I want to preface this list by saying that I am NOT an expert in fitness or healthy living. I am not a trainer, and not even very coordinated when it comes to organized workouts. (I was the one in the back of the aerobics class who was always up when everyone else was down.) I tell you this because I want you to know that ANYONE CAN DO THIS. It is worth the effort, and you will feel better.
The biggest step is in choosing to make a change. Yesterday I shared my good fortune and cause for inspiration in my column, Good Genes, Vanity and the occasional Cream Puff. A girlfriend of mine was much more elegant when she said,
‘Take care of your body. It’s where you live.’
Any way you put it, the secret is to just get up and get going. Maybe you don’t “work out” like I do, but get interested in something and move! Use your muscles, use your mind, and most importantly, use your heart. Be inspired, and share your passion. Compliments and encouragement I have had from others has been my biggest motivation. My husband has been my rock, and he spurs me on. Your comment might be what inspires another person.
You do need to be accountable to yourself. Find a reason to want to keep going, not an excuse to stop.
If you do choose some kind of physical exercise as a part of your life, here is what has helped me:
- Start small – set yourself up for success. Don’t begin with something like “Insanity” unless you’re already in good shape. Don’t feel like you have to keep up with anyone else in class. This is about the long haul – if you kill yourself now, you’ll never get to see the results.
- Find a workout you enjoy, even when it’s tough. If you go to a class and you don’t like how the instructor talks, pick a different class. Not everyone likes to be barked at, but some find it motivating to do boot camp. Find your groove.
- Include energy snacks like smoothies around workout time. Women especially can be bad for having enough fuel in their bodies. Let me tell you from experience, you don’t help your diet or your fitness by working out on empty. Get used to having some kind of snack half an hour before your workout, and something afterwards too. You will perform better and improve faster. These are smart calories.
- It’s okay to look silly. Especially when you first start, you have to learn the routine. Remember, the instructor you see at the gym or on the DVD has been doing this for a while. You will look better soon.
- Use a mirror to help get the moves right. (go back to tip #1 if this stresses you out). Listen to what the instructor says and think about which muscles are working, how they say you should feel (e.g. abs tight, triceps pushing, etc.) You will see your improvements as you get better.
- Don’t be afraid to take a break – just don’t give up. The instructors might not be drinking water or stopping, but they do this for a living. When they tell you to drink, do so. If you feel like you need to catch your breath or relax your muscles, that’s okay. Take a short break and then get back in there!
- Find someone to encourage you during your workout. Maybe this is a buddy who is with you, or it might be a virtual helper. I have my hubbie who sometimes is there working out and cheering me on when I get tired. I also have a picture of my dad on the wall; he was my first coach, and seeing his face when I feel “blah” always helps me. I know music or motivational talks help others. Find your shot of adrenaline and keep it handy.
- You will feel sore, even 2 days after a workout – it means your muscles are getting stronger. (see #10 below for help, and #6. ) The first time I did the “Insanity” program with Shaun T, it took me 90 days and not 60 – and the first 2 weeks I had to pull myself up the stairs using the railing. But I made it. That was 3 years ago.
- Eat and drink properly. Drinking at least 2 litres of water is one of the best healthy habits you can have. Eating as much natural food as you can is another. Eat to enjoy the food, to fuel your soul. It will thank you. (remember, this includes the occasional cream puff!)
- Vary your workout, and take days off. You might really like a certain DVD or class at the gym, but your muscles need to be confused to really improve. Changing exercises helps you work all the muscles and not just certain ones. (I have 20 different workouts I rotate through.) Days off also help your muscles recover enough so you can push harder without injury. *This is where you might want a trainer to help you out, especially if you work out on your own.
I hope this helps. I’d love to hear your comments, whether you are new to this or you have secrets you want to share. For me being healthy is just as much about being in shape as it is eating good food. I want to live long enough to enjoy all those meals on my bucket list. I want to share those memories with loved ones. I want to pass along my passion to young people so they can live happy and healthy lives.
The last part of this puzzle is our body image. Especially for women, this is an ongoing battle that continues to frustrate many. I can’t say that I love where our society is at in representing the female form; I thought we would be better about appreciating individuals by now. It seems to me if we can be happy and healthy in our own skin, then that shape is our ideal form. We are not all meant to be “skinny bitches”, if you’ll pardon the term.
I’d like to close on positive thoughts: Get some exercise to feel good. Eat good food. Love yourself. Share all those good things with others. It’s what I call the good life. We all deserve it.
