My wife and I had an interesting discussion this morning over breakfast (smoked salmon, eggs, Paleo ranch sauce and avocados, or what she calls a Portland Slam) this morning. I was telling her that yesterday, I received a bunch of messages, texts, and even calls from people telling me how I inspire them, how I’ve motivated them, and how I’ve provided them with information to change their lives for the better. The part that was strange to me was how difficult it was to receive those compliments, and I couldn’t put my finger on why that was. Don’t get me wrong; it’s very nice and humbling to hear people say nice things like that. I do like it, like anyone else does. It feels good knowing you’ve made a positive impact on the lives of people. But yet, there’s a discomfort in it.
Sherry came up with a possible explanation, and I think it hits the nail on the head; “It’s because they are the ones who have to do the work. You just say or write things that they then have to put into action.” (Just so you know, I’m paraphrasing even though I put that into quotes) I agree with that, and I think that’s why I feel a little uneasy or embarrassed. I’ve done my heavy lifting. I’ve done the work. I’m now in maintenance, and although I still work hard at maintaining my health and fitness through diet and exercise, it’s relatively easy compared to the up-hill challenge I faced when undertaking this new lifestyle. Writing about it helps wrap my head around all of it, and helping people is my ultimate goal. I want people to be able to succeed without all the excessive products, pills, patches, procedures, and painful exercising by doing two simple things: change of diet, and mindful exercise.
Change of Diet
For me, it started with Whole30 and transitioned into the Paleo Diet. My wife and I have done six Whole30’s over the past five years to reset ourselves as we find it’s necessary from time to time to get back to basics. While Paleo works for us, others find that the Keto diet, Intermittent Fasting, One Meal a Day, or counting Calories In/Calories Out works for them. My site is heavily Paleo-centered, but that’s due to me writing from my own experience. Interchange Paleo with any other healthy diet, and you could possibly see the same results. Our bodies are all different, and it’s up to you to find what works best for you.
This is the one many people miss. There’s still a misconception (fueled by the massive fitness industry) that if you exercise enough, you will lose weight. While this is technically true, you have to exercise A LOT to burn more calories than you take in if you don’t change your diet. How much exercise do you need to burn off a Big Mac? My average 2-mile run burns about 250 calories. The Big Mac has 563 calories. So, that’s over 4 miles necessary to burn off one Big Mac. Add in an entire days’ worth of calories (if you live on fast food or high-carb diets), and you can see where I’m going with this.
Mindful exercise is starting slowly and without pushing to your limits. Studies have shown that most people quit exercise programs due to discomfort. The way I started had no discomfort at all; I started with push-ups. I did as many as I could on the first day and stopped as soon as they became hard. How many push-ups was that? Three. Then, the next day, I did three more. On the third day, I could do five. Two months later, I was doing 120 push-ups in two minutes. Oh, and I did it without excessive arm pain.
Doing those push-ups led me to taking 30-minute walks. After three weeks, I found my pace had increased to the point where it was no longer difficult for me to walk quickly and I tried to jog to see how it’d feel. To my surprise, it felt incredibly good, and my body was ready for it. I never tried to improve my pace; I let it all happen naturally. Over the course of a month, I found that my pace had increased from a jog to a slow run. My times were getting sub-10 minutes per mile, and I wasn’t smoked or burned out afterward. I just ran for 30 minutes without paying attention to distance. After three months, I started running for distance instead of time, and my milage increased to over 3 miles per run (up to just around 5 miles).
Another key to mindful exercise is the concept of rest days. Too many people try to exercise five and six days a week. This is okay when you’re young (under 40, or so), but gets troublesome as we get older. Studies have shown that rest days are incredibly important for growth and recovery. I typically exercise 3 or 4 times a week, but I try to keep it at 3 minimum. The weight training I do (StrongLifts 5×5) is a whole-body workout, so I rest for a day after each workout. I also run after StrongLifts, so my legs get that rest day afterward as well. For younger people, as long as muscle groups are rotated, exercising 5-6 days a week can be fine, but resting those different muscle groups is very important to recovery and development.
80% max workouts are a final key to mindful exercise. Military special forces soldiers found that 80% workouts provide the same benefits as a 100% workout, and in some cases, more benefits for muscle growth, strength, and mobility. The reason they went to 80% workouts is to reduce muscle strain and to be able to answer the call of a mission after a workout. Working out to 100% makes your muscles weak, wobbly, and leaves you unable to perform basic tasks. Imagine a 100% leg day workout followed by a combat mission. You literally could get yourself or someone else killed because you’re no longer able to operate at peak efficiency. 80% workouts allow you to resume your normal life at normal operating strength and allows your muscles to heal and recover quicker. It also keeps pain away which is the number one cause of people quitting exercise programs.
Throughout this process, I never had excessively sore legs or muscle pain that made me want to quit. To the contrary, I found that if I skipped a run day, my legs would buzz and feel like they needed to run. I learned a lot of my process the hard way, and I am in no way saying that my way is the only way. I’m an older guy (53 years old as I write this), and for me, this plan has kept me in good physical fitness and at a healthy weight. I’m able to perform my tasks proficiently and to-standard in the National Guard, and I am within the height/weight regulations.
So, circling back around to receiving feedback; it’s welcome, and it’s appreciated, but honestly, YOU are the one who needs to be congratulated. If I’ve made a difference and inspired or motivated you to get healthy, to change your diet, and/or to get fit, then YOU did the work. YOU got past the negative thoughts, the doubts, and the discomfort of changing your lifestyle and YOU made that change happen. So CONGRATULATIONS TO YOU! Keep up the good work, and keep it up! YOU will be the one inspiring and motivating someone else to make that positive change in your life, and then the cycle will continue.