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Saturday, February 09, 2008

How to reach the greatest shape

Small steps.

That you get fitter in stages, as you exercise more, is pretty obvious I think. You might start out just walking, but as you get fitter, you might add some slow jogging to your routine. And then eventually you’re running three miles, several stages later. However, this really applies to everything, including diet, and many people don’t realize that. You shouldn’t try to change your entire diet overnight — do it in stages. Small steps, one thing at a time, and you’ll get there. Just start eating more fruits at first, for example. Then cut out sodas. Then eat more veggies for dinner. Then change your white bread for whole wheat bread. Then cut out candy at work. And so on. The thing is, you get used to each thing after awhile, and so the changes don’t seem drastic. A year later, and you’re eating extremely healthily (that word again), and you can’t imagine going back to your old diet. Small steps — this is extremely key, to both diet and exercise.

Find short-term rewards.

Most people quit their diet or exercise program because they’re looking for immediate results. And they’re discouraged when they don’t get them. But you won’t get immediate results. One fitness trainer said something like, “After a month, you’ll start feeling some results. After two months, you’ll start noticing results. After three months, others will start noticing.” And that’s pretty true — it takes months before you start to see the results you want … but in the meantime, you have to look for other things to keep you going. Those shorter-term rewards could be simple things like the great feeling you get after a workout — that helps me stay motivated. Or you could give yourself a treat (something healthy, preferably) or buy a book or something like that.

Track your progress.

The scale is probably the most popular way to see your progress, but other ways include measuring your waist, or taking photos of yourself each month. You could also track your performance — for example, do a 5K every month to see if you’re getting faster, or log your miles to see them increase. However you do it, you should have some kind of objective way to see your progress over the weeks and months. Otherwise, you might not really notice the difference — but the numbers or pictures will.

Enjoy yourself.

Very very important. If you see your exercise as extremely difficult, or painful, you won’t be able to sustain it for long. You’ll quit. If you see your diet as very restrictive, or torture, you’ll go back to junk food in a short while. You must find exercise that you enjoy, and find healthy foods that taste good to you. Maybe not chocolate cake good, but good nonetheless. Experiment with new recipes until you find ones you absolutely love. (Try my soup and chili recipes for example.) Above all, enjoy the whole process. It’s what’s kept me doing it — I love my new life.
Never ever give up. Maybe the most important truth on this list. If you give up, you won’t get to your goal. Very obvious, I know, but the problem is that people don’t put this into action. Messing up by falling back into junk food or stopping exercise — that happens. Life gets in the way. No one is perfect. Just forget about that stuff, and move on. Learn from your failures, adjust your plan to prevent the same thing from happening again, and start again. If you stop, that’s OK — just start again. Always start again. If you do that, there’s no way you won’t eventually get to your goal.

Get a workout partner.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s been the key to my most recent exercise success. I began running with my sister, Katrina (who btw is an incredible inspiration — she’s come a very long way in the last year), and even though we’re at different levels, we really enjoy our runs. When we agree to meet at 5 a.m. for a run, I have to be there, or I disappoint her. And sure, once in awhile we cancel appointments, but most of the time we’re there, and we run, and that’s the important thing. These months of running with her have really gotten me in much better shape. Now I’m also running with my wife, so having two workout partners is taking me to another level. Get a workout partner. Best move I’ve ever made.

Brush your teeth after dinner.

This is such a simple thing, but it really helps. It makes you have that fresh, clean feeling in your mouth, and makes you not want to eat an after-dinner snack. For me, after-dinner snacks or desserts are what ruin my diet a lot of the time.

Vary your workouts.

This helps keep things fresh and fun. For runners, for example, don’t just do 3 miles every day at the same pace. Vary the distance, the route, the speed. Do intervals. And do stuff other than running — go hiking, go biking, play basketball, do strength training, swim, paddle. Mixing it up will get you in even better shape, challenging your body in new ways, and making it an enjoyable process.

Focus.

There are always a lot of things we want to accomplish, goals we want to focus on … but by spreading ourselves thin, we lose focus and energy. Focus on one thing at a time in order to really get it ingrained as a habit. For example, for one month, focus on adding healthier foods to your diet (and dropping some of the less healthy ones). After that month, it’ll be ingrained. The next month, add walking or jogging or something like that, and only focus on that. One goal at a time, one month at a time, and you’ll get healthy.

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