I am generally fit, which is to say I am trim and with some noticeable muscle definition given the right light. Despite accusations of genetics, my physique has been largely achieved through diet and exercise. The last 15 years has been filled with miles of running increasingly supplemented with various body weight workouts. In addition to a solid workout routine I have also managed to improve my diet enough to lose and keep off 40 pounds.
The reason for bringing up these credentials is that every now and then I am in a conversation that turns to the subject of fitness. Usually the other person is either lamenting their current situation or talking up some new initiative to get in shape. While I am not a personal trainer by any stretch of the word, I often feel obligated to offer my two cents in hopes that my experiences and anecdotes can help much in the same way giving tips to someone who is trying to make Vodka sauce for the first time would. But unlike insights into cooking, tips for working out and dieting are often like walking a tight rope. First, I have those who respond with dubious dismissal. I chalk this up to my routine being fairly rudimentary which seems suspicious in a sea of gyms and programs that feature extreme sounding techniques and/or expensive equipment. Second, and even more more worrisome, are the people who take any advice about diet or exercise as some veiled attack on their lifestyle. From their perspective any advice about this subject is akin to calling them unhealthy lazy slobs.
Since people will always be trying new things to improve and maintain fitness, the situation above is bound repeat itself so in addition to awkwardly providing insight verbally, I figured I might try mixing in some written record of what has actually helped me stay fit. So without further ado, below are some basic experiences and guidelines that have helped over the past 15 years.
Start Out Slow And Iterate
I see way too many people who think the best way to get in shape is by jumping into some intense 5-day-a-week/hour-long regiment. Most of the time these people burn themselves out in a month and conclude exercise is not for them… at least until their next over zealous false start. Working out takes a concerted effort so a first goal should always be finding something sustainable.
I started running in high school with the goal of running a mile 3 times a week. My thinking was if the mandatory once a year mile kicked my ass, then doing it 156 times a year would be an improvement of many magnitudes. To be honest, I doubt a mile was even achieved in those early days, but as as my body improved so did I. Slowly my barely-a-mile increased to around 4 miles. The same is true with my body weight workouts where I started doing 20 push ups in poor form and now do a variety of push exercises totaling up to around 100 reps in single workout.
Convincing myself to initiate a work out has always been way harder than the actual act. Mornings are met with a sort of groggy hatred of the world and any motivation after work brings out a petulant child that screams “I have more work? But I just got home from work!?” Based on personal experience and observation, I can safely say that building consistency is the hardest part about staying fit and is another reason to start slow. Trust me, that hour-long-super-intense workout isn’t nearly as self motivating by day 21.
I have never used a gym. Part of it is cost, but the bigger reason is time. Say a gym is 15 minutes away. My workouts only take about 30 minutes so that extra commute serves to double the amount of time required. Also since starting the work out is always hardest part, the last thing my psyche needs is the added overhead going to a gym requires. For me, the best workouts are those I can jump right into.
Be Wary Of Restaurants
Restaurants are businesses that succeed by serving savory and delicious food at competitive prices. This means they have every motivation to use way more sugar, fat, and salt than any reasonable person would use when cooking for themselves. Chains tend to be worse because they have even smaller margins and more complex distribution to contend with. That doesn’t mean I never eat out. I order lunch in at work most weekdays, but I try to avoid foods that are processed, rich, or carb heavy. Instead I opt for things that have some amount of clearly identifiable vegetables and proteins. This means sandwiches, salads, and non-creamy soups. In addition to lunches, I also give/limit myself to two times to eat out with less moderation.
Left purely to my own devices, I will inhale any meal in a matter of a few minutes. This always ends up with me hankering for more after eating everything and then feeling overstuffed once my stomach has realized what just transpired. To combat this, I employ two tactics. First, I try to slow my eating. Savoring each bite actually increases my enjoyment of a meal and allows for my stomach to keep pace so I am equally satisfied while eating less. My second trick is smaller servings. Indian food is the best example of this. Chicken tikka masala’s savory sweet spiciness is so delicious that it will be gone unless half is stocked away in the fridge beforehand.
Being Aware Of Calories
Calorie counting can be a dangerous game. While not a personal problem, I have seen calorie counting friends bring themselves to the brink of starvation. What’s worse is my understanding that too few calories slows the metabolism, which ultimately undermines weight management. Instead of counting, I recommend simply being aware of where calories come from. This has lead me to actively curb certain types of food while allowing me more flexibility in managing my diet.
So those are few things that have helped me maintain a fit life style. I hope other find these tips helpful in their question toward fitness.
http://www.marklauren.com – I have really enjoyed the body weight workouts of Mark Lauren. Note: The basic 10 week work out may be too much for some, but the books and app are filled with more accessible alternatives.
http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/2/2_3/181.shtml – I haven’t used this personally, but have heard it’s a good resource for easing into a routine.
[Updated on 6/17/2015 to remove a section containing wild speculation about the metabolism.]