An Adult Approach to Physical Fitness
“Getting in shape.” This is a goal of so many who are fortunate to live in an area of the world with access to plentiful food and the economic status to purchase it. Sometimes to excess. Food that is yummy and plentiful can be counterproductive to the fashionably trim and fit visage we wish to present to the world, an image marketed to us incessantly. How to get there?
Caveat: Although I taught PE for one year, coached a variety of sports for 15 years, and have always been active in one or more sports, I make no claim to expertise. What follows is intended merely as food for thought.
So many people have taken on one diet or exercise program or other (or a great many of them) and failed. How to reverse this and create a program that works for you? There are five things (at least) needed to make this work, and one thing not needed at all.
- What You Don’t Need
- A venue
- What I call the “plausible lie.”
- Partnering (optional)
- A plan of what to do
What you don’t need: A diet. How many new diets come along in a year, have their fifteen minutes of fame (and fortune) and then fade away? Most diets are based on a lie. We’re all eager to find the short cut, the magic diet or pill or potion that offers something for nothing (except money). There is no such thing. The only way to get in better shape (and losing weight may be part of that) is to expend more energy in physical exercise than you take in as food and drink. Yes, you can cut down on fatty foods and alcohol and that frozen Snicker’s bar you enjoy before bed. All of that will help, but less than you would hope. You do not need a “diet.” You need a plan, and how to get from where you are to where you can make your plan work
Time: At some points in your life it can be between challenging and impossible to create the time. When I was teaching I had the benefit of a gym and locker room at my place of work – which I rarely took advantage of. There I was, coaching every day, putting my teams through vigorous workouts – while I watched. I could scrimmage with my tennis and basketball teams, which helped. In the early days of my career, the coaches had keys to the school. My park league basketball team used my access for practice sessions on weekend evenings.
Then I got married and bought a house, and then a child came along…
When I was president of the local teachers’ union for two years I worked about 60 hours a week. It was the most exciting and stressful two years of my life. The work, an expense account, and frequent meetings with food contrived to bloat me with about 25 pounds of flab while my muscles atrophied. The low point for my physical fitness was the fall of 1978, when I returned to the classroom.
Things did not improve much for the next several years, and when our children reached their very active teen years and I was working at a 2nd job most of the time on one of the weekend days there was simply no opportunity to create work-out time. For many there may be no viable options at a particular time of life. But things will change, inevitably.
When I left teaching in 2000 and entered the motorsports business, the relatively later starting time plus our children having left home offered space in the mornings for workouts. Things got better.
Venue: Some people can work out at home. You can purchase all sorts of exercise equipment, plus audio-visual training aids such as jazz dancing or a plethora or work-out videos. These can be inexpensive, as many people find that working out at home does not work for them and sell their equipment at bargain prices.Including me. I purchased a rowing machine, and our son had some weights. Neither of them worked very well for me, and both were eventually sold or given away.
Your results may differ, but I found that I had to get off my largish butt and drive to a facility to work out.Fortunately, the Northshore YMCA is only two miles or so from our home. We joined way back in 1993, when a boyfriend of our daughter’s introduced us to this fine facility. I began to work out a bit, and played a lot of racquetball with Chet. I was distressed when Dorine broke up with him. She had thrown away a boyfriend for whatever reason, but I had lost a fine playing partner. I mean, what were her priorities, anyway?
We’ve enjoyed the YMCA for over 20 years now, and I’ll bet there’s a similar facility near you. I think our dues are now about $110 a month. If the two of us go an average of three days a week each visit sets us back about $5 a head. We can afford that.
The Plausible Lie: Things picked up markedly when I created my first “plausible lie.” Some people are self-motivated to work out on their own for the considerable benefits that accrue. My son is like this, and his own regimen has changed his life dramatically in the past few years. Finishing an Ironman Triathlon and so many other events is a wondrous thing, but the changes in his body and outlook on life are utterly incredible and awe-inspiring. I do not have that much self-discipline.
Enter the lie.My new career meant that I needed to be able to hop on virtually any motorcycle made and ride it any distance in any weather, usually in the company of others with vast experience on that brand and model of motorcycle. So… I told myself that I needed to be in better shape to be able to pull this off, which is probably sort of more or less true – in a way.Having accepted this, my workouts grew in frequency and rigor, and the results came ever so gradually but at a rate such that I could see and feel the changes, even if others could not. My waist remained a stubborn problem area, still to this day, but my shoulders expanded, my arms got longer, and my posture improved markedly. Almost as an afterthought, I could ride motorcycles for longer with less fatigue and greater concentration.
What to do when I retired last year? I created a 2nd plausible lie. I planned a 4,000 mile ride for this past summer, and used that for inspiration to keep working out. That worked, and now I’m planning a ride for next summer with the same added bonus of motivation. Over time, in this case 14 years, the habit of exercise becomes embedded and the need for a plausible lie lessens.
What will work for you? The need to be in better shape to increase the odds of a job promotion? Couldn’t hurt. The reward of a new wardrobe for measurable improvement? Bribery is always effective. A new car? Whatever works, whether logic and truth-based or not – go for it.
Partner: Once we settled into our new life in 2000 it became clear that morning workouts were the way to go. Susan needs to leave for work by 7am or so, and having taught 4th graders all day, an evening workout schedule was not going to happen. I prefer to shower before going to the Y, and also after my workout, and of course I want to eat some food beforehand. The upshot is an alarm set for 4am.
Could I do this on my own? Perhaps not, as it often takes two of us to get up that early. The benefits became manifest. Once back from our workout I could enjoy the morning paper and a cup of coffee at leisure. I was ready and eager to go to work in plenty of time.
Now that I am retired it’s even better. If Susan has a morning meeting, or has endured a bad day or evening meeting the day before, she may choose to “sleep in” to 6am, but I have the luxury of being able to work out later in the day. On days when I choose to not do that, I try to make sure I get out for a walk or a hike.
If you make it to the important stage of regularly attending a gym, you’ll eventually get to know people who work out at the same time. You may be able to work together, or set up a racquet ball session, or whatever works for you. The key is to get your butt to the facility.
What to do: Once there, my experience has been that it does not really matter what you do for a workout. You can use free weights, or machines, or walk, or jog, or use a stair step machine or a treadmill. Whatever floats your boat is infinitely better than what you were doing previously, after all. Most facilities have people who will guide you if asked, and also show you how the machines work. I have my favorites, and your brain will keep track of your usual reps and weights. Over time, you’ll probably increase both.
In summation, my experience has been that most exercise programs over-promise and under-deliver. You’re not going to lose 50 pounds and turn into a beach Adonis in a couple of months. Perhaps ever. You will, over time, notice muscles appearing for the first time in your life, if only to you. I remember so clearly pulling on a t-shirt one day and noticing something that had never appeared in my peripheral vision before. My shoulders. On another occasion I learned I now had to pay attention when drying off after a shower, as there was now a water-collecting low point between my larger shoulders and the center of my chest.
You’ll find, in time, new levels of stamina and energy, along with lower stress and a more positive outlook. Foods you used to gobble with impunity will become less attractive, and you may wonder “What was I thinking?” You’ll look better, if only to you, although your spouse, if you’re so equipped, will notice.
At the end of the day, you are the only person you need to impress.
Copyright 2014 David Preston