Same old, same old… if you want to get old in good shape

Exercise, Everyday, Health, Fitness, Training

Go ahead, make a move! Make it over and over again…

I know, I said I would write about physiology next. But that will have to wait just a little longer.

Today’s post will sound like I’m repeating myself, and of course it is a little the case.

In my defense, it is a well-known fact of communication that in order for your message to get through, and for it to be believed, it must be repeated many times. (Preferably by more than one independent “sources,” though that never stopped anyone. Just think of the persuasion success the American leadership had a few years ago about weapons of mass destruction…)

So while I continue learning about physiology (I’m taking an online course, among other things) and clarifying my thinking about how to get that message across effectively, today I’m inviting you to review some recent news items about the importance of fitness for long-term health.

(Added note: I know most bloggers would have split this up in 2 or 3 topics. I’m not most bloggers because I prefer to see things as they fit together, not apart. And I think most people are capable of taking a bit of extra time to read a slightly longer post, instead of three short ones. Like my coaching, my blogging is about quality, not quantity…)

In the News

There has not been anything ground-breaking in the news lately; the artificial conflict between maintaining (or returning to) a healthy weight through diet alone versus exercising more (while being careful what we eat) has been raging. Because most folks on the “food only” side are clearly peddling books and special diets, I’m not even going to talk about what ridiculous stuff has been said on that side of the “debate.”

Instead, you should keep in mind that the best way to increase the odds of being healthy for a long time is through exercising a lot, and being careful about the food (not too much, mostly from plants) we ingest. That’s the “same old, same old” part of my message.

In support of that, you should read an interesting article about how many of the health problems of aging are due to inactivity, not “just” getting old. This is exactly what I mean when writing about muscles being extremely important, not just for metabolic reasons, but to keep bones and brains healthy.

Basically, to be healthy and active well into old age, you need to use your muscles more. The thing is, as one of my favorite authors on the subject has recently added, you don’t even need to do a whole lot in order to reap the benefits. That’s a key point about the approach I embrace and promote: balance is more healthy than excess.

Exercise, Health, Fitness, Training, Marathon

Running the New York Marathon in 2013.

For instance, while I say that we should all move a lot more than we currently do, there are some who say that we should all be training like professional triathletes, 25 or more hours per week. And others say we should not move at all, and instead restrict what we eat in a radical way.

I’m clearly not on the side of diet restrictions without any exercise, and I’ve run ultra-marathons and I do an ironman distance triathlon each year “just to stay in shape,” but even I would not pretend that such a level of training is sustainable for everyone. Although not sustainable, it may be something to shoot for, or, at least, going well beyond the “standard” recommendations of some 150 minutes per week of exercise, remains a very good idea.

Which brings me (finally) to a third tidbit of news about those who have been clamoring that doing marathons and intense training for more than 150 minutes per week were actually causing damage instead of doing good for their health. In light of new research, it seems they are admitting that our bodies can really benefit from a lot more exercise than they previously allowed for.

Moving More, Up to A Point

But keep in mind that, based on the research, there is a diminishing return to be had from increasing the activity level. And at some point, while it may not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer (which is what the study was concerned with), you up the risk of injury, which is not really taken into consideration from what I’ve read so far.

As reported in Runner’s World:

When mortality rates were adjusted for exercise levels, the researchers found the lowest rate among those who exercised about three to five times the amount recommended by federal guidelines (i.e., 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise like running). However, the increased benefit of working out three to five times more than the guidelines was modest, the researchers wrote.

More importantly to serious runners, there was no evidence of harm at ten or more times the recommended minimum.

At three to five times the federal guidelines, you are in marathon and short-distance triathlon training territory. Maybe up to a decent half-ironman. Nothing crazy. And sustainable, if part of a lifestyle choice that features living a long and healthy life as its Purpose.

And you can go well beyond that, if you are careful.

Same Old Advice (Summary)

In summary, allow me to repeat what little wisdom I can impart, based on what I’ve learned and what more knowledgeable people have said before me:

  1. Move, a lot, because our bodies are at their best when they do.
  2. Eat food, not too much, mostly from plants.
  3. Obtain, and follow, the advice of a coach (especially if you are going to train seriously for something like a marathon or triathlon (or any endurance- or speed- or strength-focused sport).
  4. Steer clear of excess and obsession; strive for balance in all things.

Oh, and I should probably have added “stay tuned.”

Because I’m bound to come back to this subject, and provide more specific advice over time.

After all, much like with training, repetition is what eventually gets the message through… and turns it into a no-brainer.

Running, Marathon, Fitness, Health, Training, Exercise

A bunch of superheroes with their capes, or tired marathon runners done running?

Photos by the author at various events.

Keep you Purpose in mind, question the Purposes of Others

Purpose, Exercise, Diet, Advice, Health, Fitness

Purpose is what keeps us all moving (each in our chosen direction).

It all boils down to Purpose. Everything.

