Getting back into shape is an exciting time. Just envisioning walking or running around with minimal fatigue or pain can be invigorating. How many times have you thought to yourself, “if only I had the flexibility, strength, or mobility that I had ten years ago, everything would be so much better.” Well guess what, you can!
There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” This same wisdom applies to health and fitness. Of course it’s optimal to always live a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, but if that hasn’t been the case for the past month, year, or decade, you have the power to make a change. Now is the time to make a change.
Understanding Willpower as a Finite Resource
On your fitness journey, it’s essential that you understand the difference between willpower and habit. It will make your life so much easier.
Using Willpower to Get Back in Shape
There’s nothing quite like taking your pair of running shoes or workout gear on it’s first training session. You’ve been reading health and fitness articles for weeks, perhaps you even made the painstaking decision to sign up for your first 5k as a motivator to get back in shape, and now you’re ready to go out on the first training session.
It’s an exciting time, no doubt. Chances are you’ll remember those first few workouts in your newfound training program for weeks and months to come. Maybe you’re not even preparing for an event, but are training so you can move around with youthful vigor and spend higher quality time with your loved ones. Envisioning living life without the day-to-day pains that have crept up over the years can provide you with the energy to make great progress with your fitness.
When just getting started, improving your fitness is exciting because it’s a new experience, and a change to the routine you’ve become accustomed to. But then, a conflict gets in the way.
When Excuses Get in the Way
What about the times when it’s the busy time of year at work, you have a packed schedule, and the in-laws are in town? You work long hours, come home exhausted, and still have to run errands, prepare dinner, and do the laundry. Don’t forget about those favorite Netflix episodes you can’t miss either!
Well what happens when it’s the dead of winter, it’s freezing outside, it’s rained or snowed for weeks on end, and your mood is as grey and bleak as the weather? Thinking about lacing up the running shoes and getting a workout in may not seem quite as exhilarating as it did during those first few sessions. When we rely on willpower to achieve our fitness goals, we can tend to burn out, because we only have so much of it. When conflicts come up, our fitness routine can be one of the first things to go out the window.
Think of your willpower like a tank of gas. When you continually use it, the tank depletes and needs to be refilled. Our willpower is a finite resource – throughout the day, all of the decisions we make slowly deplete the tank. When it runs really low, you may experience what’s known as decision fatigue. Have you ever told yourself you’d eat healthy, but then find yourself eating fast food after a long day at work because it seemed so convenient? If so, you’ve experienced first hand the challenges of relying on your willpower to achieve your goals.
The Power of Habit in Terms of Fitness
If our willpower is a finite resource, and we know that our schedule is busy, we’re short on time, and still want to live a healthy and fit lifestyle, then how to we go about getting back into shape? The answer is simple: fitness needs to become a habit.
It’s essential that you make health and fitness a part of your every day routine. It needs to become a habit if there’s any chance of you following through over an extended time frame. Habits can help us, and they can hurt us. Think to yourself about one of the habits you have in your life that has a negative affect. Drinking, smoking, or watching too much television, perhaps? Now think of one that has a positive affect. Is it walking, running, biking, or lifting weights?
Habits can help us, and they can hurt us. When fitness becomes a habit, it leads to better health, longer lives, and more energy.
How to Make Fitness a Habit
Starting small is the key. You want to focus on the process rather than the outcome. If we set small and sustainable goals, then fitness will become a habit after a few months of consistent effort.
Let’s take a hypothetical example.
Mary went to the doctor for her annual check up. Her doctor told her that her cholesterol levels were elevated, and she needed to make a change. Her doctor asks about her diet and exercise, and they have a frank discussion about her lifestyle. Mary was honest and told her doctor that her schedule always seems so busy, and that she feels there aren’t enough hours in the day to get all her errands done as it is.
When she eats sometimes its an easy meal that requires little to no cooking. Mary’s doctor acknowledges how difficult it can be to fit everything you want done into a day, however he also recommended that she try to eat more balanced meals and exercise more regularly.
How should Mary take her doctor’s recommendation into practice? She can make fitness a habit by starting with small, achievable and measurable goals.
Mary is early to bed and early to rise. She commits to going on a walk around the neighborhood for 30 minutes, after her morning coffee, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The first couple days into her routine, she finds that it’s an adjustment, but loves the sense of accomplishment she feels after executing on her goals.
