The Path Back to Fitness

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Ann Helmus, Ph.D.
NESCA Founder/Director

One of the well-known impacts of the pandemic has been the loss of physical fitness in children and adolescents because of the loss of opportunities to play sports and generally move around. In addition, many children and adolescents have gained weight during this time. Maintaining a healthy weight and being physically fit offer many benefits for social-emotional development as well as academic performance. Numerous research studies link physical exercise to significant improvements in the regulation of mood and anxiety as well as attention and executive functioning.

Parents are often at a loss for how to help their child get back into good habits to lose weight, exercise regularly, or get back into a sport. Common parenting approaches, such as offering “helpful suggestions,” encouraging, nagging and bribing usually don’t work for long term—or even short term—positive change. Instead, these approaches often “back fire,” making the child feel even more ashamed or powerless—emotions that are not likely to fuel motivation to change habits.

So how do we support children and adolescents in developing the positive habits that are necessary for maintaining health and fitness? The key lies in empowering the child to determine his or her own goals and establishing their “why” through discussion of why they would like to reach this goal, what they will get by achieving the goal, and, perhaps most important, how they will feel when they reach this goal. This type of motivational interviewing builds internal motivation, which beats external motivators every time in terms of creating long term change.

Once the child or adolescent is clear on what they would like to achieve and why, the next step is determining the behavior changes that will help the child achieve their outlined goal and working with the child to figure out what’s manageable so that success can be ensured. For example, one adolescent might easily commit to a 30-minute daily bike ride, whereas another might want to start with a daily 10-minute walk. Success breeds success, so it is important to set goals that are challenging but also achievable. Throughout this process, the focus is on creating a positive mindset and positive emotional state of empowerment, hopefulness, optimism, and pride.

Some children may be open to this type of process with their parents; however, most adolescents will likely not want to be involved at this level with a parent. NESCA offers health and life coaching, aimed at helping adolescents and young adults with this process. Coaching offers a structured approach to helping an adolescent or young adult define his/her own goals and motivations as well as understanding the obstacles that they have encountered in reaching those goals, which are usually limiting beliefs (e.g., “I can never stick to things.”) or faulty self-identities (e.g., “I’m not athletic.”). The coaching process works through a combination of structured activities as well as a highly supportive personal relationship. To learn more, please join us for a webinar on Thursday, September 23 at 1:00 PM ET, view a previous webinar on this topic on our website or contact Health & Life Coach Billy Demiri for a free 30-minute consultation to determine if health coaching might be helpful for your child.


About the Author

NESCA Founder/Director Ann Helmus, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical neuropsychologist who has been practicing for almost 20 years. In 1996, she jointly founded the  Children’s Evaluation Center (CEC) in Newton, Massachusetts, serving as co-director there for almost ten years. During that time, CEC emerged as a leading regional center for the diagnosis and remediation of both learning disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

In September of 2007, Dr. Helmus established NESCA (Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents), a client and family-centered group of seasoned neuropsychologists and allied staff, many of whom she trained, striving to create and refine innovative clinical protocols and dedicated to setting new standards of care in the field.

Dr. Helmus specializes in the evaluation of children with learning disabilities, attention and executive function deficits and primary neurological disorders. In addition to assessing children, she also provides consultation and training to both public and private school systems. She frequently makes presentations to groups of parents, particularly on the topics of non-verbal learning disability and executive functioning.

To book an evaluation with Dr. Helmus, NESCA Founder and Director, or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists or therapists, complete NESCA’s online intake form

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, as well as Londonderry, New Hampshire. NESCA serves clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

New Year’s Resolution to Lasting Lifestyle Changes

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By Billy Demiri, CPT
Certified Personal Trainer

The New Year can bring with it so many possibilities, and beginning a new decade is even more exciting. This is the time of year so many of us envision great goals and changes that we want to make in the new year. A 2016 study published in scientific journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, investigated New Year’s resolutions and found that, “55% of resolutions were health related, such as exercising more, or eating healthier.” I know from personal experience and working with so many people, helping them achieve their fitness and lifestyle goals, just how hard it can be to make lasting changes. So how do we stay on track with all of our New Year’s resolutions when, “about 80% of people fail to stick to their New Year’s resolutions for longer than six weeks”? Here are some of the best strategies I use when setting goals and staying consistent with them.

