By Tracy Shields - There’s an 87-year-old woman at my fitness club who takes the same cardio classes and weight classes that I take. She uses her own three- and five-pounds weights, she’s no taller than five feet and I’ve never met a human being more enthusiastic and energetic. One morning, I went up to her and asked, “How do you do it?” I wanted to know how she found the motivation and energy to come to such a strenuous fitness class every week when I was having such a hard time getting out of bed some mornings. Her answer still gives me chills and has greatly changed my perspective. She looked me right in the eyes, smiled and said, “Two reasons: I’m lucky and I’m grateful.”
When it comes to fitness, or rather physical exercise, not many of us feel lucky or grateful. If anything, some of us may even resent the fact that we have to workout to the point of muscle aches and maximum exertion just to look and feel good. But when you consider the alternative, it’s a heck of a lot easier to feel lucky and be grateful that you are still healthy and strong enough to be working out at all. That’s my first bit of advice for starting an exercise plan for getting in shape:
- Be grateful. Even if you are limited by a disability or feel as though you are presently too unhealthy to start more strenuous exercising, be grateful for what you can do. Start small and be sure to consult your doctor first before you begin a plan.
- Design a workout plan. There are all sorts of exercise plans on the Internet from beginner to advanced, including plans for men, women, weight-loss, pregnancy and so on. But for starters, make sure you find one that addresses all aspects of fitness: cardiovascular (running, biking, getting your heart-rate up), strength training (lifting weights) and flexibility (stretching, yoga and Pilates). Variety is the key! So try not to stick to one plan longer than three months (unless there is variety built into the plan). Change it up a bit. This forces your body to readapt to new movements and thus keeps it from falling into a comfort zone. Use Livestrong.com to track your plan.
- Know the benefits. Exercise is a virtual panacea. And I’m not just talking about weight loss or increasing your energy for the sport of it. Michael R. Bracko, EdD, FACSM, chairman of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Consumer Information Committee, writes, “Exercise can literally cure diseases like some forms of heart disease. Exercise has been implicated in helping people prevent or recover from some forms of cancer. Exercise helps people with arthritis. Exercise helps people prevent and reverse depression.” See the value in exercise. The more you do, the more you will want to participate!
- Increase your stamina and endurance. Workouts can be tough on anybody. When I first started working out I did so with a towel and a bottle of water. But as I became more aware of all the healthy products on the market for workout improvement, I found certain things essential. For one, I recognized that my heart could perform better when taking supplements that encouraged oxygen to the cells. Unlike stimulants, like caffeine, certain all-natural supplements work to create energy in your body in a safer, healthier way. I also “recovered” after a strenuous workout with a raw whey protein drink, with a bit of glutamine added for muscle repair. Know what’s on the market and what can safely and naturally aid your workout. And try to stay away from stimulants or sugar-high-type supplements that tend to cause more damage than good.
- Be safe. As with anything, know your limits. If it’s been awhile since you’ve exercised, start with a low-impact exercise plan and build to higher-impact. Expect your body to build endurance daily, but be patient with yourself. It takes up to three months to see serious results. Also, I strongly suggest that everyone get a heart-rate monitor, which can help you exercise within your safety zone. So many people knock themselves out or go what’s called “anaerobic,” which means that oxygen is used up more quickly than the body is able to replenish inside the working muscle. And while this is important for certain exercises like weight lifting, individuals who are inexperienced tend to believe the anaerobic state is necessary for every cardio workout. This is untrue. Cardio workouts need to be aerobic. A heart-rate monitor can definitely signal where you are in your zone and whether you are working out efficiently or inefficiently. For more information on heart-rate monitors, try Polar. Whatever precautions you take, remember the most important: Listen to your body, a finely tuned instrument that knows exactly what it needs and what it doesn’t. Moreover, knowing your limits and what your body can and cannot handle, makes exercising a million times more proficient.