The 12 Gifts of Fitness, Day 5: Righting the Ship, Quickly

One of the gifts of fitness, and overall good health, that I’ve experienced in recent years is this: when I mess up, my body wastes absolutely no time in telling me so.

Whether through a sleepless night, bad indigestion, fatigue, or other seriously unpleasant symptoms, a healthy body will really let you know when things are not going well. (The opposite, of course, is just as true: if you’re taking care of yourself, your body will absolutely respond with great stuff: high energy, positivity, resting well, the works.)

In other words, when you’re healthy, it’s a lot easier to right the ship when things go wrong, because your body tells you things are going haywire very quickly.

When we're healthy, righting the ship when things go a little nuts is a lot easier. (Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
When we’re healthy, righting the ship when things go a little nuts is a lot easier. (Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

This was not the case back in my unhealthier years. Then, I could sort of get away with eating poorly, in the sense that I really couldn’t tell the difference in my levels of fatigue, etc….because that was all I knew. Fast food every night? Sleepless night. But I never caught the link. I just thought I had insomnia.

I’m appreciative of this particular gift of fitness right now because it’s one thing to know your body and what it needs, but quite another to realize when the rules change (due to injury, illness, or other challenges) that our bodies might start saying funny things to us—things about, say, not taking quite as good care of ourselves as we otherwise would (Examples: “Let’s skip this workout,” “Let’s eat some bubble gum jellybeans”). I’m definitely not saying we shouldn’t listen when our bodies tell us to slow down. But that voice about the bubble gum jellybeans being suddenly such a good idea? That’s the voice we need to remember when we’re oh-so-tempted to take a break from an otherwise healthy lifestyle.

(Full disclosure: That was me, last night. A handful of pure sugar before bed and one really scary nightmare later, my body has definitely communicated its displeasure with that particular nutritional decision. For more on what the U.S. health establishment is now saying about the consumption of excess sugar, check out the latest news from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Basically, excess refined sugar is really, really not good.)

So, when your body rebels, check out what you’ve been giving it lately. And then, start giving it the good stuff, right then. Exercise. Good nutrition. Rest. And your body will say “thank you,” in all sorts of awesome ways.

Yesterday’s Every48 workout: A 60-minute SWIM class. Yay.

The 12 Gifts of Fitness, Day 4: Keeping Promises

Otherwise known, variously, as “self-discipline,” “self-efficacy,” and a whole host of other terms, all of which basically mean one thing: we do what we say we are going to do.

Why this is a short post today: I'm keeping a promise to myself to get to my morning swim class. That's one of the 12 gifts of fitness, right there. (Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Why this is a short post today: I’m keeping a promise to myself to get to my morning swim class. That’s one of the 12 gifts of fitness, right there. (Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

I will be writing this post rather quickly, because it is 8:20 a.m. and by 8:45 a.m. I’m going to be heading out the door to a swim class I take twice a week at my local gym. It’s a fantastic workout for a lot of reasons, and right now (with some new physical challenges that require me to modify my workouts), a mid-morning workout instead of an early-morning workout works better. And a coached workout works better than trying to self-motivate sometimes. So I signed up for a class. That means, if I want to get my money’s worth, I actually have to show up at said class.

Keeping promises to ourselves. This is how a runner who had trouble breaking two hours for a half-marathon in 2009 ran 1:46 in 2011 (yep, that was me). There was a training schedule. It required organization and discipline and regular workouts. I followed it. Poof. Good race times followed, and the fitness and confidence that comes from doing something really good for ourselves on a regular basis.

The fourth gift of fitness: it helps us keep our promises to ourselves—even if we have to go kicking and screaming sometimes, because monkey mind says “I don’t wanna!” If we do everything we can to just show up, usually our bodies take over from there, and all is well.

And that gift, I’m convinced, helps us keep our promises in other areas of our life, too.

Have a great workout today.

The 12 Gifts of Fitness, Day 3: Getting Real

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (actually, it was probably just Pennsylvania, where I grew up), I thought that people who looked fit and healthy had some sort of magic gene pool that they were drawing from to get that wonderful healthy glow about them. They were the lucky ones.

I, of course, was unlucky. Chubby-ish as a kid, piling on more pounds through the years, always tired, always feeling like life was somehow passing me by.

Oh, how fitness has changed all of that. Not just what I look like to the outside world, or in the mirror…but in what I now believe to be one of the biggest gifts of fitness.

We learn what’s real.

One of the best fitness tools ever, for figuring out what's real: a simple notebook. With an actual pen, even. (Image courtesy of tor00722 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
One of the best fitness tools ever, for figuring out what’s real: a simple notebook. With an actual pen, even. (Image courtesy of tor00722 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

There’s noise out there (“you have the ‘fat gene’,” “you have bad genetics”) and then there’s, well, reality.

The reality is that there’s a massive cause/effect relationship between living healthfully and experiencing actual health. The only way to know that, of course, is to live healthfully over a period of time, and see what happens next.  The easiest way to track that cause/effect relationship is to write down what you’re doing, and see what the results are, and go from there.

