thank you, because we are firm believers that being healthier also translates into being wealthier. Bro, make the case.
Brokamp: I've written and talked about this many times. First of all, it is scientifically proven. There's no question that healthier people are more inclined, or at least have a higher level of wealth. Tons of reasons, and I'm just going to highlight two of them.
First, healthier people, obviously, need less medical care. Medical care can be a huge expense. Not only is it expensive today, but the cost of medical care goes up at a rate faster than inflation each and every year. There's no question. The less you need to go to doctors, buy prosthetics, buy aspirin, Rick. Whatever else you need, the more money you're going to save.
But also, there's plenty of evidence that shows that healthier people are more productive. They're less likely to miss work. They're more likely to be cognitively functioning while they're at work. So, being more productive is unquestionably a good thing for your bottom line. Those are two reasons why getting healthier is actually good for your bottom line.
Southwick: All right.
Whiteside: And your waistline?
Brokamp: And your waistline as well. Now I'll have another example when we get to my story.
Southwick: Who wants to start? Sam, should we start with you?
Southwick: You are, again, the chief wellness officer here at the Fool, or chief wellness Fool.
Whiteside: Whatever you want to call me.
Southwick: We all make up our own titles here, so we can be whatever we want. And you came to the Fool four years ago? Five years ago?
Whiteside: About four and a half years ago.
Southwick: Four and a half years ago.
Whiteside: It's been a good while.
Southwick: And it is your full-time job...
Whiteside: Full-time job...
Southwick: ... to do a million different things to keep us Fools healthy.
Southwick: But you have your own health journey to share with us here, too, about what worked for you.
Whiteside: Personally, I have a lot of chronic disease, specifically on my mom's side of my family. I know that we mentioned this in a podcast, I believe, last year. Breast cancer. Obesity. Diabetes. Heart disease. You name it, it's there. So when I was around 15 to 16 years old, I was at a family reunion. I was just looking around and I was like, "This is not what I want to become, but this is what could be my future if I don't start taking action now."
Knowing that I am predisposed to so many different conditions has been my bottom motivator. It is always in the back of my mind, and in addition to that, I would say anxiety, depression, those also can run heavily in certain people's families, and it does in mine, as well. And so, when I don't exercise or I don't move, I can feel it, not only in my body but my brain drastically feels it.
Those two things alone definitely keep me motivated, no matter what time of the year it is. Right now it's cold -- cold as all get-out. It's a little warmer today, but it is cold, and it's not really getting people to the gym and getting people moving. Right now, I'm working out in our gym here at HQ in our building with some Fools. They're helping keep me motivated, and I'm helping keep them motivated.
The last thing I want to do is drive over to the gym and work out with a bunch of people. Gyms, right now, are insanely packed, as they should be, and I'm welcoming all people, but it's kind of hard to work around a bunch of people. Not enough equipment. There's just a lot going on. And then, you're sweaty. Get in a cold car. Drive home. There's a lot of restraints and there's a lot of barriers, so if I can work out here at the gym, right after I finish teaching class, then I'm going to do that.
Southwick: And you actually do a lot. You name it and Sam has tried it. And one thing I know you don't like is running.
Whiteside: I don't like running, but every year I try and break that love-hate relationship, and I haven't been able to do that.
Brokamp: We ran a 5K together.
Whiteside: We did! That was a lot of fun. That was the Pride 5K Run. So yes. I can go out and do a 5K. I can go out and do a 10K. It's going to be really painful the next day, but I can do it. It's something I need to get better about. I used to do triathlons. The running part was the worst part. I hated it. I specifically wouldn't train that much for the run part. I would do amazing in the swim. I would maintain a really top position in a swim. The bike I would hold my own. And then I would lose all my time in the run. And every time I did this. I've probably competed in maybe 15 triathlons, or so but sprint and Olympic distances, so the shorter ones. That just means it doesn't work really for me, and it's totally different for everyone.
Southwick: You've got to go out there and kiss a lot of frogs.
Whiteside: You do! You've got to try and find what fits for you, and if you enjoy it, then you're going to keep doing it.
Brokamp: But you highlight two other things. First of all, the social aspect.
Brokamp: Especially given your job, you know you have to be in reasonably good shape and people do expect you to show up. I think that's a big part of it, social accountability. But also, convenience. We have an office where you can do it...
Whiteside: Yes, absolutely.
