Wednesday, July 13, 2011

One Step At A Time

Both Lindy and Pam have written wonderful posts this week listing helpful information and realistic guidelines to help us live a healthy lifestyle without feeling overwhelmed or deprived. I’ve adopted and tried to internalize several of their suggestions already.

For me, being healthy – particularly physically – is both an instinct and a struggle. I love to exercise. I have always enjoyed the feeling of exerting myself, of my heart pumping and my muscles flexing and my breath coming more quickly. I even love to sweat! All of it together makes me feel alive, vital, strong and even intensely mortal in that “I may be here on earth for a limited time, but I’m HERE NOW” sort of way.  Even so, getting started with an exercise program (for the first time, after a hiatus, with a new program) can be frustrating or even downright disheartening.

I spent my older childhood and early adulthood trying and failing several times to get healthy, to become a regular exercise devotee, to eat better, to establish a work-life balance… the works. I’m still working on it, but here are four tips I follow that I believe can help anyone who wants to make a positive change of just about any kind:

·         Set Bite-Sized, Short-Term Goals: It may feel really motivating at first to declare something impressive like “I’m going to lose 50 pounds!” But the challenge with setting inflexible and generally huge goals of that nature is that they are destined to leave you feeling like a failure when they take a long time to accomplish. Instead, if you want to lose 50 pounds… well, first make sure you should lose 50 pounds. Then set yourself a goal of 5 pounds. It’s a more readily attainable goal, and once you hit that goal, your sense of accomplishment can sustain you should you decide to go for another 5 pounds. And another. And another… You kind of have to lose 5 pounds at a time (or 1 or 7 or 10), so why not?

·         Walk Before You Run: I know it sounds trite, but it’s true. Your body needs time to adjust to any new exercise regime – strength, endurance, flexibility, movement. You may be eager to get started with something new, but if you start too quickly and aggressively and end up injured, you may end up unable to do much of anything. Even fun stuff. When I was 20, I started walking a few miles every day. After a few weeks, I felt antsy and energetic during my walks, so I started running for short stints interspersed with my walking. I kept slowly building up my running, and at the age of 27, I ran my first marathon. Do you see that span of time? 7 years. (Okay, you don’t have to build up that slowy…)
My budding runner. He walks a lot during his races, taking things at his own pace.

·         Reward Yourself: Pam touched on this in her post. Essentially, unless you have a medical reason to do so, try not to deny yourself your favorite treats. In fact, you can use them to your advantage. I happen to be a huge milk chocolate addict with a particular affinity for plain M&Ms. When I was in my early 20s, I was still in the early stages of my budding running habit, a habit that had yet to really stick. So I made a deal with myself: during the work week I would eat only healthy foods and run at least 4 days, and on Saturday and Sunday I would allow myself rest time and as many M&Ms as my heart desired.  Not only did I stick with my running routine, but my general eating habits improved and the number of M&Ms I felt compelled to ingest slowly declined. (Don’t get me wrong… I still eat them. Nightly. No joke.)

·         Listen To Your Doctor: This one is vital, my friends, at so many levels. Get regular check-ups. Like Pam, I have a poorly functioning thyroid. I take my medicine every morning like clockwork and follow the instructions to the letter. It took over a year for my condition to be diagnosed, and I don’t want to feel like that ever ever ever ever again. Speaking of which, if you feel off in any way, don’t try to be a hero, don’t be a martyr – go see your doctor. Soon. On my personal blog, I just wrote what amounts to a eulogy for my mom’s best friend, a fabulous woman who would tell you herself, if she could, that she’d likely still be here if she’d gone to the doctor earlier. But I digress. What does this have to do with kicking off a new exercise regimen and sticking with it? Well, if you have an underlying condition (like my thyroid condition), knowing about it and regulating it could help ensure you can continue your regimen once you start it. And let’s face it, some diagnosable conditions threaten not just your exercise regime… Get. Checked.

Get regular check-ups or I'll send my daughter after you...
Before I close, I want to mimic my good friend with an honorary mention about Jaycee Dugard. It’s fitting for this post and the topic of health, because in my opinion all the exercise and healthy eating in the world are generally pointless if you have a crummy outlook on life… and after all that Ms. Dugard went through during her years of captivity, she still maintains an amazingly upbeat, positive attitude. I’m going to wrap up with a condensed version of her lessons on being a survivor in life:

1.       Hold On To Hope

2.      Find Meaning in The Day, Even if it Is a Day in Hell

3.      When There Is No Way to Escape, Adapt

4.      Do Not Forget What Real Love or Goodness Is

5.      Stare The Past Down With Strength, Not Shame

If she can do this, can’t we all? What do you think? Are all of these tips realistic? What have you done to help yourself kick off new exercise goals or to maintain a positive attitude amidst adversity? We’d love to hear from you!


Anonymous said...

Great post! Enjoyed the info and the precious pictures. Have a great day.

Megan said...

Thank you for coming by and commenting!

Pam Asberry said...

What a great post, Megan. So many people set themselves up to fail - with rigid diet plans they can't adhere to over the long haul and grueling exercise programs they give up on in a week. Like you, I believe it's about making lifestyle choices and setting incremental goals that you can eventually live with for the long haul. Thank you so much!

Megan said...

Thanks, Pam. I just realized I forgot to mention that I run so I CAN eat my chocolate. :)

Stacey said...

Great blog!

It has taken be years to learn that carbs, the way I like to eat them, killed any diet/get healthy kick I was on. Now I have a better understanding of how to eat and do splurge occassionally on a treat but generally in moderation. Exercising, while fun with the kids is often my time alone and I truly love it.

Julee J. Adams said...

Thanks, Megan! I've heard so many stories of people who signed up for a gym or at the Y and a personal trainer set them up on a program that they never lasted past the second day, because they hurt so bad. You're so right about slow and steady. Cute pics!

Tami Brothers said...

Excellent tips Megan. I'm in that in-between faze where I was doing so great, then the weather got too hot and I "took a break". Yeah, yeah. The break just keeps going and going. I really do need to get my tush in gear and just do it.

Your kids are adorable!!!

Have a great week.


Megan said...

Oh, Stacey, I can so relate to relishing exercise time as alone time. Thanks for that very excellent comment!

Megan said...

Julee -- Thanks re: the pics! As for personal trainers, you'd think they should know better, right??

Megan said...

Tami -- Thank you about the kids. We kinda like them, too. ;) This weather really kills the motivation, doesn't it? If you're at all into tapes(I rely on them on uber hot days), I like Turbo Jam by Beach Body, which has several fun workouts, and Tracy Anderson's Mat Method. I listen to iPod books while watching them. No joke. :)