In my last post I wrote a bit about the importance of improving and maintaining one’s health, so now let’s take a look at how it can be done. This time I will focus primarily on the exercise aspect of things, so keep an eye open for another post on how to eat well.
Improving your health is both difficult and easy. It’s difficult because it’s hard to get something into motion once inertia has set in. We make up all types of excuses for eating poorly, put off exercise again and again, and even defend our lack of willpower while contradictorily claiming to be in complete control of the situation, and all the while our weight, blood pressure, mental states, and other aspects of our physical being run rampant.
Starting down the path toward better health and fitness is also difficult simply because the act of working out is, by definition, a process through which you intentionally force your body to exert itself beyond its comfort zone. You’re pushing it to do more than it’s used to. If exercising wasn’t difficult, then it wouldn’t be doing anything for you. There’s a lot of truth to that whole “no pain, no gain” thing.
At the same time, getting yourself to work out and eat well is rather easy, at least once you get the ball rolling.
An Object in Motion Stays in Motion
Once freed from the inertia that keeps a person from working out and improving his or her eating habits, maintaining a healthy lifestyle becomes easier and more enjoyable as time goes on. You might be rolling your eyes and thinking, “That’s easy for you to say. You already enjoy it.” Which is true. But it wasn’t always that way, and taking my health into consideration is, in fact, a rather new thing for me. I used to go as far as saying that people who worked out were stupid.
When I took my first steps toward a healthier lifestyle, I found it to be exceedingly difficult, so difficult I thought that perhaps my body was either incapable of it, or unwilling. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it was I who was unwilling, and that there was something in my mind that was sapping my will to achieve fitness. Once I pushed past these mental barriers, I found that my body itself—on a level that is quite separate from my mind—enjoys the act of getting exercised, and that given the chance it will choose exertion over laziness (not that there isn’t a time and place for a bit of laziness).
Think about it—the human body is a somewhat rugged, useful little machine that evolved in order to do a lot of stuff for us. It had to be able to walk and run for great distances, carry and build things, hunt, fight, and generally be capable of doing whatever it took to keep us alive.
As time went on, we invented more and more things that made life easier and more comfortable, causing many of these activities to become unnecessary. While that in itself was not a bad thing, today we find that we have become so far removed from our once-active existence that we have forgotten it, and comfort and complacency have become our chief concerns.
But while we have forgotten it, our bodies have not. There is still the instinct in us to do something with our bodies. That’s why children love playgrounds so much—they haven’t had the same amount of time to forget as we lazy grown-ups have. But given half a chance, your body will remember, and it will enjoy it.
Priming the Pump
The problem that many people face when they try to start working out is that they bite off more than they’re ready to chew. They buy some workout clothes, get on the treadmill, and set some goal that is completely out of step with the reality of their present level of conditioning. Maybe they say that they’re going to run a mile, only to find themselves out of breath and wheezing for air after three minutes.
It’s discouraging. It feels like that goal of running a mile is impossible, so they give up. No one likes to feel discouraged, so it’s easier to remain inactive so that you can avoid those uncomfortable feelings of discouragement. I know I did.
But eventually I found a way of avoiding the discouragement while still getting into working out. Instead of setting unrealistic goals for yourself, start off by doing whatever you can. Maybe you can only run for two minutes. Maybe you can only do three pushups. It doesn’t matter how few of something you can do, it only matters that you’re doing as many as your body can handle.
Suddenly you’re not chasing after an unattainable goal. Instead, you’re pushing your body to its limits, and it enjoys that. And the more you do it the better you will get at it.
Say that when you first start developing your workout routine, you’re only capable of doing five sit-ups at a time. That’s fine—just make sure that every day you do at least five sit-ups. It won’t be long before you find yourself capable of doing six, then ten.
Developing a dedication to becoming fit is difficult because we allow mental barriers to keep us from it, and discouragement is one of the foremost barriers. By telling yourself that you’ll workout as much as you can rather than as much as you think you should, you’re setting a goal that is actually obtainable.
At first all you need to do is get the ball rolling. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be surprised and delighted by how quickly it picks up speed.
Having taken your first steps into working out, it is then time to do what you need to in order to ensure that you keep it up.
Following Your Instincts
The key thing to maintaining a workout routine involves finding physical activities that you enjoy. There are many forms of exercise, and each of us is different. Some people gravitate toward running, while others prefer biking or playing basketball. Some people enjoy lifting weights; others like pushups and pull-ups. Some people workout in gyms, some at home, and others find they need to get outdoors.
My point is that there are so many ways to get exercise that there is something for everyone. When you first start out you should experiment with a variety of workouts in order to find what works for you.
Pay attention to your body. Is running too hard on your knees? If so, perhaps biking or swimming is for you. Do your muscles get a particular thrill out of lifting weights? Or is a lower-impact form of exercise such as yoga more to your liking?
It’s all about experimenting with different methods of exercising until you figure out the things that you can enjoy doing on a continual basis. Experimentation also helps with finding new workouts that break up the monotony in a routine and keep things interesting.
For example, I enjoy using a dumbbell for part of my routine, and I try to learn to use it in a new workout every week or so. Not only does this change things up a bit, it also teaches me new exercises and works out new part of my body. Through a bit of experimentation, I’ve been able to build an enjoyable workout that effectively conditions every part of my body.
Brick by Brick
Simply put, it’s easy to build a lasting workout routine as long as you do it one step at a time. You don’t build a house all at once in an afternoon. You do it over time, and you do it brick by brick.
And remember: don’t set goals—test limits.