Brokamp: But there's lots of stuff you can do no matter where you are.
Whiteside: Oh, for sure. I mean, we're very lucky. We can wear workout clothes every day.
Southwick: Wear the Sam wardrobe. I sure do.
Whiteside: You can wear sweaty clothes in the office because you just hit the gym, or you were outside for bike or a run, and no one will say anything. Not a lot of offices are like that.
We do have an on-site gym. We have a lot of subsidies that a lot of companies don't have. Race subsidies. We have gym subsidies. I reimburse for lots of different things. A lot of companies don't have that. We have myself on-site and I'm also available to all of our remote employees, as well. It just makes the case that you have to fight for yourself, you have to find something you enjoy, and just stop giving yourself excuses. It's not going to get any easier tomorrow if you start tomorrow, so go ahead and start today.
Brokamp: Especially on my dad's side, a lot of incidence of obesity, heart disease, and strokes. That was something that scared me. But the thing that really got me -- this was about five years ago -- that I knew I had to change the way I was, was I gained so much weight I was going to have to buy a new wardrobe. That's where the money thing came in. Like there's no way...
Southwick: There it is!
Brokamp: ... I am replacing all my pants. So I had to lose weight. I think I lost something like 25 pounds at some point to do that, just so I didn't have to buy more pants. But I do keep a folder in my Evernote of all the reasons why you need to exercise. A lot of them have to do with anxiety. Just feeling better. Cognitive functioning. I am deathly afraid of getting Alzheimer's and there's definitely evidence that exercise can delay that to a certain degree.
Whiteside: Absolutely. That runs in my family, too. I didn't mention that, but yeah, it's scary.
Brokamp: I need an army of information because it is hard, especially after you've worked all day, to make yourself do some of the things that you do. But for me, the exercises that I have chosen to do could be pretty much done anywhere. I do have the social accountability in that I have this very small, little group. Often, it's just Paul. Hey, Paul! I know Paul listens to the podcast. Sometimes Meredith. Sometimes Natasha. We get together in the afternoon and do a beach body workout.
Southwick: Which sounds adorable. I don't know what that means -- a beach body workout -- but I immediately imagine one of those '60s beach bingo things.
Brokamp: I wear my bikini. We throw around the ball.
Southwick: It's shimmying and thinking about summer love. You and Paul Anka. I forget.
Brokamp: But that sounds quite fun, and when we had Zumba here at the office, man, I took advantage of that.
Southwick: You had some moves.
Brokamp: It's just watching these videos. It's basically a lot of push-ups, and sit-ups, and squats. You don't need a gym. I haven't been in the Fool's gym in a long time.
Whiteside: It looks the same.
Brokamp: It looks the same? Because it's stuff you can just do as long as you have space. That's really what has caused me to lose that weight and helped me to keep it off. That said, I'm going to try to step it up a notch this year. We'll see what happens.
Southwick: Wait. How are you stepping it up a notch?
Whiteside: Are we putting another $200 on this? I said it!
Brokamp: OK, so this gets back to...
Southwick: What is going on?
Brokamp: When I originally lost weight, I had money on the line.
Brokamp: So I had to work out three times a week or owe money, and if I didn't reach a certain weight goal after like three or four months, I owed a couple of hundred dollars. And then as you may remember a year ago, I bet you I could lose weight over the holidays.
Whiteside: It was 10 pounds.
Whiteside: And you lost 10 pounds exactly.
Brokamp: Exactly. And then I gained like five of them back with eggnog, but...
Southwick: The eggnog diet is not...
Whiteside: The Bro-heart eggnog diet.
Brokamp: So I want to lose another 15 to 20 pounds by summer.
Brokamp: So anyway, I like the idea of a bet. That works!
Whiteside: That $200 worked last year.
Brokamp: That works for me, so we'll have to work out the details. Details coming soon.
Southwick: So, the big thing for me, that got me to start exercising regularly, is I had a kid, and that kid, as much as I love her to death, was exhausting, and kind of annoying, and I really needed time to get away. So I was either at work or with my kid, and I had zero alone time. I'm a bit of an extrovert, so it's not the end of the world, but there's enough of an introvert in me, it means that if I don't have alone time, I just start shutting down.