There, I’ve said it.

Everything you do, everything you read, everything you come across on a daily basis. They all stem from one thing: Purpose.

Some of it is your Purpose. A lot of it, especially what you encounter around you, is the Purposes of Others. But it is all Purpose. To truly make sense of the world, you need to remember this.

If you want to keep on target, to keep moving regularly and eating well, you have to keep your Purpose firmly in mind.

If you want to avoid being taken for a ride (i.e. being taken advantage of, or negatively affected by what’s going on around you), you need to remember the Purposes of Others.

(If you need to remember what Purpose means, you can go back to some of my previous posts. But the common meaning of word purpose is also a good proxy, so feel free to just read on.)

Perhaps it is not always clear what those Purposes might be. Or perhaps you are starting to think I’m a conspiracy theorist of some sort. Quite the contrary, I assure you.

As a matter of fact, thinking about what you read, see, experience on a daily basis in terms of the Purposes of Others goes a long way in explaining things without resorting to some kind of conspiracy theory. It’s simply no longer necessary.

How so? Funny you should ask. (You did ask, didn’t you?) Because I’m going to devote this post to providing a few examples.

The Purposes of Others

The sections that follow are generalizations. Not absolutes, but generalized tendencies as observed by me (and doubtless others). They might upset some people, which is not my goal. I simply want to draw attention to some very real possibilities. Keeping these possibilities in mind could help you make sense of things…

Corporations

What is the Purpose of a corporation that makes sporting goods, apparel, nutritional supplements, etc.?

This one is terribly easy: to make money. No, they are definitely not there to help you perform at your best. They are not there to prevent you from getting hurt.

They have one driving obsession: to sell more products. In general, and against their competitors. After all, the “supply” of money from would-be buyers is not infinite. So they have to present what they offer as being better; better than what they sold last year, and better than anyone in the category is selling today. And they have studies to prove it. Everybody pretty much does.

Which means you should not trust those studies, right? It is not quite that clear-cut. But in case of doubt, we all had better take what we read from corporations with a grain of salt. (Keep the salt-shaker handy, because we’ll need it again.)

Magazines

A magazine’s Purpose is to make money. How do they achieve that? By selling as many copies as possible, month after month. How do they achieve that? Sometimes by exaggerating, but, mainly, simply by always having “new” things to publish.

But you can’t have new things to publish every month for years, at least not at a general public level in a field like fitness. So the same stories come back repeatedly. Like how to choose a pair of shoes this year. And other stories are simply variants on the same theme, like advice from multiple sources over time.

Diet, Advice, Exercise

Have some salt. Just not too much in your diet…

Which is why the advice can appear contradictory over time. My favorite example is the back and forth over how to do long runs (if you are a runner or a triathlete); one time you read that you must do it slow and steady, and then a few months later you read how you must spice it up with some speed. And then back again a few months later.

Because when you train, you are interested in having the most effective training program, you are bound to want to read what appears to be the latest best advice. Which is what they are counting on to sell their next issue of the magazine…

Diet Pushers

The Purpose of someone who comes out with advice on how to lose weight is probably to sell you his or her own newfangled way of doing that. That’s just simple fact.

It may be disguised at scientific truth, accompanied by a plethora (that’s an abundance, just to be clear) of scientific papers, but you can be pretty sure that it is there to convince you to buy something. Otherwise, that advice would be free for all to obtain, and it would be widely supported by others (as opposed to being published in a book, because “nobody else has that truth”).

You guessed it, there is a money-making Purpose in there. So beware.

Journalists

Without denying that many are genuinely interested in making a difference in the world by reporting on important matters, journalists need first and foremost to make a living as journalists. In essence, they need to sell pieces to newspapers or magazines; if they are staff, they need to make sure they are read regularly. They need to ensure their articles, columns, opinion or editorials are read and talked about. The more buzz, the better.

In order to achieve that, they resort to tried and true methods like talking about controversial topics, reporting sensational information. The vast majority verify their facts before publishing, but as we’ve seen examples of recently (the Rolling Stone magazine fiasco), they don’t always.

Sometimes, in an effort to appear “balanced” in their coverage, they frequently will present opposing points of view, even if it is completely unreasonable to do so. Sometimes, they will simply ignore the Purposes of Others in order to generate a lot of buzz, and play into the hands of diet peddlers and corporations. Whatever works at the time.

So it is no surprise that you often encounter what seems to be ground-breaking new facts about fitness, completely different from the ones you read just last week. And it is no wonder that headlines about such “new” facts are frequently deformed well beyond what the scientists said in the first place.

Advice, Fitness, Health, Exercise

Have some more.

The facts are often far less controversial or ground-breaking than they might appear in newspapers and magazines. But lack of sensational words don’t make people want to read the article. (Which in turn don’t help sell the magazine or newspaper…)

Fitness/Health Bloggers

This is a more difficult one to generalize. There are so many bloggers, and so many different reasons why people take up blogging on this topic. (Including mine, of course.)

