By Scott Westerman
“Exercise is medicine.” – Dr. Gary Ferenchick, Chief, Division of General Internal Medicine, Michigan State University
THE ESSENCE: Include fitness goals in your 2011 plan. Taking care of our bodies can improve our energy, our overall health and our clarity of mind.
When our son, Brandon was a senior in high school, he was co-captain of the basketball team. During the last practice before the season, the unthinkable happened: he blew out his knee. Luckily it was a torn meniscus and we happened to have one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the country at our disposal. But the key to his recovery was his post-surgery physical therapy.
His goal: To return to his team before the end of the season.
We made it a family affair. Colleen and I went with him to his daily PT appointments, and to fully empathize with his hard and courageous work, we both hired coaches and made a commitment to strengthen our bodies, just a he was strengthening his.
In truth, Brandon’s injury transformed the three of us. I found energy and creativity I never knew I had. Colleen lost over 60 pounds and discovered a new career passion as a personal trainer. And our entire family cheered as Brandon rejoined the Eagles as high scorer in the final regular season game, helping the team make a run at the state playoffs.
There’s nothing like a clear mind, a good night’s sleep and a day when you don’t feel tired. Add a stronger immune system, fewer illnesses and the potential for more longevity and you’ve got the description of a pretty good life. That’s all possible when you fuel and exercise your body with the same level of commitment that you give to your mind and spirit.
Whatever your current fitness level, it’s possible to make it better. Here’s how:
Start with a visit to your doctor – Get a complete physical and tell your doc that you plan to start, or increase the intensity of your exercise program. Go beyond the blood-work and handshake exam and have every joint, muscle, nook and cranny checked out. The 1970s running guru Jim Fixx looked and felt in great shape when he keeled over with a heart attack. His lifestyle risk factors, coupled with a family history of heart disease ultimately took him out. A close examination by his doctor might have saved his life.
Set your goals – Are you working toward competitive body building or just toning and building your endurance. Do you want to compete in a team sport, or fit into that outfit for a Summer wedding? Are you thinking of 10K’s or half-marathons? Knowing your destination is the key to creating a map to get there.
Hire a coach – Elite athletes have coaches. You deserve one, too! You are training a complex, marvelous machine and want do the right exercises the right way to build the right muscles to support and protect your metabolism from injury. For me, getting back into the game meant working with a a fitness trainer and a running coach to help me set up a routine that fit into my work schedule and was in sync with my objectives.
Find an accountability buddy – I use Runkeeper.com to document my cardio. I like the iPhone app that easily tracks my runs, both inside and outside, and I have a half dozen trusted friends on Runkeeper who encourage me, just as I encourage them. Colleen and I try to go to the gym together whenever possible, and even though Jo leaves me in the dust, it’s nice to know that she’s there at the end of the line with some ice cold water and a smile.
Set a schedule and stick to it – Put your workouts on your calendar as appointments and prioritize them. As the old saying goes, “strive for progress, not for perfection.” As I began to rebuild my strength and energy, I found that I needed less sleep and resolved to get up an extra hour early to knock out my program first thing in the morning. You may find that a lunch-time or late afternoon session works best for you. Experiment until you find your sweet spot. And take your routine on the road with you. Research hotels that have excellent fitness centers and ask the concierge about good local running routes.
Start slow – It’s easy, especially for us guys, to put too many plates on our weight bars. Strength and toning are often more about repetitions and less about the weight. It takes a longer time to build a skyscraper than a chicken coop, so build slowly, carefully and relentlessly.
Keep track of your progress – There are a number of great mobile phone apps that can use the built in GPS to track your walks, bike rides and runs. Same goes for the weight room. Writing down what you do is another way to hold yourself accountable and a great motivator, as you watch yourself get stronger.
Focus on your fuel – Exercise is only 1/2 of the fitness formula. How you fuel your marvelous machine will determine how quickly you reach your goal. Take a trip to your local library and bookstore and peruse the stacks. Avoid the “Lose 30 pounds in 30 days” type of books and zoom in on information that will teach you the science of human energy and the components that contribute to it. Consider meeting with a sports nutritionist to help you build your meal program. And stay away from processed sugars, empty calories and fast foods. But don’t give it all up. It’s ok to reward yourself with some decadence every now and then.
Don’t give up – A long-term study by the University of Washington found that only 40 percent of people who stick to their No. 1 New Years resolution did it on the first try. The rest had to try multiple times; 17 percent finally reached their goal after more than 6 attempts. As Michael Jordan says, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” You will hit plateaus. You will feel tired and sore along the way. There will be mornings when the last thing you want to do is work out. There will be lunch times when the thing you want most is a double cheeseburger and fries. Get your butt to the gym. Eat the salad. And watch what happens.
And what will you get out of all of this? Some of what makes us look and feel the way we do is genetically influenced. If you naturally have high triglycerides, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you may need medication and particular vigilance to stay healthy. But whatever cards your ancestors may have dealt you, it’s possible to significantly influence your personal health with a combination of good exercise and diet.
George Sheehan, the cardiologist / philosopher who was my spiritual guide during most of my early running career didn’t guarantee that fitness would ensure that you live a day longer, even though it’s very likely that it will help improve your longevity. He did believe that being fit gave you a longer day. And dedicating a regular part of every week to building strength, endurance and physical health makes all the difference.
In the final analysis, a good life is a series of productive days, built on a series of productive hours, fueled by productive behaviors, inspired by dreams written down in measurable, achievable objectives. We want to try build a routine that can put us in the best position to have as many of those productive days as possible.
Most of us will never look like Arnold, swim like Michael Phelps or run as fast as Marion Jones. But all of us can improve our energy, our overall health and our clarity of mind.
Incorporate these ideals in your goals for 2011!