One day I put on some running shoes and I thought, "All right, I can do this!" It was cheap. All you needed was shoes. I happened to have them from Fool Fitness as well. And I just ran. I would put the kid down for a nap, and I would go run, and then I'd look at my watch, and I'd say, "Oh, I think she's up from her nap," and then I'd just keep running away from the house.
And then Ron would be texting me. "Where are you? What are you doing?" I'm like, "I'm still running!"
Whiteside: Yes! Long run day. Sorry. Good luck!
Southwick: My knees would hurt. My ankles. My feet would hurt, and I would just be like, "Oh, no. I've just got to go..."
Whiteside: We're totally fixing that, though.
Southwick: Oh, yeah!
Whiteside: The phone rolling.
Southwick: We're doing better on that. So that's how I started running. It was an exercise I could do that was cheap, because all you needed was a pair of running shoes to do it. I could do it quickly. I could just walk out of the house, and I'm doing it. I didn't have to drive anywhere. It got me out of the house and not feeling guilty about not either being at work or being with my child and being a good mother. I could just run. I would just listen to a podcast, or listen to music. That's the thing that stuck with me.
My biggest problem, though, is that the more I run, the more I then consume when I'm done running, so it all kind of stays level. I'll be like, "Oh, I'm really exercising," and then I will eat all the food in the house.
Whiteside: That happens.
Southwick: That's a problem I've got to figure out.
Whiteside: We can talk about that. Well, those long runs are jacking up your metabolism. You're burning an insane number of calories, depending on how long you're out there and how hard you're working, so you're going to be hungry.
Whiteside: But you should eat post-run, but maybe be more conscious about the choices.
Southwick: So eating all the macaroni and cheese is maybe not what I need to do.
Whiteside: Maybe not.
Southwick: But I can imagine our listeners are like, "God, that's such a stupid story! Like, you just ran. Like, come on! That's so lame." But it really is what worked for me, and it's the one thing that has stuck. I mean, I still come to Fool Fitness. I can run first where I go to Fool Fitness, but running has been the one consistent thing that I've been able to keep doing, just because it is so easy. So cheap. Efficient. It's really efficient.
Whiteside: And it's mindless. When you walk into a gym, sometimes we can get extremely overwhelmed. Like, "Oh, God! There's 100 pieces of equipment in here. There's people. Like, how many numbers, and sets, and reps, and weeks. And oh, God! Like formats." Running you just hop on a treadmill or you just go outside. And as much as I hate running...
Southwick: That's OK, though.
Whiteside: I do the treadmill work. I'll get outside, and walk, and I love hiking. Hiking -- I call it my treehab. It is my safe place where everything is just turned off, all my barriers are down, and I just hike. It brings me and grounds me. I haven't reached your level of the running yet.
Southwick: Well, I have a lot of other motivators. And also, the guilt aspect helps, too. Like, for whatever reason, I don't feel guilty when I ignore all of my other things asking for my attention. When I'm running, I don't feel guilty.
Whiteside: Nor should you. That's your "you" time, and if anything, coming into 2018 and experiencing some things that I experienced in 2017, we need to be vigorous about our own well-being. We need to be vigilant about taking care of ourselves.
Brokamp: For you, Alison, that's what got you running. But are you now so habituated to it that you can't stop? I mean, if you don't run for like a week or two, do you feel bad?
Southwick: Yes, I do. I do feel bad. I did like a half-marathon last year, and then I took a break where I've only been running once a week, as opposed to two, three, or four times a week. I miss it, but also it's like you said. It's really cold outside.
Whiteside: It is.
Southwick: It will get better. I keep telling myself that I will get back on it in the spring. I say that, but I know that I will. I'm not just saying it. I really will get better.
Brokamp: Got you.
Whiteside: That's awesome.
Southwick: To that point, though, Bro. This somehow became an easy habit for me, but how hard is it to actually change your habit, whether it's exercising more often? Whether it's eating differently? Most people do their New Year's Resolution, then a week later they're like "Argh!"
Whiteside: Right. "I tried. It didn't work." And that's the thing. There are so many programs out there that are a seven-day fix. A 10-day fix. A 10-day detox. A 21-day fix. All of these things that are putting specific numbers on habits that who knows how long we have kept in our closets and have generated behavior about. All I can say is I know it is not 21 days. It is far more than 21 days. It's more like three times that.