For the most part, people want to share their own experience. Let’s face it, it both validates said experience, and could prove useful to someone else. If someone has come a long way from being sedentary, perhaps even of poor general health (or feeling that way), that life lesson and the efforts put into improving could prove extremely beneficial to others. But they may not apply generally. A success story may not turn out to be the best advice for your specific situation.

At that end of the spectrum of bloggers, I’m afraid, are many who are trying to turn what has become their new way of life, not to call it an obsession, into a money-earning activity. Those think they are applying the “turning one’s passion into a livelihood” approach, and to some extent, that is fair. But one’s personal experience may not be applicable to others. Be careful of any such person selling their services based on their own personal success at getting fit, healthy, or slim (or any combination of these very different things).

Others still are doing it to promote themselves and the services and/or products they sell. The are at the other end of the spectrum; they typically start blogging with the clear Purpose of, once again, making money. (Bring out that salt shaker again.)

Don’t get me wrong: Not everyone that sells something is necessarily bad. Many believe they are genuinely providing something that will help others. (That’s definitely where I’m located.) Yet you should be very careful when following the advice of anyone who sells something. Especially if they claim you cannot possibly get the full effect of what they promote without buying some sort of product or supplement.

Advice, Health, Fitness, Diet, Exercise

Keep the salt shaker nearby at all times.

Coaches

The Purpose of a coach is to help you achieve your own goals as an athlete. Even as an everyday athlete. Unless the coach is a crappy coach, in which case the Purpose of the coach might be to increase his or her reputation. Or perhaps simply to make money off of people who want to perform in a sport. Such coaches leave behind them a trail of broken, injured, and sometimes abused athletes.

How do you go about recognizing the Purpose of a coach?

First, ask about the coaching philosophy and the approach to training. Question also how much time a coach can really devote to each athlete he or she coaches. Be very weary of “secret sauces” and “special techniques” that no one else knows about; don’t assume that because the coach was a great athlete he or she knows what will work for you. And run away as fast as you can (there’s a good training session for you!) if the coach wants to sell you supplements or special equipments…

There would be more to say, but I’ve already gone on too long. And it sounds like I have a chip (or a bag of chips, salty ones at that) on my shoulder. I confess: I’m often frustrated by what I see. Too many earnest folks being taken advantage of, too much pixie dust being thrown into the eyes of unsuspecting (or willfully suspending critical judgment) people who want to pursue their own Purpose.

It is not that complicated, as I’ve tried repeatedly to explain on this blog. And it should not cost you a fortune to pursue your Purpose.

As long as you keep in mind that we all have a Purpose…

Image credits: Post picture by Sophie Tremblay-Paquet, at the Shipyard Maine Coast Half Marathon in 2015. Other images from Pixabay.

The Trouble with Superheroes

Exercise, Training, Consistency, Everyday, Movement

Who wants to be “super”? Who doesn’t?

Full disclosure time: I read comic books. I watch TV shows and movies about superheroes. I enjoy that tremendously. I also read “real” books, some that aren’t science-fiction or fantasy, or even about fitness and health. I also watch other types of movies (but watch very little TV in general).

This topic is coming about through serendipity: On the one hand, I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit since visiting the JFK Museum a year ago, where I was struck by the Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy initiative for health and fitness back in the 1960s. On the other hand, I’m currently enrolled in a course on edX called The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture.

Yes, I also take courses from time to time. Also, the latest Avengers movie recently came out. And they were my favorite superheroes when I was a kid. That’s quite enough disclosure for now.

It’s a simple, fairly well known observation that comic books and stories about superheroes are a great form of escapism. Not just for kids. They are fun distractions from the daily grind. They manage to make us dream a little. We sure need that once in a while.

In some cases, they inspire us to accomplish much. Many have pursued dreams of becoming athletes, scientists, journalists, doctors, soldiers, and other occupations (though probably never lawyers and politicians) based on the stories they read in comic books as children.

And that’s great.

Or is it?

Yes, actually, it is. Being inspired like that is a good thing. That’s one of the prime benefits of fiction. But not everyone reacts the same way, both consciously and sub-consciously, to fiction. Especially to fiction about, or featuring, superheroes.

Allow me to explain.

Becoming a Superhero

Here’s where I think there is a problem with superheroes in particular, and the stories, be they in comic books, on the television, or on the big screen, that feature them: There’s always a secret sauce, a previously unknown causation device (known as a “ghost in the machine” in the jargon) that comes from outside the characters and without which there is simply no story.

In the case of superheroes, the main such plot device is about how they became “super.” It is a pernicious plot device because, no matter how much one tries, no matter how much effort one puts into preparing, the outcome is, ultimately, up to chance alone. But how often do normal folks acquire special abilities as a result of an accident? (Answer: Never. On the contrary. And too many have tried, so don’t.)

Stories, Training, Exercise

Inspiration, but also sub-conscious lessons.

