Turning Olympic Inspiration into Motivation
The 2016 Olympics have just concluded in Rio, leaving millions of people worldwide inspired by the supreme skill, talent, and fitness of the world’s top athletes. But there is a huge gap between the dazzling display of athleticism we have seen in the past few weeks and the reality of the health and fitness habits of children and adults in the United States.
The vast majority of Americans lead a sedentary existence that fails to meet even the basic recommended minimum requirements for exercise, and our eating habits leave something to be desired as well. Only 20% of the population manages to eat the minimum daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, for example. Given that 34% of children in the US eat fast food on any given day, it is not surprising that at least a third of American children are overweight or obese.
How can we narrow the gap between the unhealthy habits of the general population and the examples set by our top athletes? The average person, when watching the stunning feats of Olympic athletes such as Gabby Douglas, may feel inspired but will probably deem the lifestyles of elite athletes to be too daunting to emulate. While Michael Phelps’s fast food binges got a lot of press during the games, the vast majority of Olympic athletes’ fitness and diet regimens can sound downright terrifying to a couch potato.
While the distance between the daily habits of the average American and those of the average Olympian can seem unbridgeable, the excitement for exercise and healthy eating inspired by the games can help motivate people to make real changes and reap real rewards. You don’t have to jump directly from a sedentary life filled with Big Macs and soda to working out for six hours a day and eating a bodybuilder’s diet of chicken breasts, spinach, and fist-fulls of supplements.
The key characteristic that Olympians share is healthy habits, and anyone can begin to slowly improve their habits by gradually cutting out processed foods, increasing exercise, and replacing unhealthy choices with healthier ones.
Starting out with one small change per week can help you transition to a healthier lifestyle one step at a time without becoming overwhelmed. Dedicate yourself to one small change such as replacing soda with water until that habit becomes ingrained, then add another change, such as walking for fifteen minutes a day. Over time, these small changes can add up to surprisingly big improvements and to new habits. You don’t have to aim for a gold medal to live a longer, healthier life.