Getting in great shape is easier said than done. I think we can all agree on that one. The definition of ‘great shape’ can be different for everyone, but for me, ‘great shape’ means getting fit from the inside out. Real fitness might be a set of six pack abs to you, but it could mean a work in progress for someone else who is happy just to walk up a few flights of stairs without feeling like their lungs are on fire. The spectrum of health and fitness is pretty broad. But we can all make progress.
The fact of the matter is, we can get fit doing just about anything. Walking, running, tai chi, yoga, Zumba, spinning, P90X, dancing, swimming, surfing, etc., etc, etc., can all get you fit…very fit. That is if we combine our physical fitness with healthy dietary habits. Here is my list of 10 steps to achieving REAL fitness. You might have a laundry list of your own. I happen to think these ten are pretty valuable!
1) Get Focused
If your head isn’t in the game, it’s going to be hard to get started – regardless of what you choose to do to get fit. Somehow you have the make a very strong connection that exercise + clean eating = a healthy body that shouldn’t be taken for granted. This connection grows and gets stronger the more you take care of your body. If you never workout you may not know how good you could feel if you exercised. Just ask someone who exercises regularly how they feel if they go a week or two without working out. Chances are they tell you that they feel sluggish or “off.” If you don’t eat the healthiest all the time, you might now know how good you could feel if you did. Ask someone who never eats refined sugar how they feel after they eat a super sugary dessert. Chances are they might feel sick. The connection between exercise, food and health grows both mentally and physically.
2) Get Clean
I could make 90% of this article about eating clean, but I not going to. I will say that fitness and food have to go hand in hand. You can NOT be truly fit unless you make an effort – a really strong effort – to eat mostly clean foods. You don’t have to be perfect, but there is no way your body could be running as optimally as it could if you feed it junk. If you’re already eating clean – fantastic! If you’re not, challenge yourself by going three full days without eating a food that comes from a package and contains more than one ingredient. For instance, fresh chicken breasts are often packaged in the grocery store, but (usually) only contain chicken breasts. Whereas chicken nuggets are anything but just chicken. At first, you’ll have to find different foods to eat that are actually food, not food products. But once you have that figured out stick to it for three full days. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you feel better than you thought you could.
3) Prioritize Yourself
Kids. Jobs. Friends. Errands. We’re all busy people. Put your need for activity in front of something else – if only for 30 minutes or an hour. I’ve got a couple kids. I’ve got a hefty work schedule. I’ve got a husband, and a dog and lots of awesome friends that I like to hang out with. Fitness is still an absolute priority with me. I often have to wake up very early, which means I go to bed early. For me, the sacrifice I make is missing out on a girls’ nights and networking events. Both of those mean a lot to me – and I DO stay connected with both – just not all the time. My friends will still be there, and my work-related associates know I am passionate about my business. It’s important to find your time. It could be early AM, lunchtime or right after work. You don’t have to workout for hours on end, but 30 to 60 minutes of strong activity will be nothing but rewarding for your as a person.
4) Get Mobile
I went into a little more detail about this in my weekly newsletter, but what I mean by ‘get mobile’ is you’ve got to move in all directions. This is particularly true for runners, cyclists, swimmers and anyone else who moves in a linear motion. Our bodies were made to bend, rotate, twist and turn, yet most of us move forward – that’s it. Flexibility and mobility are one-third of your fitness. You are much more likely to get injured if your body starts to seize up in the ways it was meant to move. Fortunately, this is something that can improve fairly quickly by incorporating some stretches, taking yoga, pilates, tae chi, dance or other movement classes, including marital arts. You don’t even have to work at this daily – just often enough to keep everything moving.
5) Do Something You Enjoy
If you’re miserable every time you jump on an elliptical machine, find something else to do. You owe it to yourself. A lack of enjoyment in exercise often leads to boredom, which leads to quitting all together unless you find something that makes you happy. You might need to try a quite a few things before you find that one thing that keeps you coming back. And what are you coming back for? That great feeling when you finish. Expect to be challenged. Expect to feel uncomfortable. But there is no reason you shouldn’t feel great after you finish a good workout.
6) Become Accountable
My first recommendation is always to start a food and exercise journal. Without leaving out details, write down every little detail of your day in terms of what you’ve eaten and how you’ve exercised. This is an easy way to be accountable for your actions. Beyond that, find a friend or group of friends to workout with. Keep the date and time consistent and anticipate meeting them there. Hopefully, if you feel like ditching, they’ll call you out on it. On a side note, it’s equally important to surround yourself with people who want to see you get healthier. It’s hard to get fit or eat healthy if you’re constantly around people who have no interest whatsoever in what they eat or how they move.
7) Small Bites Only, Please
It’s easy to wake up on January 1st of every year making multiple commitments. “I’m going to workout at least five days a week!” “I’m going to eat salads everyday for lunch!” “I’m going to run 30 miles a week every week starting NOW!” “I’m not going to eat chocolate for a year!” (whatever) “I’m going to lose 50 pounds in two months.” Take it easy with your commitments until you know you’ve got your arms around them. Make them realistic and attainable. If you don’t really run much, but make a commitment to running five miles a day everyday, you’ll likely end up with an injury after three weeks and be sidelined for way too long. If you want to lose weight, go easy on yourself. Weight loss can come quickly for some, and slower for others. We don’t live on the Ranch and life is not The Biggest Loser. It’s not common to lose 12 pounds a week. Set your sights even and shoot for one to two pounds a week. It adds up quickly and you’ll feel better fast.
8) Be Consistent
Get on a schedule and try to stick to it. It’s easier to stick to a schedule is you’re keeping regular hours. What’s more, when you workout at the same time – if you do so in a gym – you see the same people and build a little fitness community of your own. You become a familiar face and are now in a comfortable environment that was once unfamiliar. If you workout from home, workout at the same times. When you throw off your exercise schedule, work schedules, kids’ schedules and everyday errands get thrown off, too. Find the best time for you to workout and stick with it.
9) Have a Mental Plan for Setbacks
Don’t be surprised if you get injured, lose some momentum and start getting burned out. It happens to all of us. Expect that this will happen and figure out now what you might do should you have a fitness setback. The most important thing is not to get discouraged. Personally, I’ve been injured, I’ve lost momentum and I’ve definitely gotten burned out. When I was running a lot I injured my ankle by falling down a couple stairs – of course completely unrelated to running! I started swimming a couple days later (gingerly) and found other ways to compensate through cycling and strength training. When I’m burned out or lose momentum, I find something else completely different to do. If I’m fried on running, I turn to yoga or another movement class. My body is better for it, and healthier from the variety. More importantly, those periods of “burn out” are far shorter if you address them quickly!
10) Don’t Compare
Comparing yourself to anyone else – from celebrities to your siblings – is the kiss of death. We ALL do it, including me! But whenever I feel a sliver of comparison coming on, I think of Jack Handey circa 80s SNL. What did he say? “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggoneit, people like me!” I wish I were kidding, but I’m not. I actually process that SNL skit in my head every time I say to myself, “Why can’t I be JUST like Jillian Michaels.” I guess comparing ourselves is as silly as that. It does no good. Compare and despair, friends. Compare and despair. All joking aside, my advice is to do the best you can, nothing less and you’ll be happy. Don’t seek approval from others. Those who truly care for you will offer support without expectation. And those who don’t are too busy comparing themselves to your progress and accomplishments.
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Traci is a nationally recognized health and fitness expert who has been featured on The TODAY Show and Dr. Oz. Traci is available for corporate speaking events and wellness coaching, as well as private training. Contact Traci here.