There’s a month for everything these days. “National Get to Know an Independent Real Estate Broker Month”, “International Twit Award Month” and “National Hamburger Month”, are a few examples.
May has many observances, but the one that’s relevant to the purpose of The Writers, is as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. In an effort to promote getting healthy, the eponymous President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports designated May as the time to encourage everyone to improve the health habits they can control.
Getting in shape and staying there is an important lifestyle change we all should be making—for many reasons.
A few benefits of exercise are: feeling and looking better, increased mobility, fewer health problems (you could potentially save big money on healthcare and prescription drugs), quality of life can improve and length of life may increase.
Here is a challenge: make the effort to exercise for a month and see how you do—you might surprise yourself. Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program.
A DC area running coach, says most people can run a marathon and “you start with either your right foot or your left.”
General exercise is no different—you have to decide if being healthy, feeling and looking better are things you want and make the conscious decision to take that first step.
People who aren’t regular exercisers also must understand that you have to start small. Going out to run a marathon in a day is near impossible and dangerous—it’s the kind of thing for which you need serious months of training. Start with 10 minutes of walking (or whatever you enjoy) and build from there.
Most people do not drop (safely and healthily) all the weight they want or get extremely fit in a month, but most people notice a positive difference. They feel better, their clothes fit better and they have more energy.
Give yourself and exercise a chance—the human body is an amazing machine, it just needs sufficient time to do the work. Not good with delayed gratification? If you want to make taking care of yourself a lifestyle change, delayed gratification is really the only type that exists. Deal with it.
CHANGING YOUR EATING HABITS
Along with exercising, make an attempt at eating healthier: i.e. eat more fruit, vegetables, fiber and quality protein and whole grain carbs (yes, CARBS). Find the (healthy) foods you like to eat. Don’t like broccoli? Don’t eat it.
You would be surprised at how good healthy stuff tastes when you’ve earned it. (Thanksgiving turkey tastes like ambrosia after the annual Turkey Trot 5 Miler!) I have found that after an intense workout, I don’t feel like eating a donut, candy or potato chips. Those snacks don’t make the machine run so well and can cause an upset stomach. I suspect others with similar workout habits also find eating junk just won’t cut it. Further, the occasional treat becomes even rarer, but appreciated that much more.
A concept that works, but is frequently misused and around which people try to find shortcuts is: “Calories in versus calories expended”. A person needs to eat enough to function on a basic level and support the activity he or she is doing. Understanding that instant results DO NOT exist is key. There is no magic pill, no quick fix, no easy answer or miracle food or ‘diet’ that will produce an immediate transformation. To believe and act otherwise will do more harm than good in the long run.
You don’t necessarily need to count calories, but you need to learn to listen to your body’s signals. Do you crave a big steak? You are probably low on protein and iron. If you are not hungry, don’t eat. I appreciate that it may not be that simple for some—as people have been conditioned to associate food with emotion rather than hunger—but therein lies another challenge. Teach yourself to respond only to hunger—and ask for help and support from others when you need it.
The human body is like a car. When the car is taken care of, fed well, and driven regularly, it lasts long, gets good mileage and takes care of its owner. You wouldn’t starve your car of oil, gas or routine maintenance, or put marbles in the gas tank and expect better performance, right?
Similarly, eating crap compromises the body’s performance. Anyone see “Super Size Me”? Spurlock had no energy and was did incredible damage to his health by eating things with limited, if any, nutritional value.
Another thing that bugs me is the use of the word ‘diet’. A diet, from the Latin word ‘dies’ meaning ‘day’, is what a person eats (every day)—all of us have ‘diets’, some are healthier than others. A diet is NOT something one ‘goes on’ to lose weight.
Now that you have started, the bigger challenge is learning how to enjoy taking care of yourself and making regular exercise and healthy eating part of your MO.
STICKING TO IT
The process of getting healthy is similar to disciplining your children. Exercising and eating healthy are things we do for our own good and as with children, following through is crucial to our success. If you don’t follow through, misbehavior and disrespect will continue as will unhealthiness.
There are ways to combat the desire to quit—buffers, if you will.
The manner in which you choose to exercise is up to you. By selecting a form of exercise you LIKE, it becomes harder to give it up. It does not have to be traditional exercise, but it should be something you enjoy. If there’s no fun in it for you, you won’t do it, period.
Running, walking, swimming, bicycling, dancing, skating—does one of those pique your interest? How about playing a pickup game of hoops, gardening, having a catch, chasing your kids, kicking around a soccer ball, or hiking? There has to be something remotely resembling exercise each of us likes to do. Find an activity you like and do it 3-4 times a week, building up to 30 minutes each time.
Too busy? Work exercise into your day: park as far away from the door of your building as possible, clean, climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator, or take a walk with your co-workers at lunch. Whatever you have time to do, do it, and find a way to make it fun.
Another way to prevent health habit regression is by making exercise social. Involve your family, friends—make new friends—whatever it takes to make it social. The friendly support makes it easier to maintain. Like-minded training buddies are immensely helpful. They are supportive, good listeners, incredibly understanding and are your own personal cheering section. Most also don’t mind hearing about the blisters, aches and pains or the occasional lapse in training. Odds are they sympathize.
Make it fun, make it social, and make certain you are wearing the right shoes, not only for the sport/exercise you choose, but also for your foot and body type. Some people learn the last one the hard way—and wind up with debilitating injuries. If you don’t know about something, ask someone who does. These strategies can help you make exercise a regular part of your life.
Many people worry about the numbers: “I have to lose ten pounds” or “Oh my god, I gained two pounds.” It’s the end of the world. I say throw away all the scales—they tell you nothing except the force gravity exerts upon your m(ass). They tell you nothing about your fat and muscle composition. Muscle does weigh more than fat.
A better measure of weight loss and fitness gain is how well your clothes fit. And more than that, losing weight shouldn’t be the ultimate goal, feeling better and more energetic should.
Give it a chance—what have you got to lose except the bad habits, bigger clothes and unhealthiness?
As with any exercise program, always consult your personal physician before beginning.