Thursday, July 22, 2010
Not all of us are natural athletes that dream about the next moment that they will be able to sprint out the door to work out. Some of us have made peace with the reality that in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, exercise is crucial. Although I love and cherish running, I have those days, or weeks, where I need some serious motivation.
I have a 'motivation arsenal.' It includes a variety of things that never fail to get me back on track. 1) My favorite one is just reminding myself of how I feel after a work-out. The sense of accomplishment that comes from just 30 or 45 minutes of waking up my body and giving it a boast that will carry me through the day, and through a long life. 2) My second weapon is vanity. I am not trying to achieve a perfect body or a super model physique - but I do want to be as tone and healthy as I can be. Using my vanity for good and not evil. Once again I remind myself of the joys of being able to fit into my current clothes comfortably and not waste time agonizing over what to wear. 3) Find a friend. Maybe enlist a buddy that’s been trying to adopt a fitness plan. This way you can mentor this person, while reaffirming your own passion for fitness. Lastly, 4) break out the music. There is something about the right songs that make me feel as if I could accomplish anything. I love working out and running to music because it connects me to those feelings of invincibility I have when I'm singing along to my favorite songs. Freshening up the play list always helps to get me up and out.
As you can see my “motivational arsenal” is made up of positive things. I believe fitness should be as fun and pleasant as possible. Remember that the reason you want to be healthy and fit is because you are being good to you! Don’t belittle yourself – be kind to yourself and your body!
A couple of years ago I noticed that I had put on a few pounds. The ten pound weight gain snuck up on me and I only noticed it when I could not longer wear my jeans comfortably. In spite of my commitment to health and fitness, I had somehow fallen off the wagon and so I had to retrace my steps and see where I picked up these extra annoying pounds. The first thing I looked at was my exercise routine. Not only was I still on track, I had actually added a mile to my weekly run so, it was not for lack of exercise. I then looked at my meal choices and, for the most part, I was still on track there. So where did these pounds come from? I got my answer a few days later at the office. It was around 3 o’clock when a co-worker walked in handing out plates with slices of birthday cake. I automatically reached for the cake and made a mental comment to myself, “I am running more so I can afford this indulgence.” It was at that moment that I realized that I had not just indulged on this particular day, but I had been using the “exercise excuse” for weeks.
Exercise is not a license to eat, and those extra 10 pounds were proof that my hard work was being undermined by my unconscious eating habit. The experience allowed me to retool my thinking when it came to adding more exercise and food to my routine. Although the body would require more food to fuel my extra physical activity I needed to get those calories from grains, fruits, vegetables and proteins – not cake!
I assure you that I still indulge on ‘frivolous’ foods now then then, but now I only do it in moderation and not to supplement an extra mile on the road.
About a year ago barefoot running showed up on my radar and because I am a runner I was immediately drawn to this philosophy and had to check it out.
I had serious doubts about this ancient style of running that was making a comeback. For years I’d heard the need for support in my shoes. The rule in the running world is that you replace your shoes after 300-500 miles of use to avoid having them lose their support. Skeptical as I was when I heard that running barefoot was a healthier alternative to all that cushioning and support I still pushed on. But article after article, I read that running barefoot is thought to be better for you because it favors your natural gait, not forcing your body to conform to the shoes. And runners agreed, reporting that their knees and/or backs felt better after running barefoot, or ‘support free.’
So with all the evidence at hand and seeing the trend spread through the running world, I decided I had to give it a try. Having only asphalt to run on I sought out an alternative to going completely barefoot. The shoe I bought is known as a support ‘free’ shoe, ironically it is created by the company that is responsible for creating the ‘support’ frenzy in the first place. The shoes are light, the upper part of the shoes feels like a strong nylon sock, and the bottom has a very thin padding. The moment I hit the road, everything felt different. I felt more in control even though I was working a bit harder because I no longer had the benefit of all that cushioning pushing me along. It was like driving a stick shift versus an automatic vehicle.
The reason I am celebrating this resurgence in barefoot (or “free”) running is because it supports my personal fitness and health philosophy – which is to keep it simple. The less roadblocks we put up for those of us getting healthy and fit, the better the chances we will stay with the program and meet our physical goals.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when well-intentioned individuals have their fitness goals derailed by a constant stream of misleading information from so-called fitness "professionals."
I spend a great deal of time listening to friends and family in desperate need of some form of physical exercise tell me why they won’t exercise or how they simply quit after a short time. The culprit was usually a report on tv or the newspaper undermining their efforts by essentially stating that whatever form of exercise they had chosen was just useless. They were not doing it long enough or strong enough or not wearing the right shoes or using the right equipment. What's the effect on a person who already had a tenuous, newbie's relationship with fitness? It typically sidelines their efforts and possibly prevents them from ever trying to become healthy and fit.
When approached with this challenge I’ve learned to be sensitive and supportive. I am mindful that change of any kind is difficult and so it should be approached as an evolutionary process. My goal is to encourage people to begin by adopting healthy eating and fitness habits slowly, bit by bit, and take it from there. When I made the switch to a healthier lifestyle it began by just watching my daily caloric intake. Eventually I introduced healthier foods and added walking into my routine, and that later evolved into running. But had I stopped to listen to everything I was supposedly doing wrong, I never would have started in the first place.
We need to understand that for beginners, as we have all been at some point, it is about taking that first step and then evolving into more challenging routines. But most individuals will not begin a fitness program if they feel defeated by it before even starting.
So if you are just getting started, or know someone that is, let the experts argue what the best systems and techniques are while you stay focused and follow this old motto: "When it comes to exercise: More is better than less, faster is better than slower, and something is better than nothing. But when it comes to food: Less is better than more, slower is better than faster, nothing is better than something.
One afternoon while talking to my friend, a geriatric social worker, about how aggressively one should invest for retirement she said something that validated my commitment to health and fitness. She said that while I should be wise with my finances, I should put even more emphasis on my fitness. Her job puts her on the frontlines with the elderly and she has seen first hand what happens to those who paid little to no attention to their bodies. Today that neglect is not just affecting the quantity of their lives but the quality. People always think of aging as something that is off in the distant future when the reality is that it is happening every day. Daily we move towards that magic number we deem “old” and once we are there we want to be financially stable. But we should also want to be healthy and fit in order to be pain free and independent.
My husband and I are avid runners. We run several 5k and 10-mile races a year. At age 46 I take no pride, but lots of joy, in reporting that I’ve been beaten many times by runners in their 60s and 70s. And these seniors are not just showing up to run 3.1 miles – they are also representing at ultramarathons and marathons. I recently read of a woman getting ready to run her 12th consecutive marathon at the age of 87. This is encouraging because it means that at my already “advanced age” if I continue to eat right and exercise I can theoretically count on going into my golden years on my own two feet and at competitive speeds!
This is not to say that if you want good health in your golden years you need to adopt a drastic diet and join a gym. Just committing to eating better, dropping bad habits and picking up some form of physical exercise should be sufficient. Eating well and moderate exercise is not expensive or time consuming. A healthy diet can consist of just watching your caloric intake and introducing more fruits and veggies. And exercise can be a daily 30 minute brisk walk that will do wonders for your body, your mind, your longevity, and your quality of life. Just look at it as another wise investment towards retirement.