Have you ever changed? I mean really changed something about yourself so drastically that it essentially took your entire life in a completely different direction? If you haven’t, you are in the majority. I can say this with confidence because of my own unscientific studies of the people I come in contact with. There is something that happens to you when you are able to take hold of a life-changing shift. All of a sudden, your path is littered with people who want what you have. It’s a bit strange at first, to be completely honest. I dragged myself out of the proverbial gutter. Why would anyone look to me, of all people, for help? It’s not because I went from fat to thin. It’s not because I went from smoker to non-smoker. It’s not because I went from drunk to sober. It is because all of these things were only possible because of a profound shift in thinking.
It is interesting how we, as a culture, treat each other. A woman who dresses provocatively or has a tattoo on her lower back must be ‘easy’. A man with a belly must enjoy beer and barbecue and probably hides from his nagging wife in his man cave. A person who decides to go to the gym in January is just going to quit in 2 weeks because they are weak willed. A man who body builds must be at the pinnacle of health because his body is so fit. All of these are examples of false correlations. We judge each other by what we think we know, but in reality, we don’t know anything about anyone other than ourselves. Since we are all guilty of creating these often false storylines in our minds, it only makes sense that we would have a fear of the storylines others will create about us. This fear often paralyzes us into inaction.
When I finally surrendered to all of these things that ailed me, it was difficult to know where to begin. I spoke wth my doctor, and his advice was to stop smoking first. Of course, me being me, I didn’t follow his advice. I had already quit drinking, and started to lose some weight. I had convinced myself that if I was to quit smoking, I would gain the weight back, and be too upset to try to lose it again, because it would just be another failure. The simple answer here is that you have to take the path that you choose. If you only have one major issue to deal with, consider yourself very lucky! You have only one decision to make. No matter what direction you take, if you are making a positive change, in the scheme if things, it isn’t going to matter what you do first. What matters is that you choose to make change and commit to the change.
What I want to talk about today is getting started with exercise. It is always advisable to talk with your doctor to make sure that you are ok to begin exercising. Just a reminder, I am not a medical professional. I am only sharing with you my experience to help you to formulate your own roadmap to change. I will always advise that you get your team of medical professionals (Physician, Chiropractor, Massage Therapist, ETC) on your side, and working for you. Make sure that they are invested in you. The first thing I discuss with anyone I consider bringing on my team is that I do not want to be prescribed an array of medications. If I have an issue, I want to work together to find the cause, not treat the symptoms. I am not interested in pumping myself full of medications for the rest of my life. Mind you, there are things that are unavoidable. I have no way to control my testosterone levels, and I need medical intervention to help me with that. However, I am able to make changes in my diet to control much of what many people just prefer to not deal with. For example, when I was 20, I was diagnosed with IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Basically, stomach aches, indigestion, severe constipation, followed by severe…not constipation. The cure? Take these pills. They will help maybe with pain. Never once was it suggested that the things I eat could be causing a problem, and making simple changes in my dietary lifestyle could cure me. After many years, I decided on a whim to get tested for food sensitivities. Turns out, I’m sensitive to many things, including black pepper, eggs, casein (protein in cow’s milk), and pineapple. Guess what I was eating for lunch every day? Cottage cheese with pineapple and pepper, and a hard boiled egg. Once I stopped, the ‘IBS’ disappeared. You can see how a shift in my perspective changed my life here. I had always put my medical fate in the hands of doctors. Once I took over control, everything changed. Remember, their job is to give you suggestions, and help you to make informed decisions. Often, we find ourselves leaving those decisions in their hands. It is now time for you to take your life off of auto pilot, and take back control of your medical destiny.
Ok, ok…you came here to figure out how you can start an exercise program, and stick with it. Let’s talk about that. If you are overweight or out of shape, going to a gym may be something that is completely out of the question for you. It was for me. Even though I had lost weight, I didn’t want anyone to look at me, or judge me. I wasn’t comfortable asking questions, and I didn’t feel like I deserved to be there. I knew, however, that my body needed to be challenged to repair the damage I had done through years of mistreatment. I decided that it was ok for me to go to a thrift shop andpurchase used exercise DVD’s and do them in the privacy of my home. You can now purchase apps, like ‘Daily Burn’ or ‘Gaia’ that will provide different work outs directly to your smart tv, phone, computer, or tablet, so you can begin your journey privately and with some dignity. I understand that there are some truly amazing people who are able to go to a gym and not care what other people think. I admire that courage. I was unable to overcome that fear, so I started with home work outs.
I know that one of my most frequent excuses to myself was that I don’t have time. That was simply not true. I decided that if I needed this change badly enough, I should be able to wake up 30 minutes earlier than usual to devote to my health. So, I would rise at 5:30am, with the rest of the house still fast asleep, and do my exercise DVD without anyone watching and laughing. I told myself that I can do anything for 30 days, and did not give myself any way out of it. Something interesting started to happen immediately. Even though I was getting 30 minutes less sleep, my energy level was through the roof. I work upstairs in a building with only two floors. Believe it or not, I would always take the elevator to my desk. Once I started my exercise program, it occurred to me that I should take the stairs. It never even crossed my mind that that was an option before. Once I started taking the stairs, I decided that parking as close to the building as possible maybe was too easy. I started parking at the back of the lot. Once I started parking at the back, I started to wonder if I was getting the 10,000 steps a day that are recommended to maintain good health, so I bought a $5 pedometer. The pedometer showed that I was getting about 4,000 steps a day, so I decided that I could do better.
