Vail Daily column: How small changes equal big results |

Vail Daily column: How small changes equal big results

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

Last week, I discussed how optimal fitness acquisition requires paying a large amount of respect to factors other than the act of exercise itself. Ultimately diet, stress management, sleep, spiritual wellbeing, life balance and mental toughness play a cumulative role in cultivating a sound body.

However, asking for immediate and big changes is against the grain of my philosophy; I don’t want to overwhelm the average wellness enthusiast with the wrong message. My encouragement is to have a plan with an end goal that requires life changes in all these areas, but it is important to start small. Here are some guidelines on how to get started.


Diet: I worked with a man who drank a gallon of Pepsi per day. He ate pastries every day and not much else. He smoked a pack of Camels per day. This man looked as you would expect.

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My recommendation to him was to reduce smoking to three-quarters of a pack per day within two weeks. I encouraged him to reduce to a pack a week within six months. He quit completely in four months.

Then he addressed his food intake. Even though he reduced his sugar consumption drastically, he didn’t quit altogether. He lost 20 pounds within 10 months of lifestyle changes, and his health was dramatically better as a result.

Stress management: One of the simplest tools to reduce stress without navigating big life changes is to focus on breathing.

Try this technique: Sit up straight and take deep breaths in through your nose and breathe into your abdomen. Focus on filling your abdomen first and then let air fill up to the top of your lungs. Exhale through your mouth.

Psychologist Judith Tutin said, “Deep breathing counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure.”

Sleep: The blue wavelength light emitted from TVs, laptops and smartphones will potentially zap any chance of producing adequate amounts of melatonin for good sleep. Instead of shutting these devices down altogether, try using f.lux, a program you install onto your devices that changes the screen resolution and the wavelength of the light emitted as the day progresses to night.

Another great option is to purchase amber lensed glasses which are highly effective in reducing the effects of blue light exposure, and in most cases, they completely eliminate the short-wavelength radiation necessary to cause nocturnal melatonin suppression.

Spiritual well-being: A sure fire way to kill motivation for change is to focus on negative thoughts. It’s too easy to focus on the things we don’t have in our lives.

A good friend of mine and pastor at a small church in Denver once said if we did an inventory on all the specific good things we have in our lives, we would realize that there’s not much to complain about even in the worst circumstances. The goodness we experience from family, friends, having a job, having access to food, a warm bed at night, etc., overwhelm the negligible things we would like changed in our lives.

Life balance: Life balance is something I struggle with personally. It is very hard to raise a family in our ZIP code without a strong work ethic.

However, significant improvements can be made by taking a day off each week. If you struggle with finding life balance, try picking one day a week where you turn off your phone and avoid emails. All business can probably wait a day, and the time spent with family and friends is something we will never be able to get back.

Mental toughness: Mental toughness is hard to come by naturally. It seems as if life circumstances develops this character trait naturally if the fire is hot enough frequently enough.

Nonetheless, there are some simple things that can cultivate this quality. Entering small competitions, fasting for a day or two, talking to a stranger, performing an intense high heart rate workout and other small events that get you out of your comfort zone are good to get you started.

This article should get you started. Stay tuned for next week’s discussion about the mindset of a champion as I discuss the mental qualities necessary for high fitness achievement.

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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