30 Years of Health and Fitness – Part 3

This series is an opportunity for me to share some nuggets of information you can use, based on observations over my 30 years in the health and fitness field. I select ideas that I feel are often left out when these topics are discussed. They are organized by theme. You can read the first episode, on “Healthy Habits,” here. Part 2 is about “Embracing Movement and Exercise,” and is available here.

Today’s post is about the best-kept secret of life-long active people. It is that they have figured out how to enjoy their exercise and fitness. They make it fun so they want to keep doing it. I believe this is possible for everyone because the human body (and brain) thrive on movement. Here are my top 10 helpful concepts to help you reconnect with that primal aspect of yourself that loves to be active for a lifetime.

1. The secret of people who make movement a regular part of their life is that they discover what activities they enjoy. They make it fun! If you struggle with a fitness routine that you have to force yourself to get through, the routine is probably not right for you and you are not going to do it for long. So keep making modifications (see suggestions below) until you finally think, “Wow, that was enjoyable and the time went by quickly!” Only then do you have a fighting chance of adopting an active lifestyle that is sustainable.

2. Here are examples of questions you may want to ask yourself to discover what activities you will love and continue over time:

  • What kind of movement sounds fun to me?
  • Do I enjoy being alone or in a social environment?
  • Do I enjoy being outside or inside?
  • Do I enjoy artistic movement such as dance, or more straightforward activities such as jogging or cycling?
  • Do I enjoy refining a skill set over time or do I prefer something different everyday?
  • Do I enjoy being told what to do or do I prefer playing and discovering things for myself?
  • Do I prefer a more competitive or a more nurturing environment?

3. If you have not been very active up to this point, the process of discovering what works for you may take some time. You may have to experiment and try a number of different activities or routines. Don’t give up!

4. When trying out a new activity, I recommend doing it at least three times before deciding whether it is right for you. There is often discomfort in doing something new and it takes some repetition to get past that initial feeling.

5. Find the right intensity for you. The same activity may be enjoyable when the pace is right and unpleasant when it is too hard, or boring when it is too easy.

6. If you want to participate in exercise classes or work with a trainer, you may want to try various instructors or coaches because the experience can be completely different from one to the next even within the same discipline.

7. If someone has a very low level of fitness, it may be more difficult to find joy in movement at first. Start with extremely gentle activity performed frequently but in small amounts. Trust that the body will respond in time and your options will increase.

8. Active vacations promote an active lifestyle at home. If you have a goal that you find really motivating, you will be more likely to do some of the less fun add-ons that may be needed to prepare for it. For example, if you look forward to a cycling vacation in an exotic destination, you will be more likely to go to spin class or lift weights than if you didn’t have that goal. Or if you are planning a hiking trip, you will be more motivated to take the stairs instead of the elevator at work every day.

9. What you are excited about may change over time. Do something new when you notice boredom setting in.

10. I notice that advanced exercisers often make it look easy. For example, a group of extremely fast runners may zoom down the trail looking smooth, chatting together, and generally at ease. Conversely, an obvious newbie will often look red in the face, scowl, and seem uncomfortable. If you are a newbie, why not adopt the ease from day one and be patient with the fitness part, which takes time? That usually means adjusting three things:

  • Your mental attitude: Be more relaxed, self-accepting, and casual. That’s how the fast runners look. Start today.
  • Your exercise intensity: Adjust to a pace that allows you to be at ease in your body. That’s what the fast runners do. They just have been at it longer than you.
  • Your expectation: Know that fitness happens over time, not because you are whipping yourself, but because you keep showing up. I see those same fast runners on the trail day after day, year after year. Do that too, and results will happen!

Stay tuned for the next installment. I will discuss how to sustain this fun activity you have discovered by avoiding injuries and developing strategies to stay on the wagon.