I dare you to find a single superhero character that did not become “super” by some freak accident (of birth, of being bitten by something, of having something radioactive spilled on him or her, etc.) or that does not benefit from being extremely rich (typically by birthright) or extremely intelligent (innate trait). Or a combination thereof.

Basically, I dare you to find a (major) superhero that became that way through long years of training, without any money, just barely making do with minimal support and resources.

No, Batman does not count: Yes, he trained hard and for many years, or so the story goes, but he’s super-rich, and can afford lots of cool gadgets which he did not have to invent. Similarly for Green Arrow. Ironman is a combination of super-smart and super-rich, without any effort. Etc. You get the gist.

And those who were born on Krypton or elsewhere, or were given powers by mysterious extra-terrestrial entities, etc., simply abound in the same direction.

Let’s face it, the message superheroes propagate is that one does not train to become super; it is simply something that happens to you. Or that you are born into.

Which begs the question:

If I’m not super (or fit, or an athlete, or really really smart already), why should I bother work at it? Why should I train my body or my mind to become better? Might as well just drink beer and watch football on TV… – Anonymous

Superpowers, not Supertraining

In fact, I think I noticed a troubling trend that amplifies what I’m talking about.

Even when the story talks about training, it if often after one becomes a superhero. As maintenance. And when the story relates the training that took place before becoming a superhero, it used to be (in comic books) that it took a really long time (e.g. Batman again); but now, in TV and films, it seems mere months, when not just weeks, of training will turn someone of no skill (and precious little fitness) into a tough crime-fighting vigilante (e.g. TV series The Arrow).

Take another example of the same thing, but from another realm of fiction, and quite similar: In the Star Wars series, we are made to think it takes training from childhood to become a Jedi as an adult. Yet Luke Skywalker is able to achieve it with a few months of discovering his powers (the Force, in this case) and at most a few days of training with Yoda.

No wonder consistency, long practice, and the respectful following of a coach’s instructions is so under-valued nowadays.

C’mon, I want to be a sub-10 hours Ironman triathlete, and I want it now. Gimme a training program that will take me there in 6 weeks, and, by the way, I’m going to listen to every other bit of advice I can find out there, and try lots of different things at the same time… – also Anonymous, but a different one

As a coach, it makes you want to dunk the athlete in radioactive, mutagenic goo. Whatever that is. With an extra-dose of magically enhanced plant enzymes for good measure. Whatever that does.

I Need a (Super)Hero

Seriously again. When it comes to fitness and health, the subconscious message we get from these superhero stories is two-pronged:

  1. Most of what you are, what you are capable of, is innate. Or the result of freak accidents. That’s just the way the world works.
  2. If you train, you should expect results to be both very quick, and very dramatic. No need for long years of honing skills and becoming fit. Fitness, more often than not approximated by weight loss, should be almost instantaneous. Or take no longer than the duration of a TV show’s season.

It makes us look for quick fixes. At the very least, it makes us believe those who tell us their 90 days program, their 60 days program, their 4 weeks program, etc., will get us looking and feeling fantastic. (Like one of the Fantastic 4: stretchy and nimble, or hot like fire, or bulky-muscular like The Thing.)

In the end, we are looking for a silver bullet, for a hero, to save us from poor health. Just because it seems to work that way. We are thus constantly looking for that super solution; the next one must be the right one. We enter a vicious cycle; a kind of prison of the expectations. A prison of our own making.

The Truth Shall Set You Free

What is the truth that shall set you free? It is this: It takes time, and effort.

Just how much time, and how much effort, depends on each person’s genetic make-up, as well as on whether the person gets helped by a coach or not.

So, in a sense, some of it is innate. It does come easier for some. We each have some predisposition for some types of activities. I’ve touched upon that before.

But all of us can become much better everyday athletes, to the point of being true heroes of our own health, families, and society around us, by exercising regularly, consistently.

So move, train, and exercise more. That’s the ticket. After all, the extra weight and the shortness of breath when trying to run for a minute did not come all of a sudden; they happened gradually over many years of too little activity.

And when you need to rest, because training requires proper recovery, I know just what you can do to spend a bit of quiet time: Pick up a comic book, and let your mind dream a little. It won’t hurt, as long as you remember that it is pure fantasy.

Training, Exercise, Regularly, Everyday

You want a piece of me? You’d better train hard. And eat a lot of… gamma radiation.

Images from Pixabay.

P.S.: Regarding the dare, a couple of superheroes come to mind, but I wasn’t about to let that get in the way of the argument’s flow. Besides, they are fairly minor, and don’t have “super” powers: Black Widow and Hawkeye, two so-called “master assassins.” I wish we had more stories about how they trained, and how long it took, for them to become what they are in the Avengers’ world. But keep in mind that they also use super gadgets, which they must have had someone finance for them… Just sayin’…

I’ll do it tomorrow…

Everyday, Exercise, Psychology, Purpose, Motivation, Training

So much to do, so little time. No wonder some things get pushed to the next day.