It was after a few months of this new found activity that my sister invited me to join her and my brother in law to do “Pat’s Run”. At the time, I had no idea what this even was. I went to the internet to educate myself. Once I read about Pat Tillman, with tears running down my cheeks, I immediately signed up. Mind you, I had never run a full mile in my life. I played sports as a kid, and I had convinced myself that I was a sprinter. I HATED RUNNING. I refused to run in PE. However, I found inspiration in the story of Pat Tillman, and the tragedy of his life cut short was fuel enough for me to run. I knew that I had a propensity to be overwhelmed and give up, so I started with around the block. If I can run around the block the whole way, then I can go farther next time. So, around the block I went, which my trusty pedometer told me was 1/4 mile. I did it! I didn’t even die! The next day, around the block and then half way. Again, Success! I kept increasing the distance, settling into running on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. It was at this point that I felt worthy to join a gym.
I joined our local YMCA, which happened to be just a few miles from the house. I signed up the whole family, hoping that others would be inspired by the new fire for life I had discovered. I started taking Zumba once a week and would bring along anyone interested to join me. I started lifting weights and using machines. I rekindled my love for swimming, and started swimming laps in the pool for an hour at a time. The more I tried, the more I loved it. I do not know if people made snide comments about me not belonging there, but I never saw that. People may not have been overly friendly, but they did start to give the approving nod to me, silently acknowledging that I, too, belonged. It appears that my fears were once again proven unreasonable.
I do understand that not every gym has a welcoming environment. I have seen the news story of the former Playboy Model who took nude pictures of an unsuspecting gym member and shamed her on social media. I was also glad to see the outrage that she provoked, and was eventually brought up on charges for her malicious and truly inhumane behhavior. I have hopes that this is a sign of the end of this ridiculous body shaming trend that we have seen for far too long. I am also beyond thrilled to see the calling out of airbrushing and photo shopping of models on magazine covers and in movies, which have for years provided us with images of bodies that are unrealistic and unattainable.
Let’s break this down in to easy to commit to bullet points:
- Get yourself a pedometer. It doesn’t need to be anything that is beyond $10. Just something that can give you an idea of how many steps you are walking. Get your base number, and try to increase it every week by 500-1000 steps a day until you are walking 10,000 steps a day.
- Decide what you are willing to do. Are you willing to ride a bike? Are you willing to work out at home? Are you willing to get up 30 minutes early?
- Understand that exercise will not necessarily facilitate weight loss. You might see weight loss, but you certainly shouldn’t rely on exercise to manage your weight. If you haven’t already read my blog post on “What is the fastest way I can lose weight…”, read it. Exercise will help strengthen your bones and muscles, and is wonderful for the health of your organs. Mindfulness and healthy eating will have the biggest impact on weight management. Both are important.
- Start small. Set attainable goals. It is dangerous to set a goal of “I’m going to run the Boston Marathon” if you are pretty sedentary. Start with “I will walk 5,000 steps every day this week, no exceptions!” And then do it! Don’t allow yourself to make an excuse. If you have a busy week, get up early and walk before the day starts.
- Don’t restrict yourself on attainable goals. If you know in your heart that one day you do want to run a marathon, start with a mile. Educate yourself on what you are interested in. Think you want to hike? Learn about hiking, get the proper gear, read about successful hikers, and formulate your goals to push you along the path to your ultimate goal of hiking the Grand Canyon. If you want to do it, then first work on convincing yourself that you can without a doubt do it. Visualize the achievement. Then set small, strategic goals to get there. (On a personal note, this is where I am at with running a marathon. More on this in a future blog.)
- Think about what you loved as a kid. What was fun on the playground? Remember that exhilarating feeling of playing? Try to revive that feeling with exercise. It doesn’t have to be awful and hard. You will often catch Wave and I on the playground on the monkey bars, or running around the track, or climbing on equipment. Obey your local park rules for sure, but also, HAVE FUN!
- Keep challenging yourself. Your body is highly adaptable. If you do the same thing everyday, you won’t see any changes. Keep your body guessing.
- Balance is important! Not just metaphorical balance, but actually being able to balance your body while standing on one foot is very important. It signifies core strength and muscle balance. For instance, I have almost comically weak hips, and you might too!! Many of us sit all day at work, which really messes with your core. (Core meaning middle, low back and hips. We tend to think of abs when we reference our core, but that is just one component). Try this: In front of a mirror, do a squat. The bottom of your squat should have your knees at a 90 degree angle. Are your knees inline with your feet, or does one or both fold in? It’s not a bad idea to take that free personal trainer session that gyms usually offer and ask them to evaluate you for muscle imbalances and cardiovascular health. The internet, and especially YouTube, is fantastic to learn more about muscle imbalances and how to correct them. THIS IS IMPORTANT! I am a Personal Trainer, and I suffer from imbalances! In fact, I’ve been in rehab for months now on an injury caused by weak hips that I knew about and decided to keep running anyway and not address them.
- Surround yourself with encouraging people. Get a work out buddy if you feel like you need the accountability. Don’t listen to the people who want to put your down, or the back handed compliments. Take the good things, leave the bad. Believe in yourself, and the negative comments won’t determine your future. Know that your mind may be looking for ways to keep you from changing as a protective mechanism. Fight against it! Time for you to take control of your destiny!
I feel like this post is all over the place, so I apologize if you have whiplash after reading this. I am always here for you. You can submit questions or comments through the ‘Contact Me’ form, and I will get right back with you. Take courage, and remember…you can’t start on your amazing journey without taking that first step. Be courageous!
Oh, and remember this…you are probably not crazy!!