Wednesday, December 30, 2015

For Everyone Planning To Get In Shape in 2016

Do it.

Don't do it to lose weight.  Don't do it look hot in a bathing suit.  Don't do it to make yourself more attractive to current or potential sexual and romantic partners.  Don't do it because you fear obesity.  Don't do it because you fear other health risks.

Do it because you can.

As a klutzy, unathletic nerd, I spent years developing physical skills and a certain level of fitness that I felt I could be proud of.  My accomplishments were never impressive to most people, but to me they were everything.  I was proud of my strength gains and the crazy stunts I could pull off at the gym.  I was proud of how I managed to ride a green pony through the phases of her education.  I was proud of the complex tap dancing steps I could execute.  I was proud of my endurance for long hikes in nature.  I was proud of the time I was able to swim out to a sandbar and tow a drowning man to safety on my boogie board.  I was no athlete, but I proved to myself that I was fit.  I wasn't naturally coordinated, but I had managed to develop some coordination.  It felt wonderful.  I had come so far.

Then one day it all changed. Injuries happened.  Surgery followed.  I missed months of riding, dance, weight lifting, and so many other activities that brought me pleasure over the years.  It wasn't just about feeling down because I gained 30 pounds and fell out of shape.  I was depressed over my lack of ability to move.  I was not doing the activities that brought me joy.  You truly don't realize how much you miss your physical abilities until you don't have them.

My condition was temporary.  I was able to ride again 5 months after surgery.  I was back in dance class 9 months after surgery.  My elbow has prevented me from doing anything vigorous with my upper body, but I am slowly coming back from that.  Being out of shape is not a permanent state for me (at least not yet).

There are millions of people out there who aren't as lucky as I am.  Their physical functionality has been taken from them.  Maybe it was due to illness, or injury, or hereditary conditions, but whatever the reason, they will never feel the joy of physical movement.  We forget that our ability to exercise could be taken from us at any moment.

If you have a functional, reasonably healthy body, it's time to start appreciating that fact and take advantage of it.  Stop wasting the health and abilities that have been gifted to you.  You're not getting any younger.  If you don't use your muscles they will atrophy and stiffen up.  The less you use your body now, the less ability you will have to use it in the future.  Get off the couch.  Step away from the computer.  Put down your smartphone.  Take a step forward on those functional legs and experience the world outside.  Take advantage of the body you have.  Don't hide it away from the world.

Our society has come to see exercise as a mere necessary health routine at best and "punishment" for bad eating at worst.   I hear many people say they hate exercise because their narrow definition of exercise means a sweat session at the gym or a punishing run (YUCK!). We are taught at an early age that physical activity has rigid definitions.  In our gym classes we are taught to run laps around the track and do push-ups and sit-ups, or else have the non-athletic kids be humiliated by the athletic kids in team sports.  Somewhere along the way we learn to separate the concept of fitness from the concept of fun.

As adults fitness experts tell us exercise is just a daily health chore like brushing your teeth.  I read an article by one fitness trainer who believed running is the exercise equivalent of eating your vegetables - something that must be done no matter how much you might hate it.  Tell me something: when you were a kid your mother probably had to remind, and even nag you, to brush your teeth and eat your vegetables.  Did she need to remind you to go ride your bike with your friends or go to the pool on a hot day?

If fitness is your New Year's Resolution for 2016, then make this the year you find your true fitness.  This is not the year you are going to lose 50 pounds and be extra lean.  It's not the year you are going to look like the mass media ideal in a bathing suit.  It should be the year you find your fun.  Make 2016 the year that you find the joy in using your body in all its imperfect glory.

What have you always wanted to try?  What activities have you admired from afar and never thought you could do?  Maybe you want to join that new local boxing gym you have been looking at lustily since it opened.  Maybe it's time to try that salsa class.  Maybe you want to rekindle your childhood love of ice skating.  Maybe it's time to dust off that bicycle that has been sitting in the garage.  Maybe it's time your lived out your fantasy of hiking the Appalachian Trail.  What would you enjoy?  What interests would you like to rekindle?  Go out and find a way to pursue it.  Use the power of the Internet for good and find classes and Meetup groups in your area.

This won't be easy.  Unless you're athletically gifted, there will be a learning curve for any new activities.  If you have been inactive, new physical pursuits may be a struggle for a while.  You will fall down - perhaps metaphorically and perhaps literally.  You will fail.  You will feel foolish.  You will feel convinced that you are a klutz who just can't do this kind of stuff.  Whatever happens, don't give up.  Very few people get anything right the first try.  You will only truly fail if you stop trying.

Let's face it, if you were automatically good at something, there would be no challenge and no sense of accomplishment.  Part of the joy of learning something new is seeing your own progress.  On the other hand, if you truly give your new activity a good try and find you don't like it, or the struggle isn't worth it, then it's okay to quit.  Find your passion elsewhere.

I recent watched a series on Ovation called Big Ballet.  Former RBC principal, Wayne Sleep, gathered together a group of plus-sized, wannabe ballet dancers and staged a performance of Swan Lake.  The dancers were ordinary women whose dreams of dancing were dashed years ago for various reasons, including their size.  Sleep himself was told when he was young that he wouldn't make it as a dancer because he was too short.  He proved them wrong by working hard and showing his talent.  He dreamed of giving other non-typical dancers a shot at the same dreams.  It wasn't the most beautiful production you have ever seen.  The choreography had to be adjusted because some of it just doesn't look right when not performed by sylph-like women.  The dancers are not en pointe.  Still they are eager and graceful and willing to put in the work necessary to make the production happen.  They were happy.  They were enjoying themselves.  That's what fitness should be about.

So if fitness is your goal for 2016, go out and pursue that fitness, but pursue it in a way that is truly meaningful to you.  You have a body.  Learn to enjoy it before it's too late.

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