We’ve all been there…

I get home after a long day at work, not to mention a breakdown-inducing commute, only to face a list of chores which includes making dinner, cleaning the kitchen, paying a bill, assisting with kids’ homework, bath, story time, etc., and, of course, exercising.

After a short internal debate (very short, because there simply is not much time to debate), I come to the obvious conclusion: “I’m too tired, and there’s too much to do, so I’ll exercise tomorrow instead.”

The details vary, but the scenario is similar, whether it’s you, me, or our neighbours living through such a story. More often than not, the decision is to postpone the workout.

It is not a flaw of character: It is simply human nature. It is a form of procrastination, but it is mostly due to our tendency to view the future more optimistically than we have reason to: Although we feel tired now, we still feel we won’t be as tired next time.

Because, of course, what happens the next day, is pretty much the same story… And so days go by that we don’t exercise.

It gets worse: After a couple of days missed, OK maybe three, the brain switches to thinking: “Well, this week is screwed, so I’ll start fresh next week.” It’s the ultimate version of “I’ll do it tomorrow…”

Skipping one workout because something else comes up, or being sick, or really, really needing the time for something else, can happen. It is no big deal. The problem arises when it is not the exception anymore. The real problem is when exercising becomes the exception, not the regular occurrence. When “I’ll do it tomorrow…” is everyday, instead of exercise being everyday.

Let’s face it, very few of us are able to maintain an exercise regimen day in, day out. It is not easy. Heck, I do a few marathons and one iron distance triathlon each year, and I have a hard time keeping a steady exercise regimen.

But some people are capable of doing it.

Those who do are either exercise nuts who don’t really do anything else (you’ve met some, admit it), or have a very clear purpose for training (like elite athletes, which you also think are nuts, but you respect that kind of nuts), or are extremely motivated (for a while, but it does not last), or… are nearly unnoticeable because they operate on auto-pilot.

That’s right: Auto-pilot.

Making decisions is hard

Exercise, Everyday, Training

Just push the button, and let it go.

Why do I say they are on auto-pilot?

Because many who manage to exercise have understood something critical to maintaining a regimen: Mental energy is often in low supply, so if you rely on making the decision to exercise, more often than not you won’t.

So exercise, for those people, is the default behaviour. There is no question, there is no debate. You might be surprised that you don’t see them all that much because they tend to be quieter than the highly motivated or the exercise nuts. They don’t fuss; they just move.

There are two ways this can be achieved, and there is one very important trick you can use to increase the odds of success.

Auto-pilot mode

The first way is to turn your own, internal, auto-pilot mode to ON. It is not easy, and it takes a bit of time to stick (is it 21 days, or more?).

An auto-pilot mode is like a switch that you must program, a mental shortcut that just gets triggered whenever needed.

When you catch yourself asking the question “do I want to exercise” you must immediately answer “yes, of course” and then just do it. (Not trying to infringe on Nike’s trademark, but those are three really good words to tell yourself.)

The sooner you catch yourself and switch to automatically respond in the affirmative, the easier it is. For instance, if you wait until you’ve already told yourself “I’ll do it tomorrow…”, it is much more difficult to tell yourself “No, I’m doing it today.”

But that’s exactly what you must do.

Everyday. Until it becomes automatic.

A trick that helps a great deal is to put exercise on your daily agenda first thing in the morning. Even if it means having to get up earlier. That way, when evening comes, you’ll actually have more energy, and the chores will still be doable.

Let someone else be your pilot

The second way to have an auto-pilot is to actually let someone else be your pilot. Perhaps only for a while, to get over the hump of starting a good habit and jump-starting your own auto-pilot programming.

How does that work?

Get a coach.

And then do what the coach tells you to do.

As you follow the instructions of the coach, notice how things are simpler. Enjoy the free time from having to make decisions. All the decisions are made for you. All you have to do is, well, “do”.

But pick a good coach, one that understands what you are trying to do, and has your interests at heart. That way he or she will have you do things that make sense, in the right intensity, to get you fitter and healthier.

Getting that sort of help is not a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary: It shows resolve for doing the right thing for your body. A commitment to what is important.

After all, top athletes all have coaches. (Many even have more than one, by the way.)

Isn’t it time you consider yourself also an athlete? Albeit, an everyday athlete?

That time is today. No more “I’ll do it tomorrow…”!

Exercise, Everyday, Athlete, Everyday Athlete

You need to make your habit of exercising an automatic behaviour.

Images from Pixabay

Discipline: The 5 Practices – Practice 5

Exercise, Discipline, Everyday, Training, Sports

Find ways to find it fun to exercise. At times, it won’t be easy.

Find your fun!

There: That’s it. That’s the fifth Practice of Discipline. Nothing more to add.

Ok, maybe a few things to add.

