So here I am, nine months into my year of living healthily.
It’s a year in which I resolved to find and commit to a way of life that put consistent and sustainable health at the top of the agenda. Like many such regimes I’ve started before, this one was kicked off as a New Year’s resolution.
This time around it wasn’t motivated purely out of vanity, guilt or a bet. As I looked towards the new year with my 43rd birthday looming, I felt a genuine sense that life was running away from me and it would become ever more difficult to take myself in hand the more time that passed. There were also plenty of examples around me amongst my family and friends who were experiencing challenges in their health that served to remind us that we only get one body within which to see out this life.
And so it was that this year became defined (in significant part) as the year in which I’d sort out my diet and exercise, with the intention of setting patterns for life.
This article will further share the highlights and lowlights experienced over the last three months. Summer has passed and I’ve navigated my insecurities about going shirtless on the beach, thanks to feeling more toned and body-confident than ever before. I’ve been eating healthily (for the most part) and exercising regularly for 9-months; long enough to create a new human being from scratch.
The question is, do I feel reborn when it comes to my health?
Read on to find out.
I’ve learned that I need specific goals and targets beyond merely ‘being more healthy’ to remain motivated
At various times of late, my enthusiasm for sticking with the program has faltered. I’ve avoided catastrophic meltdowns, and my wobbles have been limited to a few days of dietary abandon and neglected exercise here and there. Progress, and at times my determination has faltered though.
I suspect it’s partly to do with the summer bringing numerous opportunities for over-eating and drinking too much alcohol while on vacation, on the beach, by the pool and at barbecues with friends and family. As big a part of though, is that I don’t think my goals are specific enough any longer.
My motivation falters when I don’t have a specific goal in mind and my enthusiasm drops as I can’t see the point of what I’m doing.
I started out this year with vague and nebulously defined targets; to lose body fat, to gain muscle and to build endurance. These have each been achieved to some degree or another, and in some cases, in ways beyond my greatest hopes.
In recent weeks though, it’s been far harder to drag myself to the gym when my only purpose was to strive for ‘more of the same’. Inevitably at the start of the year, going from a standing start to an active life, the results and improvements came quickly. As time has passed, things have plateaued and positive change is harder to make and detect.
I don’t really know how to tackle this at present. I’m not particularly sociable or competitive with anyone other than myself. As such, I’m not sure that signing up for marathons, endurance tests, obstacle races and long-distance group bike rides will give me the kind of goals I need. I don’t want to constantly be ‘in training’ for events, since this entire process is about being fit and healthy for life, not merely collecting finishers medals and souvenir t-shirts to wear to the gym. I’ve also found in the past that the sunk-cost of paying to enter an event isn’t sufficient alone to motivate me to train for it if I’m not fully committed when I signed up.
I could get specific regarding my original goals by setting targets for body fat percentages, lean muscle weight and other measurements that could be tracked to measure progress. I don’t know if such things are practical or even feasible for men of my age to strive for though? I’m conscious that once over forty, it becomes harder to pack on lean muscle mass, and injuries through over-training become more of a risk. I’m not sure I want to set myself up for a fall with targets that are unattainable or which will prove demoralising.
Over the last few months, my wife and I have taken part in a couple of fitness challenges for charity, organised by our trainer. One of these was to complete five, back-to-back, one-hour strength and conditioning classes one Sunday morning. It was a daunting prospect, but we did it. In September we both committed to cover two miles per day, aiming for 60 miles over the month. Thanks to a daily walk that’s been part of my morning routine for two years, I found it easy and covered 105 miles over the month.
I’ve found challenges like these to be very useful for the purposes of getting motivated and purposeful. Perhaps my progress will be assured by accepting other such challenges, the side-effect of which will be that I remain committed to staying on the path?
I still have a lot to learn about following instructions
As mentioned above, my wife and I have enlisted the help of a personal trainer. She oversees a one-hour session in the gym for us, once per week. It’s torture, each and every time we train with her. She’s clear by now as to what each of us needs to do to get healthier, fitter and stronger and knows what each of us needs by way of motivation and encouragement.
She’s also written detailed exercise and diet plans for us both to follow when we’re not training with her. What continues to baffle and frustrate me about myself is just how frequently I fail to follow simple instructions. She’s repeatedly chastised me for not following the diet regime that she’s prescribed, an act that I commit knowingly.
