In a world where we have become accustomed to accessing knowledge and information instantly and to getting what we want more or less when we want it, it can be intensely frustrating when patience, planning and preparation are required especially when it comes to feeling great, getting fit and shaping up. We can know more than we have ever done and would sooner succumb to the grip of Google than ponder, muse, ruminate or, God forbid, think. And yet, instead of researching the perfect diet, exercise program, fitness schedule, supplement intake and/or health approach and trying to get multiple, ever-moving ducks in a row whilst living life in all its messiness, what we really need to do is, well, begin…
It doesn’t have to be an insurmountable wall. I’m here to break it down into bite-sized chunks.
Start. That’s all. Simply get moving more however you can. Get used to using your feet more be it taking the stairs, parking the car further away from work, getting up half an hour earlier to go for a walk, walking to pick up the kids from school, walking to the shops. Get the gist?
Then, whilst this is happening and beginning to become your new norm: plan ahead. This applies to any change you wish to make. Start thinking about what you want to achieve so you are getting your mind prepped for action and you are thinking about what you want and how you are suddenly getting better at making more time for something that is important to you.
Be specific. The three most common goals I hear from new clients are: get fit, lose weight and tone up. They seem straightforward enough and yet, what do they really mean?
In relation to what? Obviously fitter than you currently feel but how fit? Fit enough to compete in a triathlon? Fit enough to swim 1km? Fit enough to chase your kids around the park? Chisel down and find a tangible goal to aim for such as a 5km run or a 40km bike ride.
Aaah, that old chestnut. The carrot we dangle endlessly in front of our noses and for which we will do almost anything, and then end up systematically sabotaging our efforts. Losing weight is an elusive, slippery little sucker that we sometimes grab a hold of only to let it slide between our fingers and disappear the way of yesterday’s fad diet. Losing weight really means losing fat and the best way to do that is to be mindful of what and how much you are eating, how and how much you are moving and whether you are doing any resistance training.
Toning up doesn’t mean anything really but it is clear what someone is getting at: the desire for muscle definition, maybe not to the extent of Brad Pitt in Fight Club or Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow (never say never) but enough that waving your arms around doesn’t mean your triceps hang around like an 80’s batwing sleeve left swinging in the breeze.
Muscle is active tissue that burns calories even when we are at rest so it makes sense to do some specific strength training in order to lift the energy expenditure bar in our favour. Body weight exercises can do the job if you don’t have access to weights nor belong to a gym. Pushups, pullups, squats, dips, lunges, planks can all help build strength and that all-important lean muscle.
Please, please do not become a slave to the scales. Weigh yourself once a week at the same time of day wearing the same clothing and leave it at that. As you build muscle and drop fat you may well find that the scales don’t seem to change much. Be guided by your clothes and how you feel rather than the number on the scales. Scales that claim to give you a body fat reading are highly inaccurate and should be used as a guide only; much like the cardio machines in the gym that tell you how many calories you are burning often estimate as much as two thirds more than what you actually expend! Also, and this is my pet beef, muscle does not weigh more than fat. One kilo of muscle weighs the same as one kilo of fat, ie one kilo. The key point here is that muscle is denser than fat and so if you look at them side by side the muscle appears to be a much smaller amount. Phew. I feel much better for clearing that up.
Be realistic about how much you can fit into your weekly schedule. Start small, say 30 minutes three times a week and do that consistently for a month until it becomes a normal part of your week. Then gradually increase either the time or the intensity or the number of sessions. You will see your energy increase, your sleep improve and your overall well-being pick up.
Factor the sessions into your calendar as you would a meeting or dental appointment. Write them down and make them non-negotiable so that you have to do them. Know that you will feel heaps better once you have done them and remember that feeling when you are looking for excuses not to head out in the cold/rain/heat.
I’m a big advocate for getting exercise done first thing. Nothing beats feeling ahead of the game by breakfast. Plus life has a sneaky habit of getting in the way of the best intentions so that 6pm spin class you had your eye on gets binned the moment your boss requests an urgent report at 5.45pm or your toddler starts throwing up.
That said, many people much prefer to work out later in the day and there are no hard and fast rules as to one time being any better than another. Just doing it is what counts, as I believe the tagline roughly goes. However, knowing and accepting that life is never predictable and controllable is the key to ensuring success so have alternative plans for when a curve ball does come your way. Fit an exercise session into your lunch break or get the kids involved too. Do a 15 minute body weight circuit whilst waiting for the RACV/kids pickup/dinner to cook.
In spite of always feeling we lack enough time to get things done we always manage to find time for the things that are really important to us. Factor it in, make it non-negotiable, get it done. Feel chuffed.
Why didn’t it work before?
Half the problem with us humans is that we choose too many goals and over-complicate things and then wonder why we end up achieving nothing at all. Leave the plate-spinning to the buskers and focus on one thing you would like to change. Maybe it is to eat less sugar or include regular exercise or to reduce your alcohol intake. Then, avoid the all or nothing approach. Chances are this led to previous slip-ups. Simply scale down or up depending on what you wish to achieve. Start gradually, be consistent and stay that way before trying to add another change. Of course this all sounds super simple and it is but that doesn’t mean to say it will be easy. Allow for mistakes, get back on track and then enjoy the very fact that you salvaged the situation. Ah, the nature of life itself.
And remember, it all comes down to…….just starting
Photo credits: Tom Simpson, Chance Agrella, Stuart Miles, Geoffrey Whiteway
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