Find your fun is an essential practice of discipline because, contrary to most people’s view about discipline, you should not drag yourself through unpleasant activities day after day after day…

That old view of discipline must go out the window.

But you must make an effort, at times, to find the fun in what you are doing. Especially when you are doing it everyday.

What does that mean, practically speaking?

Ways to find your fun

I’m a big fan of traveling and visiting places I don’t know, even in my own city. I always find that pleasant, be it on a bike or while doing a long run. Even if it is in my own city, I enjoy taking detours that I have not taken before. That, for me, is fun.

To some, it could be always doing a very nice loop (walking, running, rollerblading, biking, etc.) in a beautiful park, or in a particularly nice residential area. Perhaps to notice doing it faster each time, but that should not be necessary.

To others it might be exercising on a stationary device (bike, treadmill, elliptical) while watching a favourite show, or a “guilty pleasure show you would not be caught watching otherwise, or listening to a podcast series on an interesting topic.

Perhaps it is to pick up again a sport you used to like doing when you were younger. Think back to then: How about badminton, tennis, basketball, water-polo? Sure, it might require finding a group to have fun with, but they exist, you just have to look for them.

It could also simply be a thought while you walk/run/cycle/swim: “I’ll be in better shape for the next time I… (insert activity for which you want to be more fit).” That’s OK as well, though it is better to find your fun in the situation you are in while exercising, not just in some future version of you.

The best fun, in my experience, comes from appreciating how your body feels as you exercise, and observing the environment around you. Especially in the environment, you can find ever changing and renewed fun everyday.

I also enjoy talking to people while I run. Especially long runs, or marathons. This is my fun, not necessarily the fun of those I talk to. You have to be careful about how you find your fun, because the fun invariably ends where someone else’s NOT FUN begins…

The best fun is solitary fun

The point is, no matter what it is, you need to find some.

Many resort to finding a training buddy, or joining some sort of team or “fitness” class. Nothing wrong with that. However, a word (or two) of caution:

When you become dependent on a partner, or on a group, for your fun, you risk stopping whatever activity it is that you’ve undertaken. For instance, if your partner does not show up. Or if the class comes to an end.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of finding fun within yourself. More to the point: within your own attitude towards the exercise and the world around you.

Fun for two

Fun with a partner is, as indicated earlier, acceptable.

More than that: It is an excellent way of having great fun. The closer the partner (spouse, close friend, etc.), the better the fun, and the more likely the fun will be reciprocal, and repeatable.

Be it chatting while walking/running/stationary something, or playing doubles tennis/badminton/etc., sharing a fitness-increasing activity can enhance it.

However, as noted earlier, you should not rely on an exercise partner: What if your doubles partner does not show up? What if the exercise itself causes tension with your significant other.

Better be careful, and make sure you can find fun by yourself.

Group fun

Group fun is also acceptable. It can be an excellent way of finding fun in the beginning.

But careful if you come to rely of the stimulus offered by a group (and/or a cheerleader-coach) for your fun: That’s a pretty much certain sign that your fun is teetering on the edge of not being enough to sustain your activity level.

As we all know, too much stimulation leads to a saturation, and an inability to find the fun in more mundane situations (like fun for two, or fun on your own).

To be sure, get started and use whatever means to find the fun at first, but make sure to branch off and find the fun on your own as soon as possible.

The key thing is to move a lot more.

Your body will enjoy that.

It’s up to you to bring your mind around to enjoying it as well. And that’s where discipline comes in…

Image from Pixabay.

Discipline: The 5 Practices – Practice 4

Discipline, Training, Exercise

Starting is easy. Following the plan the whole way, that’s another matter entirely.

Discipline Practice 4 is the simplest of them all, but perhaps the most difficult to do.

Imagine a simple analogy:

You are planning a road trip to go see New York city. Three days before the date you had set, you decide not to wait, and leave immediately. You pack the car in a hurry, and forget to bring the camping gear you were hoping to use to save on motel rooms. Half-way to New York, you see a signpost for Philadelphia, and figure you have enough time, so you’ll go there as well. You spend a large amount of money on a hotel room you find very late at night because you’ve driven too far and are by then exhausted and can’t drive any farther.

The next morning you drive around Philly a bit and finally head towards New York. You get there to realize the main thing you wanted to see, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is closed, opening again only two days later (which would have been fine had you gotten to New York on the expected date). Having few other options, and to make yourself feel a bit better, you once again splurge on an expensive hotel, and the next morning drive back home, where you end up disappointed about your trip because you did not see what you really wanted to see, and spent way too much money…

I can’t put it any plainer than this:

Stick to the plan.

Yes, this one is really called “stick to the plan.”

This holds as much for training as for racing, though it is perhaps more noticeable in the latter case.

Whether you are training with the help of a coach or by yourself, you must have a plan for reaching better fitness. It can be a simple plan, like what No-brainer Fitness is recommending (moving more, on a daily basis), or it can be a detailed training regimen to reach some particular goal (like participating in an Ironman triathlon). No matter. A plan is a plan. Everybody makes them.

