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On Resolutions III: Activities Guide

Ok, last post on this stuff.  Promise.  There’s only really one more thing to talk about, and then we’re done.

Exercise.

This might be a dirty word to some of us, especially those of us who experienced phys. ed. as an utter misery, but it’s just the third component of a healthy lifestyle, and you need to do it.  Fortunately for those of us who’re now adults, being active isn’t at the discretion of some big dude in short shorts any more.  You get to choose what you do, how hard you do it, and how often.  Now get your mind out of the gutter and we’ll move on.

When people think about exercising, often the first thing in their mind is this:

How can you disagree with that hair?

I don’t know about you, but my Mom definitely had some tapes that involved a lot of neon spandex, frizzy hair, and baggy shirts tied up in a knot.  Sometimes, when I was little I’d use a scrunchy to tie up my shirt and try to do the routine alongside her.  Now, if you want to pick up an aerobics class, I am definitely not the person to judge you, but fear not!  Exercise has come a long way since then!

I said in my post on nutrition that what you eat has more impact on your waistline than exercise, but I don’t want that to make anyone say that exercise isn’t necessary:  far from it!  Being active regularly is one of the absolute best things you can do to improve your life.  It helps prevent injury and improves pretty much every system in your body, immune system included.  It’s easy to write off a lot of these benefits when we’re primarily focused on appearance, but a wise man once said that we put our health last until it’s gone… and then we’ll do absolutely anything to get it back.  If you don’t believe me, ask me about my back injury some time.

What really cemented my concern with health was actually overhearing something a cousin of mine said.  He was working at a bank, mostly dealing with the elderly and their retirement savings etc.  He said he had seen so many people in such bad shape after many long years of poor eating and avoiding exercise that he was driven to start taking care of himself now, before it was a crisis and while he was still young and had energy.  He figured that if you started now, such things would be good habits by the time he was in their shoes.  No, you can’t avoid growing old, and depending on genetics you may still have problems… but take care of yourself now and the odds start to stack in your favour.  Do you want to be the old guy running a half marathon, or the old guy struggling to walk down a hallway on his way to a diabetes care group?

There are a few important things to keep in mind when taking up some kind of physical activity.

Start small

I know I’ve absolutely beat this into the ground by now, but when it comes to exercise it’s more important than ever to build up intensity gradually.  The reason is simple:  You don’t want to get hurt.

When I started going to the gym, I began by pounding the treadmill until it hurt.  I figured that I just needed to push through the pain and I ended up with shin splints so bad I couldn’t make it up a flight of stairs.  This was a problem, because at the time I was working in a coffee shop who’s storage room was on the second floor.

The point to taking up an exercise routine is to improve your quality of life and to accomplish this you need to make new and better habits.  If you hurt yourself you’ll need a couple weeks to heal and the odds of forming those habits drop.  So start small with some non-impact cardio and light weights.  Get used to going for brisk walks before you start running, or hit the elliptical before the treadmill.  Learn to listen to your body, and find out where your limits are: You want to expand those limits gently, or you will wreck yourself.

If you can, talk to a personal trainer, or at least get a demonstration of the equipment from gym staff.  I know that the YMCA offers free coaching and fitness planning to members.  Heck, youtube some exercises just so you can see the correct form first.

Get to know yourself

People are all different, and there’s no one right way to exercise.  Each will obviously have it’s proper and improper methods, but there are options out there to suit everyone.  Do you need to have a team relying on you and pushing you?  Do you need to be learning and improving a skill?  Do you like just shutting your brain off and doing something active?

Maybe you can’t answer all these questions right now.  But start something and see how you feel about it after a month or two.  Some people get bored in a gym but really enjoy a kickboxing class.  Pay attention to how you feel about your activities and adjust them accordingly.

Find something you enjoy and allow yourself to feel good about doing it!  I remember early on in my working-out days leaving the gym and beating myself up about not going often enough.  Then I caught myself:  Would it have been better if I hadn’t gone at all?  Of course not!  So I let myself feel good about it!  Even now, on my way home from the gym, I make myself thank myself for going, and give myself a little mental pat on the back.  I know it sounds corny, but feeling good about it drives me to go back.

Just like Wrestling-Mullet-Man here.

Think about setting yourself a rewards system.  If you keep up your habit for 6 weeks, maybe you buy yourself some new shoes.  Do what you need to do to make it work.

Do strength training

Most of the men reading this are thinking “well duh,” but a lot of women avoid strength training and weights because they’re worried about “bulking up.”  It actually takes a lot of very specific effort to bulk up, and women are far less prone to it than men.  Genetically we’re different creatures.  Strength training will help you build a lean and compact body, strengthen your bones as well as your muscles, and put your body in a calorie-burning state for the rest of the day.

Pick a weight you can do 10 reps with.  The tenth should be a struggle, but you should still be able to do it.  You’ll also want to pick exercises you can build in intensity: Once you’re comfortable doing 10 push-ups, how do you make it harder?  Now, for some of us, starting without any additional weight is fine!  Personally, my goal is to do 10 chin-ups, because right now there’s no way I can lift my own body weight.  Doing so will be a major accomplishment!

Consider Yoga

This is my personal plug.  I started seriously doing yoga after my back injury and I’m now a year and four months without relapsing.

A lot of people think yoga is “just stretching.”  If that’s the case, then why was my sister complaining about sore shoulders for a couple days after her first class?  It is stretching, but a better definition is “non-impact fluid movements to improve strength, balance, and flexibility.”  It’s kind of fantastic: you’ll build strong and lean muscles while getting bendy!  And you don’t really need any special equipment, though a non-slip mat helps.

Most gyms offer some kind of yoga class, so find an intro or beginner one to start.  Look for an instructor who demonstrates different “levels” of the poses and isn’t pushy:  You can hurt yourself at this just the same as any exercise, so start small.

Don’t go with a friend

This might seem counter-intuitive.  After all, most people think that having someone to hold you accountable and “force” you to go will help.  Maybe for some it will, but I know that for me it ended up more like “Oh they’re skipping out today?  Well, no reason for me to go then!  Did someone say bacon?”

This is your life and only you can change it.  You need to develop the willpower and drive to do it for yourself, not to satisfy an obligation or pact with a buddy.  You need to be able to rely on yourself.

By all means, round up a group for soccer in the park, or go for a hike with a friend.  I’m not saying that all physical activity needs to be done alone, but just that you need to commit all of yourself to a routine, not half-you-half-someone-else.  If those soccer friends aren’t available, plug in your headphones and go for a run anyways.

You need to be your own motivation.  Do it because you know you’re better and because you want more.  Do it because an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure.  Do it for your future-self, the cranky bat with saggy tattoos sitting in a hover-rocking chair wishing they’d taken better care of themselves back when they had so much energy.  It doesn’t take nearly as much time and effort as you think it does, and as I’ve said before, investing in your health is the best investment you can make.  It pretty much always pays out.

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