The Importance of Gradients in Fitness and Health

by Dr. David Minkoff July 20, 2021 5 min read

Athletic woman rock climbing on a steep cliff side.

There are few industries that are expanding as quickly as those related to health and fitness in today's world – and it's no mystery as to why: 42.4% of Americans are clinically obese!

Millions of people throughout the US and the world struggle with their weight and find it difficult to maintain a fitness regimen. And while everyone has a unique story, there are a few factors that I have found to be consistent amongst those who find maintaining their health a challenge:

  • They see a significant disparity between where they are now and the ideals presented on TV and social media, leading to a feeling of hopelessness.
  • They are overwhelmed by the massive variety of diets, exercise programs, and supplements available.
  • They have brief periods of intense activity with exercise and diet but tend to drop it within a matter of days, weeks, or months.

In fact, studies show that 95% of all diets fail, and 73% of the people who set fitness goals as New Year's resolutions give up.

Now, if you have experienced any of the above yourself or have observed it in people you care about, I want to reassure you of something:

It IS possible (and even relatively easy) for almost anyone to turn their health and fitness around so long as they apply certain basics.

But what are the basics? How do you navigate through the sea of confusing, contradictory, and frankly impossible programs found online or recommended by your friends?

That's what we're going to talk about today.


How to START on the Path to Fitness and Wellness

The first basic I want to impart is the concept of gradients and why you should start simple.

The human body is not designed for rapid, sudden, or extreme changes in conditioning. Too much stress on the body or its systems is likely to lead to an injury or illness. This fundamental fact applies just as much to diet as it does to exercise, and these adverse reactions are one of the primary reasons why most people stop exercising and quit dieting.

Think about it. When you were in high school, and playing on a sports team, you could run and hit the gym for hours, and you did it with ease. But now, fast-forward to your life after ten or more years behind a desk – is your body still conditioned for the same stress levels? Absolutely not.

Unfortunately, the psychological effects of a gradual decline in health and fitness are tough to experience. It can be difficult to reconcile your current condition with how healthy or in shape you were in earlier years (or how you want to be). You want results quickly.

But expecting fast results is how people are most likely to fail at restoring better health. They go too far, too fast, and wind up with an injury, overstrain, or illness. Many others fail because they don't see the results they expect in the first week or two, resulting in a feeling of disappointment and lack of belief that it will really work.

The best way to successfully achieve your physical goals is to start at the right gradient for your body, increasing your efforts gradually and consistently.

The human body is designed to condition itself to a gradual increase in strain, and it responds by building muscle, improving blood flow, increasing hormone production, and optimizing itself to match your activity levels.

One of the best examples that I find to be highly illustrative of this principle is that of a 52-year-old woman who struggled with running her entire life. Even as a teenager and young adult, she would get winded and find herself unable to run for more than a minute or two at a time. At 52 years old, we had her start a program of running for 30 seconds, then walking for four and a half minutes, and then starting over again. She did this routine for 30 minutes every day or two.

Within a week, she was able to increase it to one minute of running and four minutes of walking, and she gradually narrowed the gap until she was able to run for 30 minutes straight. Now, this may be an extreme example, but it illustrates the principle of gradients – and it is applicable to all efforts to improve physical fitness and overall health.

Even an athlete who wants to take his game to the next level must train on a gradient and build the muscle and stamina needed to win.

The key takeaway that I want to stress is that almost any fitness program can be successful, and almost any fitness goal can be achieved, so long as you start at a gradient and slowly condition your body to greater and greater levels of physical stress. Your body will respond by building strength and improving function – and the battle is won.


Gradients Applied to Nutrition

While I have mostly talked about gradients as they apply to exercise, a similar principle applies to changes in diet.

In fact, people are likely to give up on activities that are difficult and don't bring an immediate return. Furthermore, people are unlikely to stick to diets that result in fatigue, anxiety, and craving – common in most extreme dieting plans.

The solution for most people lies, again, in gradients. The best diet is not only good for your body but is also enjoyable – a lifestyle that is easy to maintain for years to come. And it is different for everyone!

One of the easiest and safest ways to improve your health is to gradually phase out toxic, processed, and unhealthy foods and replace them, one by one, with healthy substitutes. Take one aspect of your diet at a time, figure out what works for you, and stick with it. Then take the next, and so on. Trying to make a 180-degree change rarely works.

Everyone's body is unique, and no diet works for every person. It is necessary to figure out what diet works for you and then stick to it.

The Ultimate Secret to Health and Fitness: Consistency

There is another fundamental that goes along with taking things on a gradient: consistency. Real improvements in health and fitness take time, and the most important aspect of any health or exercise program is sticking with it. Start slow and build up over time, and you are on the road to success.

Any exercise program that makes sense and feels good to you is far more likely to work. Any diet that follows basic tenets of nutrition and supplies your body with the nutrients it needs while eliminating unhealthy toxic foods is also likely to succeed – if you stick with it.

Start fast, and you are also likely to quit fast.

Start slowly, work the positive changes into your lifestyle and improve over time, and you are likely to succeed and enjoy improved health and vitality for the long term.

Good luck!





*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.