People often ask me how I do it – here I am chatting about eating all this good food and I’m married to a French chef who cooks cream sauces and chocolate cakes, and yet I look slender and fit. I decided it was high time I let everyone in on my secret.
The title says it all, but I will explain in more detail.
I am blessed with good genes: I’m 6 feet tall and I have a slender build, coming from both my mom’s Celtic side and my dad’s Scandinavian side. Thankfully, good health has also been a state I have enjoyed so far in life (almost any time I’ve spent in hospital has been to visit someone else). I don’t have any food allergies, and I have lived a largely middle class life.
I was brought up in an environment that encouraged me to be confident, to know that I was special and beautiful and capable – even in my teenage years when I didn’t feel those things were possible (just like most people, especially girls). As a result, I feel pretty good about my body and I like it when I am feeling fit and healthy, and attractive. A healthy dose of vanity is a great motivator against the feelings of wanting to be a couch potato during a Canadian winter or after having been dumped by a boyfriend or on a day when one just feels “blah”.
(This is where you’re going to either chuckle or snigger in disgust…) The occasional cream puff, or scoop of double chocolate Haagen-Daaz, or extra handful of popcorn or Cheezies is not only a reasonable guilt-free indulgence in my book, it’s essential to the balance in one’s life. I am of the opinion that diets do no good at all when undertaken as a sole method of weight loss or fitness improvement. If you want to lose weight, start first by looking at your portion sizes. Exercise and diet need to go hand in hand if you expect to achieve a lifestyle change; crash dieting, like cramming for an exam, very rarely helps you achieve success.
Now that I have given you some background, I will offer my two cents on how I have managed to keep up with a fitness regime in my 50’s.
First, deal with your background:
- if you didn’t get lucky with good genes, give yourself a break – don’t expect to look like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, and don’t feel bad about it. We aren’t all supposed to look like one vision of “beautiful”.
- SIDE NOTE: if you are supporting someone who is on this journey, remember that compliments have huge impact. Remind them what they are doing is worth it, tell them they are looking good.
- if you aren’t feeling up to be vain, try faking it at first. No really, just trust in yourself and think of your goal (looking and feeling attractive and strong). Consider a bit of vanity as a reward for your work so far – you might not have that six-pack yet, but you will!
- if you’re afraid to break a diet or indulge, find a happy medium. Maybe food isn’t where you indulge, but rather a bit of shopping – new make-up? a night at the movies? a good book? You need to feel that there is a balance between the work you’re doing to improve yourself and the rewards of doing that work.
- SIDE NOTE: cue the support network again! Friends and relatives, you are the cheerleaders that help us keep up the good work. It’s easy to make a resolution and get through that first few sessions at the gym or running or whatever. We need your help to keep going for the long term.
Next, set yourself up for success. You need to find something that will work for you, and you need to remember we are all human – there are times when this will be tough. The secret is this:
Find a reason that makes your self-improvement a priority for the long term in your life – why would you keep doing this, what would make you feel like doing this on a bad day?
Sometimes the reason is dramatic – people can start a fitness regime because they know someone who suffered from not being fit. (It’s like not smoking because you know someone who died of lung cancer.) Other times it is more simple – people can just decide that their own sense of wellness is a top priority. (I think this is easier to justify the older we get.) Basically you need to want to be healthy MORE than wanting to go overboard on any unhealthy habits.
I will leave you with all those thoughts for tonight, and I’ll post my Top Ten Tips for Staying Fit & Healthy tomorrow. Even if you don’t jump on the bandwagon for this kind of lifestyle, perhaps this one idea will inspire you…
Insert a bit of good health each day with seven options (try each one at least once a week):
- Make salad for dinner, with whatever vegetables and/or fruit you want but only one kind of protein as an ingredient.
- Walk the dog or the kids for 30 minutes. (If you don’t have a dog or kids and can’t borrow any, put your earbuds in and play 30 minutes of music while you walk.)
- Eat breakfast sitting down – a meal consisting of a glass of water and a glass of juice or coffee or tea, some protein (peanut butter or yogurt or cheese or eggs or quinoa porridge are all good), and some fibre (from fruits or whole grains).
- Drink 6 -8 glasses of water (8 ounces or 250 mL each). Don’t count any other kind of liquid in this total.
- Eat fruit or veggies with every meal you have.
- Spend 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening doing some light stretches and deep breathing (e.g. roll your head down towards your toes and hang there for a few breaths, stretch side to side, etc.)
- Give yourself a break – have an ice cream, or take a day off your workout regime… it’s okay to just enjoy the day and the company.