When I started to write it all down, I discovered that the self-limiting belief “I have bad genes, so I can’t be really healthy, no matter what I do” was actually leading me to do the very things that kept me unhealthy! Whoa! I joke about it now, but it was no joke back when I finally figured this out: “I thought I had bad genes and had tried everything to take care of myself. Turned out I had ‘tried everything’…except eating well and exercising.”

More than six years later, my health profile rivals that of the people I was always envious of, and I know what’s real. Good nutrition, a consistent fitness routine, thinking positively, and having a life that I love, surrounded by people I love and work I enjoy.

This tracking concept works even when the goal isn’t specifically fitness-related, too. Say you want to get more sleep at night, and yet you find yourself with some type of device on your nightstand more often than not. How about tracking the days when you sleep well vs. when you don’t, and then seeing where that little device was for each of those nights? (Hint: When my devices are in another room, I always sleep better. Always. Here’s one article of the many out there that supports that idea.)

It’s a huge gift: the gift of knowing that good health isn’t found in a magic pill, or a magic gene. It’s within us to find for ourselves. It takes practice and making mistakes along the way, but isn’t that what life is about, after all?

We’re Ba-aaaaack! Lesson of the Last Two Months: We Gotta Listen.

Yes! Finally, after a hiatus that I’ll tell you all about soon soon soon, Every48 is back up and running. Thanks for your patience.

Here’s just a smidgen of what I learned in the last two months—all of it applicable to the message of this blog.

When something happens to our bodies, we gotta listen.

"Hello?" "Hi, this is your body speaking. You need to listen to what I'm telling you." And so it was for the last two months. Body speaks, mind must listen. And it all worked out. (Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
“Hello?” “Hi, this is your body speaking. You need to listen to what I’m telling you.” And so it was for the last two months. Body speaks, mind must listen. And it all worked out. (Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

That’s all there is to it. We can will ourselves to do a certain amount, whether in our workouts, or our work life, or our family life. We might even be able to talk ourselves into more than we think our bodies can handle, once in a while (like pulling an all-nighter for a big project, or finishing a marathon—those are both major mind over matter situations).

Here’s what we just can’t do. We can’t ignore what our bodies are telling us, when what they’re telling us is absolutely for our own good. Bodies are wise that way. Especially when we live in a way that honors our health, it’s possible to trust a whole lot of what we’re getting back from them.

And so it was in mid-December, when this body suddenly got a jolt unlike any it has ever had before. I’ll share the details soon, but it’s all good—just one of those times in a person’s life when rest becomes absolutely paramount, and trying to will ourselves out of resting when all our bodies are saying is “REST!” just isn’t possible. That meant writing about working out wasn’t working for a little while there. So, there are still ten days of the Twelve Gifts of Fitness to complete, and I just wanted to wait until the voice that was here for you was an authentic, alive one—not just somebody trying to phone it in, in order to keep to an external schedule of one sort or another.

Having said that…and yes, I’ll share more about my “situation” soon…here’s what I’ve learned in the last two months:

  1. When we’re fit and healthy, we can trust our bodies to tell us what they really need.
  2. When we’re up for it, vigorous exercise (the  stuff that makes our hearts pound just a little harder and our muscles work just a bit more) is really, really good for us. Not just the body, but the mind, our moods, our energy – the whole shebang.
  3. When our bodies are telling us that we need a break, it is beyond okay to listen to that voice, because our bodies have some pretty ridiculously amazing wisdom to share with us when we’re quiet enough to listen.

More tomorrow…and yes, glad to be back!

Today’s Every48 workout: A 60-minute triathlon SWIM class at my gym. Lots of fast intervals with emphasis on getting a full freestyle stroke in (especially the “push” underwater at the end of the stroke, which is but one of my nemeses in the pool). Yummy, and now I feel great.

On hiatus…back very soon!

It’s not your imagination, or your email account losing notifications of blog posts. It’s me, your intrepid Every48 author, who’s been down with a fun little holiday illness for the last week with very little energy to write…blech.

Back very soon with the remainder of the 12 Gifts of Fitness! Until then, get out there (provided you’re not on bed rest like yours truly) and get your holiday workout on. See you back here very soon!

The 12 Gifts of Fitness, Day 2: Patience.

The 12 Gifts of Fitness
Day 1: ENERGY

Day 2: PATIENCE

Patience, young Jedi. That is what fitness gives us when we make a long-term commitment to doing what we can, as often as we can, and not over-thinking the whole situation when we can’t. We do our best, and over time, our bodies talk back to us in ways that can sometimes be kind of glorious.

Fitness is always a work in progress. It takes patience. But oh yes - is it ever worth it. (Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Fitness is always a work in progress. It takes patience. But oh yes – is it ever worth it. (Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

My “whooooooaaaaaaaa!” moment when it came to patience with a fitness program landed almost four years ago. It was March 2011, and I was training for my first “official” Boston Marathon. (I ran unregistered—yep, they called us “bandits”—back when I was a college student in 1993.)