You don’t need to be a project manager to understand the proper way to plan for something.

  • Step 1: First, you figure what your objectives are, and where you currently are with respect to those objectives. This allows you to figure-out what is missing, and thus what needs to be done.
  • Step 2: Then you make a detailed, phased approach, a Plan, for bridging the gap.
  • Step 3: Next, you execute the Plan. You do what was planned, step by step, day by day.
  • Step 4: Finally, after the conclusion of the Plan (your fitness event, race, or simply the end of the season of activities), you review the results, and assess whether anything needs to be done better next time.

Because there is always a next time: another season, another event, another goal.

The same holds true for a race plan, but in much more condensed form. You have a goal, there is a starting line; you race, following an established plan, and then you cross the finish line. Whether you cross it after the expected amount of time depends in large part on your training, but also on how well you followed the plan for the race itself.

But here’s what almost invariably happens: at some point, perhaps on many occasions during the execution of the plan, you diverge from what the plan said.

This could be during a training session in which you decide to do something different (typically, more, or simply completely different training), or during a preparatory event, when you decide you feel really good and will go full out instead of keeping the planned pace. Or during the race, where you go too fast, too soon, because you are really excited and think you can do better than planned.

You’ve gone through Step 1 and Step 2, but then you don’t follow Step 3 properly, often leading to a lesser result than hoped for. And when you get to Step 4, lots of reasons can be found to explain what happened (a.k.a. excuses), but seldom do you recall that Step 3 was not followed properly. And you may even blame the Plan itself, or the coach, when in fact it was your Step 3 that was the problem.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having some flexibility with respect to following plans. In particular when listening to your body clamoring for rest, or having to deal with unexpected conditions like the weather or unforeseen family obligations.

And perhaps the Plan was not a good one, or not good enough.

But here’s the thing: If you don’t follow the Plan as closely as possible, you cannot claim that it is not a Good Plan. And you don’t really know how to make it any better.

In training and exercising just like in life in general, we’re supposed to keep learning. Or at least avoid making the same mistakes more than twice (see how much leeway I give us?). The planning process is there to facilitate that learning.

But the only way it works is if you have the discipline to stick to the plan.

Picture from Pixabay.

More alike than not… except in the details

Sports, Exercise, Performance, Athletes

A diversity of shapes and speeds at the Rome marathon a few years ago. All athletes, in a way.

Time for a story. (Isn’t it always?)

Once upon a time, in pretty much all lands on this planet called Earth, the thinking of sports federations and elite coaches was that an Olympic athlete had to be of average height and build, with lean bone and muscle mass providing a streamlined body type.

For all Olympic sports.

Such athletes were selected and tested early, then subjected to years of grueling training. Only a very small portion of even such “ideal” athletes rose to the top of each sport and were deemed good enough to represent their respective countries against the rest of the world. (The story does not say what happened to those who did not rise to the top, but rumour has it that they started hating sports, and took up knitting instead.)

This had come about because there was a clear picture of the “ideal” human shape that had endured to some extent since the time of the original Olympic games in Greece. But with more clothing. No doubt the statues of antiquity, and later re-born in the Renaissance, had helped solidify such an image of the perfect athlete.

Allied to that image was the notion, very much born of religious thought, that only through a lot of hard work and pain could the most gains be made in training. Fierce competition, even among teammates, was seen as the way to build stronger individuals.

Thus many countries went about, and generations of kids, teenagers, and young adults went about their training. Only a very small portion of all those who started in such programs ever made it, and they won medals and set world records.

But this story is not about world records and Olympic medals. It is about how athletes were selected and prepared to compete.

It all changed, of course, when atypical athletes started winning medals and breaking world records. This came about because many countries simply did not have athletes with the expected, “ideal” body type. They were not expected to win, yet there they were, running faster, jumping higher, lifting heavier than the rest.

Suddenly, coaches caught on to what biologists must have realized much earlier: That there might be something about the specific genetic make-up of an individual that might make them better athletes at SOME sport in particular.

Nowadays, we fully understand that notion, and athletes are not expected to look the same across all sports. That explains why we see a lot of Kenyans and Ethiopians win marathons, and tiny little guys and gals ride race horses. Volleyball players are tall and somewhat lanky; ping-pong players somewhat short but extremely quick.

You get the picture. We each have specific genetic variations that make us more or less good at some activities or sports. Some are very visible, others not.

As the eminent (running coach) Jack Daniels pointed out in a seminar I attended a few years ago, you would not expect Shaquille O’neal and Mary Lou Retton to perform at an elite level at each-other’s respective sports. (The reference to those athletes provides an idea of the age of Jack Daniels, and of the attendees, not of the date of the seminar.)

Big differences are expected, for instance, between a basketball player and a gold medal winning gymnast. (Just to be clear, for those of a different age…) Mary Lou could not possibly dunk a ball, and Shaquille might very well break the asymmetric bars. Hence athletes are largely selected based on their body types nowadays.