In the last few weeks I’ve been tasked with eating a caloric excess to fuel my body for muscle growth and to aid in recovery. Borne, I suspect, out of my desire to lose weight first and foremost, I’ve struggled to commit to this part of the regime. In particular I’m resisting the idea of eating carbohydrates at all, let alone to the extent that she wants me to. I get that carbs have a bad rep, but also that they’re deemed to have a role in body-building (I hate that term) and to aid in replenishment of energy stores.
Put bluntly, without carbs experience has shown that I don’t have the energy to put in the work needed to strengthen my body and build muscle mass and tone. As a wannabe Keto follower, I find this frustrating and annoying.
There’s still a nagging voice inside me that urges me to put down the rice, to step away from the bagel and to get back to the slow carb diet which I’ve followed on and off for most of this year. I know that what’s actually called for is to listen to the trainer, to do and eat as she says and to stick with the regime. Sometimes however, I still think I know best and stray from it. When will I learn?
Complacency is a killer to the routine
At the outset of this venture, I had hoped that the more time went on, the more ingrained and second nature these healthy habits would become in my life. I’ve worked hard, and at times felt like they were becoming my default. At other times, I’ve allowed myself too much freedom in indulging in an additional cheat-meal or missing one more workout than I should have. I’ve occasionally over-estimated how much effort I’ve put into a gym-session and over-compensated with how much rest or refuelling I’ve allowed myself afterwards.
What I’m learning is that like all worthwhile and challenging endeavours, it won’t do to ever take for granted that it’s all in-hand. Certainly, I live a way more active lifestyle than I once did, and that’s good in itself. That said, to achieve significant and ongoing results requires consistent and long-term application, more thank just being active and I cannot and must not take for granted that it’s all in hand.
Creativity can be a killer too
Over the course of this year, I’ve occasionally tried to get creative by introducing new exercises, foods and dietary supplements into the mix. While well-intentioned, it has generally diverted me from living on-purpose and within the program that’s been designed for me. It’s also muddied the waters in trying to determine what’s working and what isn’t.
If results are unexpectedly bad or good, it’s harder for me and the trainer to diagnose what went wrong (or what caused the improvement). The lesson-learned then is to commit to sticking with the plan as designed, to build the solid foundations for the rest of my healthy life. At some point in the future when it’s all truly embedded then I’ll be in a better place for experimentation and tweaking of things. Until then, I’d be well-advised to follow the advice I’m paying for!
I’ve discovered a love of running again
There’s been an unexpected side-effect from this year’s efforts. After many years of bemoaning the state of my knees and my innate unsuitability for running, the last month has shown me I could be a runner after all. The two-miles per day challenge has been a big part of this. While I ran only about 40 of the 105 miles I covered in September, bear in mind that I probably only ran about 40 miles cumulatively over the other eight months of this year!
I credit this change to a number of things. In part it may be due to the strength that I’ve built in my leg-muscles, meaning that my knees are now better protected and supported when I run. While I’m also not much lighter than I was when I started, my body composition is leaner and as such I think this means my posture is a little better with my muscles more effectively supporting and stabilising my skeleton. Another factor is that our trainer doesn’t tend to listen to excuses and has been quite strident about encouraging us to run, regardless of our preconceptions and hang-ups about it.
As a keen cyclist but non-runner and fairly weak-swimmer, I’d always discounted the idea of a triathlon, as much as I liked the idea. With this recent return to running, I’m now wondering whether to get in the pool too.
Maybe that’s my next fitness goal taken care of?!
The next update on my progress will come in December, when I’ll be reflecting on how the year has gone and in the midst of the Christmas holiday season when I conventionally abandon all notions of healthy living in favour of over-eating and lethargy. Watch this space!
I’ve written about a number of the common pitfalls that I have experienced and observed as being responsible for the failure of many a health and fitness endeavour. You can read about these below.
How to Sabotage a Health and Fitness Regime
The pitfalls to be avoided if you want to succeed for the long-term
p.s. I’m not a dietician, a personal trainer or a doctor. I’m just a guy trying to live a healthier life. If you’re interested in doing the same, go for it; just don’t take anything I’ve shared above as advice or suggestion — seek out professional guidance as I have :-)
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