Six weeks into her routine, Mary has now learned to love her weekly walks. She finds that on days she goes walking, she has more energy throughout the day. It’s a time that she’s able to exercise, and it’s also a time she’s able to reflect on all the great progress she’s made. What’s better, is she’s actually met a few of her neighbors who are also up early each day, and she’s shared her goals with them.
Over time, Mary decides to add more days to her walking routine, and after 6 months, she finds herself walking almost every day. It’s become something that she looks forward to each day, and it’s a habit that’s she’s grown to love. Walking also inspires her to make healthier food choices, because she wants to fuel her body with proper nutrients that taste great and make her feel even better.
All of the great progress Mary made was the result of starting with a small and achievable goal, walking for thirty minutes two times per week.
Finding Your Why
In our hypothetical example, Mary wanted to get back into shape because her doctor discussed with her the risks of her high cholesterol and sedentary lifestyle. Thinking about her family and loved ones, she knew that she owed it to herself and to them to make a change, to take a step in the right direction.
Think about the loved ones that you have in your life. Your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends and colleagues. Think about the activities that you loved participating in when you were younger and had vibrant health and energy. Envision ten years from now, how you’ll look, feel, and act if you continue on the same trajectory that you’re currently on. What is it that truly excites you? What is it that motivates you? What’s one of the driving forces in your life that you care about above all else?
As Simon Sinek explains in his groundbreaking Ted Talk, Start with Why, people make decisions based on their “why.” They don’t just choose to get back in shape, they choose to live a better lifestyle because their health is suffering. They make changes because they want to be around for their family for longer. They make positive habits because they want to meet their great grandchildren. Watch the 18 minute talk to develop a better understanding of why we make the decisions we do. I promise you it’s time well spent.
The Pillars of Getting Back Into Shape
Instead of focusing on “getting back into shape,” it’s helpful to break fitness down into smaller sub categories so you can make progress on each of the different pillars.
Pillar Number One: Exercise
Exercise is the first pillar to focus on in your fitness journey. The great news is exercise is a broad term that encompasses a whole range of activities. It could be taking a walk around the neighborhood like our hypothetical Mary. It could also be playing tennis, golfing, practicing yoga, or taking dance classes.
Make it Enjoyable
Whatever activity or exercise you choose, make it enjoyable! It’s so much easier to stick to a routine and activity that you enjoy, rather than one you can’t stand. Think about which activities you’ve practiced in your life that invigorate you. Was there a sport you played, or an activity that you loved that stands out above all the rest? How would it feel to have the energy and flexibility to participate again? Whatever the activity is that you’ve loved, use it as a way to get back into shape.
Make it Consistent
Build your exercise or activity into your routine. Whether it’s a daily practice, or just a few times a week, be as specific as possible with when you will do it. That way, it’s not something that you rely purely on willpower to achieve. When it’s in your schedule each day or each week, it’s much easier to stick to the process. Over time, it will become something that you look forward to. It’s time that you’re dedicating for yourself, so you can live a longer and more enjoyable life.
Get an Exercise Buddy
Everyone has days where they feel low energy, low motivation, or are just simply feeling under the weather. Having a partner that holds you accountable on your journey can be an invaluable motivator. On days that you just don’t feel like sticking the the process, a companion can help you get through that workout or activity. Sometimes your buddy might not feel like sticking to their workout – then the tables are turned and you are able to serve as a motivator for them.
Evaluate Progress on your Goals
When you’re as specific as possible on the activities you use to get back into shape, it helps you track progress over a given time frame. Keep a diary, journal, or log of the workouts you complete, that way weeks and months down the line, you can look back on the progress you’ve made.
Pillar Number Two: Diet
Our bodies are comprised of the foods that we put into our body. “We are what we eat,” sounds cliche, but has a lot of truth to it. When we consume foods that are high in sugar and low in nutrients, it doesn’t give us the proper fuel we need, and our health suffers from it. When we eat a diet full of vegetables, complex carbs, healthy fats, and lean meats, our diet helps support our health and fitness goals.
Practice Portion Control
At the end of the day, weight gain and weight loss comes from the amount of calories we consume. When we take in more calories than we burn each day, then our body stores the excess as body fat. On the other hand, when we burn more energy than we consume, our body uses some of the fat stores to make up for the deficit, meaning we lose weight. Weight can and weight loss all comes down to total caloric intake over time.