Tragically, what hasn’t changed (yet) is the notion that training has to be uniformly hard and painful for everyone. That is why we see PE programs in schools that are still based on (unfriendly) competition and pitting everyone against each other to be the best, or to meet some specific standards of fitness arbitrarily defined by someone.

That’s in large part been identified as the prime culprit for turning the vast majority of people away from doing sports on a regular basis. If all that seems to matter is winning, and there can only be one winner, that means there are a lot of losers. And nobody likes being a loser.

So it starts by hating PE, then it becomes hating sports. Except for those you can watch while drinking beer, and even then, it is watching games, not playing.

Exercise, Movement, Daily

Watching is definitely not the same as doing.

At the same time, the understanding that we are all different has been taken much too far: Nowadays, a lot of folks think that they are simply not athletic, not meant to do sports. There are winners, who are jocks, who are meant to do sports, and then there’s the rest of us who should not do sports. Who cannot do sports.

Given the premises of differences between individuals and of personally hating sports, it is understandable that many reached the (erroneous) conclusion that they are not meant to move.

But the reasoning is incorrect, and one of the premises is false.

The facts, based on biology, are all pointing in the direction of our bodies being meant to move. Needing to move. Regularly.

Hating sports and exercise is a learned behaviour; it can be unlearned, replaced by something better.

We are all different, but even in our visible (and invisible differences), we are more alike than not.

The story time being over, I’ll conclude this post by pointing out the ways in which we are alike, and those in which we differ. And I’ll come back some other time to the fascinating topic of how to learn to like exercise.

Ways in which we are all alike: Basic morphology and physiology

Cells, Physiology

The marvelous machinery of life.

  1. We all have the same number of limbs, fingers, heads, internal organs (types and numbers), etc., and they all are built according to the same plan. (Yes, I know, there are accidents of biology, but the basic plan before those accidents is the same.)
  2. We all have muscles connected to bones in order to makes us move; those muscles all work according to the same principles, and allow sensibly the same movements to be performed by everyone.
  3. We use carbohydrates, lipids, and to a lesser extent proteins, to generate the energy that allows our cells to function. Including muscle cells, which are used to move our bodies. More specifically, there are fast and slow ways of generating that energy, and although they vary in relative terms, they are all present in all of us.
  4. We all obtain such nutrients from eating; our digestive system, comprised as it is of our own guts and the microbiome therein, functions fundamentally the same way in all of us. Besides nutrients, we need water and oxygen (not too much) for our metabolism to operate.
  5. We need to move; for our bodies to be healthy, we need to move. The stress imposed on our bones, muscles, and internal organs by intense activity is what keeps bones strong, muscles large(-ish), and organs performing their normal functions. Including digestion and waste disposal.
  6. All of our bodies respond to exercise (or to a lack thereof). If you exercise regularly, the body changes to adapt to the exercise, and the organs and energy systems hum along. If you don’t exercise, the body “relaxes” and things start to breakdown, fat reserves accumulate, digestion is slower and we get constipated, etc.

That’s just how our bodies work. We are all very much alike.

Ways in which we differ: The details of performance

Because of the details of how each of us is shaped (tall or short, thick-boned or thinner, etc.) and how cells function physiologically, there are aspects of performance in which we differ. Specifically:

Sports, Physical Activities, Training

So many sports, so many choices…

  1. How much endurance we have (mostly due to differences in energy systems at the cellular level, though that’s trainable to a great extent, perhaps the most of all aspects of performance)
  2. How fast we can be (also highly trainable, but limits imposed by physiology exist in each of us, also at the cellular level in muscles)
    How strong our muscles can be (small differences there)
  3. How big our muscles can become (bigger differences there)
  4. How flexible we can be (muscles, ligaments, but also joint movement; we can’t all be circus performers!)
  5. How coordinated we can be (agility, efficiency, also technically trainable to a great extent)
  6. How a wide range of our senses perform (eyesight, hearing, smell, etc.) and how efficiently our brains put all of that together

Taken together, and in the right combinations, the accumulation of small differences is what, along with adequate training, makes top performing athletes.

So, while it remains true that there can only be one winner in each discipline, and that at the top level (Olympics, for instance), only a small portion of the population is equipped to truly compete, we all have the potential to take enjoyment in some physical activity. And we may even do pretty well, locally or within the cohort of people our own age.

What matters most, however, is that we are all alike in fundamental ways. We all need to move, a lot, to keep our one and only body functioning optimally for a long time.

It’s up to us to figure-out what makes us enjoy it the most.

Exercise, Endurance, Physiology

The author, laughing at a well-deserved muscle cramp, after having completed an iron-distance triathlon.

For an interesting discussion of physiological differences in triathletes, see the recently published book Triathlon Science by Joe Friel and Jim Vance.

Pictures from Pixabay and the author.