I found some research earlier this morning. It's more like 66 days, and yeah, everyone's eyes open really wide. That's a long time. That's a solid two months of grinding away at something that you have possibly spent 30 years accumulating whatever bad habit that may be, or trying to form a new habit.
My advice is definitely don't give yourself a set parameter of time. And also, don't hang yourself out to dry. Just because you made a bad choice some time throughout the day, don't just throw that day in the trash can and be like, "Oh, I'll just start next Monday." For whatever reason Mondays and Jan. 1, so what. Just because you had a doughnut for a snack doesn't mean that you can go absolutely nuts and crazy for dinner. Rein it in. Realize that every choice you make should be a cognitive choice that you've actually made yourself and not because of a habit that you've continually formed.
Brokamp: Since you said cognitive, I have to highlight a book that I've highlighted before, and that is a book by Judith Beck, who is a cognitive therapist and the daughter of Aaron Beck, really the father of cognitive therapy. And in her diet book, she talks about all these -- I don't think she calls them lies, but interesting ways we think about food.
One of them is if I had that doughnut, then my diet's off and I can eat everything for the rest of the day. Another is -- and this is a tough one at the Fool -- this food is free, so I should be able to eat it. Or, I ordered this dish. There's still food here. I can't waste that.
Whiteside: I have to finish it!
Brokamp: I have to eat it. So it's a fascinating book. I highly recommend it.
Whiteside: Yeah. And it's true! CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy, has proven that the more we can continue to try and be introspective, and look at the way we're making decisions, or actually not making decisions because of patterns of behavior, the more we can be more cognizant about how we're making decisions. The more we can hopefully make better decisions in the future.
Southwick: All right. So what is your best piece of advice to help people get healthier and wealthier in 2018?
Whiteside: That's a good question. I know that we always pinpoint one kind of thing every time I'm on the podcast. I believe in 2016 we mentioned having a buddy and working out with an exercise partner. Having an accountabilibuddy.
Whiteside: Shout-out to Mohna. And then I think in 2017 we talked about smart goals. Being specific, measurable, and having short and long-term goals. But this year, in 2018, I think we really need to cut ourselves a break. Stop putting all of these extra things on your plate. Stop putting all of these ridiculous timelines on everything.
Just start making healthier decisions. The more that we increase our everyday stress, the more that our hormones, specifically leptin and ghrelin, will be out of whack, and that is going to increase the chance of us gaining weight and increase obesity. So stop stressing yourself out, myself included. I can really have a high bar for myself, sometimes, and I've got to recognize it. I'll also unintentionally have that high bar set for other people, but just not tell them. That's a really bad thing to do.
I need to recognize patterns of my behavior and just realize that today's a new day. I can make some really solid choices today. If I make one bad choice, that's all right. I'm making a bunch of other solid choices. Don't hang yourself out to dry, Fools. Be kind to yourself!
Southwick: Rick, what's the closest you've ever come to being healthy?
Engdahl: I was always very healthy!
Brokamp: He looks good. You're a good-looking man.
Southwick: You look good. You don't look unhealthy.
Southwick: You don't look unhealthy.
Engdahl: It always came very naturally. I was just naturally healthy, so I never had to work at it, which kind of sucks now, because I have no habits of working at it.
Southwick: Right. Well, that's the whole thing about how the most common ages for people running marathons is if a nine is at the end of their age. They're like 39, 49, 59.
Engdahl: I don't have that problem anymore.
Engdahl: I don't have that problem anymore.
Brokamp: Did you just turn AARP?
Engdahl: I haven't gotten the envelope yet.
Brokamp: Oh, it's coming.
Southwick: Winter is coming, Rick.
Engdahl: Winter is here.
Southwick: Aw! Well, what did work for you the best?
Engdahl: Anything that distracts me from the fact that I'm exercising.
Southwick: So, competition. Fun. No?
Whiteside: Not competition. Merely fun.
Engdahl: Fun distraction. Playing games. If there's a game involved, and I'm having a good time, I'm happy to exercise. I don't dislike exercise. I just don't like exercise for the sake of exercise. And you just can't make me do it. I'm a questioner and a rebel.
Brokamp: He's a rebel.
Southwick: Yeah! "I'm a rebel, Dottie."
Brokamp: Going back to the Four Tendencies.
Engdahl: I was about to exercise until you started this podcast. Now I'm not going to.
