It is that time of year when everyone is considering goals for the New Year, and diet and exercise being chief among them. I am not a big fan of the diet and exercise “New Year’s Resolution” as that seems to imply these can be temporary changes that can accomplish a goal, one can check a box and then go back to the previous status quo. While I am not telling you anything that you don’t already know and in all honesty, I am a lawyer not a personal trainer or dietitian, if you really want to improve your health in 2016, then you have to make regular exercise a way of life. An appointment a couple of times a week with yourself that you keep.
When I was a freshman in college, I gained about 15 pounds my first semester. I had always been quite active in high school and before that, as a gymnast, playing tennis and other activities. But, I hit college and college parties, and without the organized activities of my high school years, here came the weight. After initially thinking it was the awful dryers in the laundry room at the dorm shrinking my jeans, I came to the realization that I had just had too much beer, pizza and fun and had gotten fat. I am five foot two, so fifteen pounds on my frame is no small number.
So during Christmas break, I pondered what to do. If I continued on this path, by the time I walked out of college I would be sixty pounds overweight, and that was completely unacceptable. So I went back to Ole Miss, signed up for a jogging class (which gave me a needed one hour physical education credit), and the rest is history. It took me basically the entire semester to be able to run two miles without stopping, but I did it, and I have been able to do it ever since. Eventually (not immediately), I lost that freshman fifteen. And I have pretty much weighed the same since I was 25 or so. Fluctuations here and there, but by making exercise a way of life (and monitoring diet when I know I have gone overboard), no real changes. I have not been on a diet since I was in my early 20s.
Running has been one of the most consistent parts of my life since I was eighteen. I have run three marathons and several half marathons. Running is a part of my way of life. If I don’t do it for a period of time, I get restless.
But, a couple of years ago, after 30 years of running injury free, I suffered an injury and had to quit for about six months. I was petrified. If I quit running, wouldn’t I just blow up? Here comes the fifteen pounds again. So, I told myself I would get interested in other types of exercise, such as strength training or barre classes, during this time when I had to be off of the road. So I replaced running with those types of exercise. For the first time in my life, I got real muscle tone. I don’t know that I lost any weight per se, but my clothes fit better and I believe I looked leaner. Again, exercise remained an important part of my way of life, even though I had to change the type of exercise. The result of changing the type of exercise, but not stopping exercise, achieved yet another positive result for my overall health and body shape. Building muscle increases metabolism, and increasing metabolism means that diets are a thing of the past.
Now, I am back running, but do it less, as I understand the importance of a variety of exercise, both strength training and cardio. Here is a little test – go to a big gym and look at where the fit vs. the overweight people are. I guarantee you will find that the people who look to be in the best shape are lifting weights and doing strength training type activities. The overweight people are on the treadmills thinking that 30 minutes of cardio is all they need. I love cardio and it is the easiest for me go out and do. But, strength training (lifting weights, doing barre or even power yoga) is what my body needs to take me in the next decade. It is important that I have a mix. My goal every week is at least 2 hours of strength training and 2 hours of running or other cardio. Sometimes I am able to get in a 5 hour mix, sometimes not. I do not spend my entire life in a gym, and you do not have to either.
Find what works for you. It does not have to be running. It can be walking. It can be a barre class. It can be power yoga. It can be spin (which intimidates me, and I have never done it, although my 75 year old mother started doing it a couple of years ago and can’t get enough of it – again find what works for you). Make appointments on your calendar with yourself and keep them. There is nothing more important. Your body will thank you and reward you by letting you indulge every now and then with little or no consequences.
Here’s to making (and keeping) those exercise appointments in 2016!
Photo taken: Capella Resort and Spa, Ixtapa, Mexico.