Listen to your body each time you eat. What’s key is eating until you are satisfied, not until you absolutely can’t consume another bite. If you feel so full after a meal that you need to lay down or take a nap before doing anything else, you’ve eaten too much.
Many of us are chronically dehydrated. Water comprises about 60% of our body, and is critical to vibrant health and energy. An easy method to follow is the rule of 8. We need about 8, 8oz glasses of water throughout the day to maintain proper hydration. It amounts to about half of a gallon. Whether you have a large water bottle you keep with you, or you keep track of how many glasses you drink, make sure your body has the proper amount of water that it needs.
When you’re hydrated, you’re body is more effective at digesting food, leveling your blood pressure, detoxifying your body, and fighting disease and infection.
Limit Sugars and Processed Foods
Sugars and processed foods should not take up a large amount of your daily calorie intake. Consuming too much causes spikes in blood sugar which can lead to diabetes, weight gain, irritability, inflammation, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and more. Cutting sugar out of your diet is one of the single biggest positive changes you can make to better support your health over the long term.
Don’t Drink Your Calories
An easy change to make for a better diet is to not drink any of your calories. Cut out the juices, sodas, and sugary drinks. One can of Coca Cola has 140 calories, and 39 grams of sugar. That’s the equivalent of 16 sugar cubes. The soda may taste great in the short term, but it’s wreaking havoc on your overall health.
Instead of drinking sodas and sugary drinks, replace them with water, tea, and coffee. They’ll help you hydrate your body better, and will add no calories to your daily intake.
Pillar Number Three: Sleep
Sleep is the third pillar to pay attention to on your journey to better health and fitness. Adequate sleep is essential to our health because it’s the time when our body is able to rebuild, repair, and detox. It may seem like it’s almost glorified these days to sacrifice sleep for productivity, but burning the candle at both ends is something that will do more harm than good in the long run.
Set a Schedule
Go to sleep at the same time each evening, and wake up at the same time in the morning. Yes, even on the weekends. Humans are creatures of habit, and that’s especially true with our sleep cycles. when we have consistency in our routine, it allows our circadian rhythm to function properly. Our bodies perform best when they have a set schedule.
Avoid Screen Time Before Bed
When we stare at our screens before going to sleep, it messes with your circadian rhythm. Screens emit what’s known as blue-spectrum light – the same light that’s emitted during the day. Our brains can’t tell the difference between the light the sun provides, and the light that our screens emit. When we use our electronic devices immediately before going to sleep, it sends our brains mixed signals because our brain processes the light and tells our body it’s daylight outside. Do your best to limit the use of electronics within one hour of going to sleep.
Supplement for Better Sleep
On average, more than half of us are deficient in magnesium, a micronutrient that’s fights insomnia, helps our bodies relax, and cuts down on cortisol, the “stress” hormone. Take a serving of it prior to bed to help your body relax and get ready for a restful and rejuvenating sleep cycle. A great product to start with is Natural Calm – find it on Amazon, or at a local health foods store. If that isn’t doing the trick, supplement with melatonin as well. It’s a hormone that’s secreted by our pineal gland, and helps regulate our natural sleeping and waking cycles. Staring at screens too much, especially at night, is one way that our melatonin levels get out of whack.
Get Started Today
Your health and fitness is completely in your control. Sometimes it may not feel like it, sometimes it may feel like our body is craving sugar, wants to lay down, and do nothing. These are purely signals that your body sends, but you are the one that acts on the signals. At the end of the day, nobody is as invested in your health as you are. Not your doctor, your spouse, or your loved ones. It’s your health, and your body, and your life. Even if you’ve spent years or decades with the wrong habits, it’s never to late to make a change.
Getting back in shape is one of the absolute best things you can do for your health. You’ll live longer. You’ll be happier. Moving around will be easier. You’ll be able to spend quality time with loved ones, and will get more satisfaction out of the time you have on this planet.
It’s not always going to be easy. There will be days when you just don’t feel like sticking to the routine. There will be meals that are full of sugar that just seem too resistible to pass up. Some days you may not even want to get up from the TV. That’s ok. It happens to everyone. What’s most important is making slow and consistent progress, and taking steps in the right direction.
If you miss a workout, or have a cheat meal, it’s not the end of the world. Just don’t let it derail you from your progress over the long term. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, it’s all within your control.
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