Southwick: All right. Well, each of us, I think, has a quick recommendation to help people exercise a bit more in 2018. My recommendation is my same recommendation as last year. I'm sorry. Time to leave.
Brokamp: But it's a good one. It's a really good one.
Southwick: OK, thank you. It's the app Sworkit. S-W-O-R-K-I-T. I think you recommended it in the past, Sam...
Whiteside: I did...
Southwick: ... and I jumped on it. Sworkit is an app where you tell it what kind of workout you want to do, and how many minutes you've got to do it, and then this woman in a lovely British voice tells you to get ready. Then you see these little videos of what the actual exercise is. It's like 30 seconds of lunges. It's convenient. You can do it anywhere.
Southwick: If it's just stretching, or if you just want to do yoga, or if you want anything more high intensity, you can tell it that. And then at the end it says, "Congratulations! You burned X number of calories," and it makes you feel good. I recommend Sworkit. It's free, I think.
Whiteside: It is free. There's a free and a paid version.
Southwick: That's my recommendation. Bro, what have you got?
Brokamp: I'm a big fan of working in spurts, but also doing some exercises throughout the day, so I have a timer on my computer. Whenever I'm going to be writing an article or doing research, 25 minutes and I can't do anything but work for the 25 minutes. Once that's up, then I go do something, and it's often something like push-ups, sit-ups, some posture exercises. That's another thing I'm going to try to work on this year.
Southwick: I've got to work on my posture, too.
Brokamp: Lunges. Anything like that. Walking up and down the stairs. I'm doing a little bit of exercise throughout the day, just in little five-minute bursts.
Southwick: What program do you use for that?
Brokamp: It's Tomato-Timer.com. This is actually a time management theory called Pomodoro -- I think it's Pomodoro -- which is Italian for tomato. I don't know where the tomato comes from, but it basically recommends that you focus in spurts, but then give yourself a five- to 10-minute break.
Southwick: So you go to the website and say, "Twenty-five minutes starting now."
Brokamp: Yes, you start and then you just work. You can't get coffee. You can't go to the bathroom. If something else jumps into your mind, like, "Oh, I've got this other thing to work on," you write it down on a piece of paper, but then you don't get distracted.
Whiteside: I love that.
Brokamp: You focus. No Facebook. No Twitter. Nothing until you've done work for 25 minutes.
Whiteside: I love it! I'm a huge fan of encouraging everyone to take breaks, and I am a big proponent of getting fresh air during that break, so I step outside.
Brokamp: Yes, that's a big one. When it's nicer out, you take the walk. Take the walk to the graveyard. There's a nice graveyard around here to walk around.
Engdahl: That's a good incentive, too.
Southwick: Right? You'd be like, "Oh, yeah, that's in my future."
Brokamp: Estate planning. That's important.
Southwick: And what do you have for us today, Sam?
Whiteside: I brought one of my current favorite things.
Southwick: It's like an Oprah moment here.
Whiteside: It is. It's a Sam moment. It's what is called Banana Milk. It's made by a company called Mooala. It is dairy free, nut free. There's basically water, organic banana puree, organic roasted sunflower seeds, sea salt, and cinnamon. It's super healthy, low carb, and super tasty. Cheers!
Brokamp: Here we go.
Whiteside: Here we go.
Brokamp: It's good.
Southwick: It's not as sweet as I thought it would and it's much nuttier than I thought it would be.
Brokamp: And it's not very thick. I thought when you said bananas it was going to be almost like a smoothie, but it's milk.
Whiteside: It's kind of like almond milk, which has a little bit of texture to it, and it's a little bit thicker, obviously, than like 2%. It kind of has that consistency, but it's bananas and sunflower.
Brokamp: I think it could work. For me milk is all about cereal. I could see myself using this in cereal.
Whiteside: Absolutely. I'm using it right now because I'm not eating sugar, or drinking wine, or doing gluten. A miserable January.
Brokamp: But you'll get used to it.
Southwick: You need something in your hand.
Southwick: You need to sub in something.
Whiteside: So I'm drinking a lot of water, obviously, and a lot of caffeine-free tea, but in the evening if I get a sugar craving, and I don't have any fresh fruit, I will just grab a glass of Mooala.
Southwick: There we go. And they didn't pay us any money for this.
Whiteside: No! I went to Wegmans last night before I had to call it quits for the night, and got a Mooala.
Brokamp: I'm all for it. I like it.