This time around I was an “invitational” entrant, not a qualifier by Boston’s time standards but eligible to run through another program. (I’ve since become an annual member of the Massachusetts General Hospital’s pediatric oncology/hematology marathon team – 2015 will be my fourth consecutive race with them.) But in 2011, it was my first time showing up in Boston with an official race number, and I desperately wanted to arrive in the city feeling like I’d earned the right to be there.

So I trained. I trained well, I trained hard. I trained patiently.

The program I used for that particular race was a super-smart one that advocates just three days a week of running and two additional days a week of cross-training: cardio workouts that exercise different muscles than the running muscles (think swimming, biking, and rowing).

I showed up religiously for every workout starting in January. Then in early March, I got sick and couldn’t run for a few weeks. Blah. I had a half-marathon scheduled as a tune-up race in late March. So I just went out there and figured, well, here goes nothing.

One hour and forty-six minutes later, I had smashed my personal best for the distance, by over six minutes.

It was nuts. It was one of those races where everything felt almost too easy. What happened? Why was running close to a sub-8 mile mile pace over 13.1 miles suddenly…not that hard?

I’m convinced it was because I had finally learned how to train patiently.

The actual Boston Marathon that year was far slower (I had, after all, lost weeks of training to that illness). But what I had achieved was enough to propel me to a new personal best at a shorter distance: a performance that made it clear that it would be possible for me to chase an official Boston Marathon qualifying time in the future.

I like that.

Here’s what this year of fitness has taught me: Our bodies respond to what we give them. That includes the good and the not-so-good. If we’re consistent, whatever we give our bodies eventually shows up either on our bodies, or in our bodies. Being able to run far more efficiently all of a sudden? That’s a by-product of lots of small choices: running each workout well, dedicating oneself to making daily commitments, doing our best, not beating ourselves up when our “best” wasn’t “super-duper.” And always, always showing up the next day.

That’s what I call patience. And it’s one of the huge gifts of fitness I’ve experienced in 2014. I hope you have too.

 

 

The 12 Gifts of Fitness, Day 1: Energy.

The 12 Gifts of Fitness
Day 1: ENERGY

With only thirteen weekdays left in 2014 (where did the time go???), it’s time to start looking at the big picture. Or pictures, as the case may be.

Big picture? Big pictures? At the end of a year, looking back at what went well helps us plan out what the next year could bring. This year, fitness brought a lot of good things. (Image courtesy of chayathonwong2000 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Big picture? Big pictures? At the end of a year, looking back at what went well helps us plan out what the next year could bring. This year, fitness brought a lot of good things. Time to reflect on them over the next 12 days. (Image courtesy of chayathonwong2000 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

This blog got its start in January 2014 as a commitment from me to exercise at least once every 48 hours. There have been a few hiccups along the way: injuries here and there, trips, and such things—but generally speaking, the year has been a good one.

Over the next 12 of those 13 weekdays before we ring in 2015, I’ll be thinking a little more deeply about the true gifts of fitness. I’d love your thoughts, too, on what living a health-centered life has meant to you in 2014. Each day, I’ll feature one of the “12 Gifts of Fitness” that this year has brought. Maybe you’ll completely relate…or maybe you’ll have totally different “big-picture” experiences. Health is an incredibly personal thing: some of us thrive in certain situations and not others. There are many different ways to eat healthfully and to live healthfully; it’s not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon.

So, on Day 1 of the 12 Gifts of Fitness, I bring you…ENERGY.

That’s right. Energy. It’s 100% true (well, 99%…there was that gym incident last week where I was wickedly tired even after getting myself on the exercise bike and just had to punt and do an easier workout). Exercise just about always makes us feel better after we’ve done it. It really does.

My overall energy level in 2015 was better than it’s ever been before. Sleep gets easier, my mind gets clearer, priorities make themselves more obvious, and it becomes much, much easier to make other healthy choices throughout the day, too. I’m peppier, I think more positively, and I get more done.

Especially when that workout gets done between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. (See above for the note on how personal all of this health and fitness stuff is; if you’re not a morning person, don’t go thinking you have to do what I try to do just “because.” That schedule just happens to fit my life and my energy level.)

And you know the funny part? The exact opposite thing happens when I don’t work out regularly. I get tired more easily. Crabby, one might even suggest. I look at the world more dismally. It’s harder to “get going” in the morning. And woe is me on the days when I don’t get that early workout in and spend the whole day thinking it’s something I’ve gotta get done…and then I’m too tired (see? not enough energy!) to do it later in the day.

So on this Monday morning, I’m thankful for the first gift of fitness: Energy. Try out a workout today and see if your energy level surges too. And have a badass workout, even if you start it draggin’. It just about always works out well in the end.

Today’s Every48 workout: A 45-minute BIKE ride at the gym. Didn’t quite get it done before 8 a.m., but I was on the bike before 8:30, so it was all good.

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