Is Monday really the best day to start a new workout plan?

Really? Is Monday really the best day of the week to start a new lifestyle change? It could be a workout plan, or a nutrition plan (not a “diet”), or a change in how we live or work or do something that seriously affects our lives. The Google search for “why Monday is the best day to start a diet” (there’s that “diet” word again) turns up a massively long list of articles proclaiming just that.

Ah, Monday. Is it really the best week to launch a lifestyle change? Read on. (Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Ah, Monday. Is it really the best week to launch a lifestyle change? Read on. (Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

But I’m not sure that’s a great idea, to tell you the truth.

As the adage goes: “The best exercise for you is the one that you’re actually going to do.” I think the same thing applies to making a life change. The best day of the week to get started is the day on which you’re actually going to be motivated to start, and to navigate the inevitable rough patches, especially in the early going.

That’s why, when I decided it was time to lose weight once and for all, I started on a Saturday. That’s the beginning of my work weekend, so it’s a day when I have time to concentrate on non-work-related things. At the time (February 2009) I was consulting for a company where I had to be on site most days of the week. So, one of my challenges was going to be this: How do I pack healthy meals with me, or otherwise eat healthfully during the work day, when I’m on site at a client facility?

That took a couple of days to figure out. It involved some nice new food containers, an ice pack, and a cute little cooler—as well as a fairly significant grocery store run to stock up on the good stuff. That first week, there was also a social event to navigate on Tuesday evening, so starting on Saturday instead of the following Monday gave me a two-day head start on figuring out how to best deal with it.

But that’s just me. It worked to start something big on a weekend, because that weekend, I could concentrate on the task at hand. If you don’t work on Mondays, or if your schedule just works better for you when you begin a new “thing” on the first day of the traditional work week, then coolio—go for it. Just know that those first days and weeks can be, well, interesting, so give yourself the best possible chance to succeed by starting at a time when you’re most likely to have the energy to keep going if you hit a small roadblock on the path.

 

The 12 Gifts of Fitness, Day 7: A Brain Reset

True confession: I’m writing this post when I should be at my swim class. I was super duper massively tired today and gave myself permission to take a little bit of rest…but something tells me I could have just as easily been okay if I’d jumped in the pool and done what I could do. Because one of the gifts of fitness is that the act of exercise—especially a decently challenging aerobic or strength workout, one that leaves you panting (at least some of the time) and sweating (most of the time)—creates a Brain Reset.

Brain Reset: Kind of like that red pen thingie in Men in Black

Vigorous exercise gives us a brain reset. Works every time. (Image courtesy of dream designs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Vigorous exercise gives us a brain reset. Works every time. (Image courtesy of dream designs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

You know the red pen thingie? That little flashy thing called a Neuralyzer that Will Smith’s character flashes at people when he wants them to forget whatever they just saw? That’s what a good, solid, hard workout does for me, every time.

If I was frustrated before the workout…I’m happy afterwards.

If I was tired before the workout…I’m energized afterwards.

If I was crabby before the workout…I’m oozing positive energy afterwards.

Never once, not once in all of the time that I have made exercise a part of my regular routine, have I ended a workout feeling worse than I did when I started it. (Well, there was that one time in October 2014 when I took a nasty fall while running the day after a massive windstorm and tripped on a fallen branch…but that’s a major exception to the rule.)

What’s the science behind this one? Pretty simple. Vigorous aerobic workouts give the feel-good chemicals in our brains a big ol’ boost: endorphins, neurotransmitters, and endocannobinoids…say that last one five times fast. And check out the Mayo Clinic article that expounds on the value of exercise for alleviating depression symptoms. Even if you’re not “depressed” by clinical standards, all of us have our mental ups and downs. Exercise provides a brain reset, and that’s one of its greatest gifts.

(And yes, there is an actual Wikipedia entry about the Men in Black Neuralyzer. Really. I just had to share that, because it’s awesome.)

The 12 Gifts of Fitness, Day 6: Resilience

“If you have one bad mile, don’t worry. Just run as comfortably as you can through it. The next mile might feel a whole lot better.”

Marathon running is like climbing a mountain. The goal is spectacular; but not every step will feel perfect. The key ingredient: Resilience. (Image courtesy of moggara12 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Marathon running is like climbing a mountain. The goal is spectacular; but not every step will feel perfect. The key ingredient: Resilience. (Image courtesy of moggara12 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

That quote right there is a paraphrase of what my running coach taught me about marathoning: it’s not all over if you have a “bad mile.” You can regroup, run a little more slowly, relax, breathe a little more deeply, and see if your energy comes back. The key to marathon running is to train the resilience to see the race through to its end, no matter what happens between the starting gun and the finish line.

Ah, resilience.

I’m thinking about resilience today, and how fitness gives it to us in spades (and for a whole lot more than our fitness lives, too) because a friend lost her job recently in a corporate-layoff situation that involved a lot of people. Difficult industry, tough times, and finally the company had to do what companies have to do from time to time: take out the spreadsheets and figure out how to cut costs. This time, a talented person whom I respect deeply was on the unfortunate “cut” list. The company won’t be the same without her.

But resilience will get her through it. And, wouldn’t you know…she’s an athlete. I have tons of confidence that she’ll bounce back better than ever.

Thinking back more than five years ago…it was October 2008, when the real axe of the Great Recession had just hit the U.S. economy, when I saw a number on the scale that I’d never seen before and had no idea what to do next. Forty pounds above my healthiest weight. And, no work to speak of; when the recession hit, companies went into lockdown mode and froze hiring. I was coming off a big work contract and figured the next contract was right around the corner. As it turned out, it was more than six months away. And I had a mortgage, on my own, to cover. And I was overweight.

Today, things are better. Much better.

What happened? It turned out to be a great time to start taking care of my health, in the end. I could cook at home (the better to be both healthy and frugal). I could take time to figure out what I really wanted from my work life going forward. And as I started to drop the weight (gradually and on my own at first, and then more effectively with a solid program to follow), I felt more confident and more sure of myself. I knew what career moves I wanted to make, and which ones to steer clear of (hint: the ones I’d be doing just “for the money”).

And I embraced fitness, in a pretty major way. I didn’t give up my gym membership; instead, I used it more often. The gym gave me the chance to be around other people, to be in a positive place, to set a daily goal and reach it. (My philosophy: workouts are pass/fail. If you showed up, you passed.)

Moral of the story: If you show up to your workout on a regular basis, you’re training resilience. That will help with the tough times. Guaranteed.

Recent Every48 workouts: SWIMMING and SPINNING have been my mainstays recently. There’s just something about swimming, especially when your mobility has been impacted (by injury, inactivity or other reasons – just check with your doctor before starting). I’m just loving the pool these days: two hours a week, minimum, with a group of like-minded swimmer people. Love it.

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.

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