First, when it comes to New Year’s resolutions and goal setting, it is important to make sure they are doable and meaningful if we want to give ourselves the best shot at success. It is essential to make sure that whatever goal we choose really matters to us, and we are making it for the right reasons. I like to use the acronym SMART when setting goals for myself and my clients. That means goals should be S-Specific, M-Measurable, A-Achievable, R-Relevant and T-Time-bound. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, you should be specific about how much weight you want to lose. Also, make sure it is realistic and set a time frame for yourself; such as losing 1-2 pounds a week vs. 5 pounds per week. Most important of all, it has to be the right goal for you! It is really easy to lose sight of our goal if we are making changes based on what someone else or society is telling us to change. So how do we find a goal that will be right for us?

My favorite technique for finding goals that matter to me and my clients is asking the 5- Whys—or the Downward Arrow Technique—which was coined by psychiatrist Dr. David Burns. It works for any goal or statement by asking why five times to really explore why that goal is important. For example, let’s stick with the goal of losing weight and explore it further:

  1. Why do you want to lose weight?
  • Because I want to lose fat and build some muscle.
  1. Why does that matter?
  • So I could walk around with my shirt off in the summer.
  1. Why do you want to be able to walk around with your shirt off?
  • Because I will look good and feel good about myself.
  1. Why do you want to feel good about yourself?
  • Because when I feel good about myself, I am more confident and assertive.
  1. Why do you want to be more confident and assertive?
  • Because I will be in control and will have a better chance at getting what I want out of life.

By using the 5-Whys technique, we can gain critical insight to our goals. For this person, weight loss was really a matter of taking charge of his life. He’s not really motivated by the number on the scale or just looking good with his shirt off. By having that insight, he is far more likely to keep working towards his goal—even if the scale hasn’t moved as fast as he would have liked.

Now that we have a way of choosing the right goals for ourselves, how do we stay consistent and make sure we reach our objectives? The two most important steps to achieving any goal are making time and taking action! Making time declares that you matter, and it is a commitment to your values, priorities and goals. If you don’t make time, time will be taken from you. Practicing making time will also help you practice valuable life skills, such as identifying what is important to you and looking ahead, planning and preparing for anything life throws at you. One way to start this process is by making a time diary. For one day, about every 30 minutes, record how you are spending your time. This will help you assess how you are spending your time and figure out what activities are helping you, adding value, what is non-negotiable, and what is taking your time but not helping you. Now you can figure out what activities you can do less of so you can do more to accomplish your goals.

Once you find the time, now you can take action! Often, we come up with great, elaborate plans and idea, but  then get stuck in the thought process. The world’s best workout plan, diet plan or life plan is no good unless we can do something about it. The best way to get unstuck in this process is by taking a five-minute action. Only action creates change! Taking action almost always comes before motivation, and it is usually only after we’ve done something that we feel motivated. By taking small actions, we can gain momentum and bust out of procrastination. Usually, all we have to do is drive through the first few minutes of resistance and then five minutes turns into 30 and then into 60 minutes. By being consistent and learning to use this five-minute action, we will not only achieve our goals, but also learn these valuable life skills and truths along with it. Action is empowering, satisfying and serves as evidence that you’re getting things done even if it’s just for five minutes.

To accomplish any goal, we need to build certain skills and practices, then put them into action. Each goal requires different skills and practices to apply, but the process is the same for all of them. Let’s stick with the goal of losing weight by working out. To do so, we must develop and build up the skill of time management. Then we can practice making time to go to the gym or for a jog. Finally, we can take action and go to the gym or do anything that will help us reach our goal. The more we focus on this process, rather than the outcome, the better the results we will see. We will also build valuable life skills that can be used for more than just fitness goals.

So, now that you have a way to find a meaningful goal and an action plan to go with it, it is time to take charge of your path. Also, it’s really important to remember that when working toward a goal or resolution, that you only compare yourself to where you were yesterday, not to where someone else is in the present moment. Adopt a growth mindset and know that there is no such thing as failure…only feedback. There may be setbacks, and that is normal, but you can learn from it and take a five-minute action. Most importantly, have fun with the process, try new things and as Jocko Willink would say, “Get After It!”


About the Author:

Certified Personal Trainer Billy Demiri offers Personal and Social Coaching (PSC) at NESCA. Billy has several fitness certifications including: NSCA-CPT (National Strength Condition Association- Certified Personal Trainer) Certified and Autism Fit Certified.

To book sessions with Billy Demiri, complete NESCA’s online intake form and note that you are interested in Personal & Social Coaching.

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.