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Physical Activity: Find Your Why

As an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, I work with my clients to understand that our Primary Foods® (career, relationships, physical activity, spiritual practice, etc.) are just as important to our health and well-being as our secondary food – the nourishment we put in our mouths.

Considering physical activity a type of nourishment is often one of the easier stretches for clients – after all, the keys to health, we have been told over and over, are “diet and exercise.”

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But just as with diet, the information about exercise seems to be conflicting: we should emphasize cardio; no, strength training is the way to go; now don’t forget about balance; wait, what about flexibility?

How much exercise to we need? From 0 to 100 on the spectrum: three times a week is plenty, every other day, daily….

How about intensity level? You guessed it, all over the map: just park farther from the office/bus stop, a gentle walk around the block, just take the stairs at work, 20 minutes at 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, until you are gargling your heart, until you can do a triathlon without breaking a sweat….

Are you confused yet?

My job as a health coach is not to tell you what is the best workout – that’s for you to experiment with. If you decide to go the route of hiring a personal trainer, my advice is to make sure that the trainer is keeping in mind what workout is not only the best but the best for you. S/he should keep in mind your body type, age, medical history, and your personal fitness goals, not convince you that something is right because “This is the workout that [fill in the athlete/rockstar/model/superhero name here] uses to look fabulous!”

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I’m certainly not an expert on physical fitness, but I’ve made my own fitness journey – from total non-athlete (let’s just say it’s a good thing PE was pass/fail at my school) to fairly fit at 50.

I went from being a complete non-exerciser to being someone who works out at least five days a week. Now, not exercising is unthinkable: I am much healthier and happier, and those around me benefit from my vitality…and know to stay out of the way when I haven’t exercised!

What works for me may not work for you, but there are some secrets to making physical activity (notice I didn’t say “exercise”) part of your daily (yes, I did say daily) life.

Think who, what/how, when, where, and why:

Who? Do you like group classes, having one to two workout buddies, or working out alone? Groups activities are great if you like to mix activity up with socializing. Having one to two people work out with you adds in an element of support and accountability if you lack the self-discipline. Those who work out alone really need to have a level of self-discipline and accountability that many people lack.

What/How? Find a workout or activity you love. If you hate spinning, don’t force yourself to do it just because “everyone else does.” Committing to something you dislike is a sure-fire way to making it feel like an obligation rather than a joy. Think about what you loved as a child – running, dancing, riding a bike – and add that (back) into your physical activity routine, and/or try something completely new – my own highly rewarding experiment was with Taekwondo. (If you’re local to Ann Arbor, check out the programs at A2 Martial Arts – they offer Taekwondo, Hapkido, and KickFIT training!) Mixing it up is often the way to go – it keeps boredom at bay. You may find, however, that intense exercise gives you that endorphin high you need – that’s a good sort of addiction!

When? Find a time that works for you. Whether this means committing to a consistent time slot that you know is always available (yes, that’s 4am for me) or going week by week, put the workout on your calendar as a commitment, and honor it as a meeting that cannot be cancelled or postponed. If you are training intensively, make sure to add in some rest days; if you are just getting your body moving in a low-key way, try to fit something in daily.

Where? Find a place that works for you. Love the gym or hate it? Have a space at home or not? Is outdoors an option year-round? If you need to go to the gym to work out, make it one that is convenient; either close to home or to work is best – that way you don’t need to go out of your way to get there. And find a gym that works for you – it should be clean and safe and offer your desired workouts. Have even a small amount of space at home? There are great exercise routines – including cardio, strength, flexibility, and balance – available online and on DVD that don’t require much space.

Why? Ah, the big why.

Here are some reasons that don’t cut it:

  • My doctor told me to.
  • I want to fit into a smaller size.
  • I need to be healthier.

Why aren’t these good reasons? Because they are external – based on measuring ourselves by standards set by the doctor, the society, the culture, the fashion industry, our spouse, our family, our friends….

Even “I want to be healthy” is not a good enough answer to the question of why because health is not a goal in and of itself, it’s a means to an end, the real goal. So what is your real goal, your “why?”

  • I want to be able to play with my kids. But why?
  • I want to live to be 100. But why?
  • I want to see my grandchildren graduate from college.But why?
  • I want to run a marathon. But why?

Do you see how none of these are really a good answer? Dig deep, peel back the layers, and keep asking “Why?” until you get there.

How do you know you’ve arrived at the real goal? As a health coach, I often tell my clients, “Your why should make you cry.” Sounds brutal, but if you can dig that deep, if you can find the real reason you want to be healthy, then developing the lifestyle and diet habits to get you there becomes easy.

Looking for your own “why” to exercise (or for that matter, to develop any habit you know is healthy?) I’ll give you a hint – most people discover that in the end, the reason may seem selfish, which is why we don’t go there very often:

  • “Because playing with my kids is what brings me the most joy, and if I can’t play ball with them, I’m sad.”
  • “Because my goal is to make a difference in the world through my work, and the longer I have here, the more change I can create.”
  • “Because one of my biggest regrets is that my grandparents died too young, and I would not want my grandchildren to feel that way.”
  • “Because I have always seen myself as a quitter, and running a marathon would help me to change that perception of myself and change my tendency to give up in other areas of my life.”

If you can keep that deep goal in front of you, taking small daily steps to reach it suddenly becomes a no-brainer. And when those small daily steps become a habit, you are really on your way to reaching it.

Let me know your “why” in the comments! Need help finding your why or some accountability in reaching it? Tell me YOURStory – initial consultations are free and can be done in person or by phone.

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