What It Means to be Fit, Well & Healthy
Here in the US, we typically talk about fitness in terms of athletic ability, but having a healthy body has very little to do with dunking baskets, running races, or whacking balls. Overall fitness and wellness are composed of several different components, all of which play a vital role in your health picture, and these are determined by how much you move and the food choices you make day in/day out, week in/week out, year in/year out—not by occasional weekend warrior activities or once-in-a-blue-moon binges.
RECIPE for BEING FLABBY and FEELING LOUSY
*You sit all day and rarely get off the couch at night (except to go to bed)
*You have weak muscles, are easily winded, have no energy, are vulnerable to illness, and don’t sleep very well
*You basically feel like crap most of the time and have to drag yourself around
*You feel out of control and are not self-confident and develop ailments that accelerate in a downward spiral as you progressively feel worse and worse
Of course, it also helps a lot if you eat a wide variety of nutritious foods so your body has the fuel it needs to function properly—not to mention you’d be doing yourself a tremendous favor if you stopped consuming the many popular sugar-fat-salt-chemical food and drink bombs that throw your whole system out of whack and pack on unwanted pounds—but let’s tackle one thing at a time, namely figuring out how you can organize your schedule and establish helpful habits to benefit your health, now and in the future.
RECIPE for BEING REASONABLY FIT and FEELING WELL
*You move enough that your body can easily perform normal activities
*You have fewer aches and pains and sleep better, so you’re more alert and your body is better able to fend off illness
*Because you are healthier, you have a more positive outlook and have sufficient energy for work and play, so you enjoy life more
*You have the stamina to accomplish what you need to get done each day
*You feel more self-confident and in control of your life as you reinforce the habits that keep you feeling well because it’s oh-so-much- better than the negative cycle described above
THE PURSUIT OF WELLNESS
Being really well inside and outside—that is to say happy and healthy—is multilayered, individual, and complicated, but the simple fact of the matter is that when you’re upbeat and energetic, you attract optimistic people and affirmative outcomes to yourself in ways that are self-reinforcing. But you’ve got to prime the pump, so to speak, by doing what it takes to get yourself into a positive state of well-being in the first place, or at least clearly headed in that direction. The elements of wellness are frequently described as an absence of disease, an absence of chronic pain, regularly getting sufficient rejuvenating sleep, feeling energetic, having a positive mental outlook, and having some sense of control over your life. It’s interesting to note that much of what comprises the concept of wellness is simply an absence of ailments, and it is instructive to remember that many common ailments are directly caused by a lack of adequate nutrition and the habitual consumption of foods that actually make you ill, frequently coupled with a sedentary lifestyle.
Most fitness books urge you to immediately sign up for hours of weekly aerobics classes and/or adopt an exercise schedule that may be completely unrealistic given your current obligations, schedule, ability, and/or health picture. In the past, I have often bought magazines with articles about people who’ve lost tons of weight—you’ve undoubtedly seen them lined up at the checkout stands and probably bought them, too—the covers invariably have pictures of thin people standing inside their old jeans with screaming headlines like: “HALF THEIR SIZE!!!” But when I read about how many hours a day these people spend taking exercise classes and what they typically eat, I think, forget it, because I know I’m not going to dedicate every waking hour to being at the gym and, frankly, I’d rather die young than eat nothing but steamed vegetables for the rest of my life. So, what to do?
If you try to follow a program that requires too many changes in too short a period of time, it’s inevitable you’ll abandon it. Instead of throwing yourself into a repeat of the Get Magically Fit in X-Number of Weeks for a New Improved You! that wasn’t successful or sustainable the last time you tried it, let’s try a completely different approach that will allow you to make progress quickly enough that you won’t get discouraged, but doesn’t require you to completely change your life and lifestyle overnight.
Get a Move On! is a practical guide to help you reasonably incorporate small changes into your daily routines that can make a very big difference in your well-being without totally disrupting your current schedule. You can be measurably healthier, fitter, and thinner—plus have a more positive outlook on life—by regularly moving enough to improve muscle tone and give your body and brain the oxygen needed to function at a halfway decent level. That’s right...
Our intention here is to be in moderately decent shape and noticeably less flabby and jiggly.
For those of you who are sedentary couch potatoes or semi-couch potatoes, Mini-Workouts can quickly put you on a path to feeling better and being healthier. In addition to being an ideal starting point for anyone whose normal activity level is the bare minimum, Mini-Workouts are also really useful for:
*People who already exercise a little who’d like to be a bit stronger and fitter, but won’t or can’t devote any more time to working out
*Those who exercise semi-regularly and would like to do better, but have a full schedule and simply don’t have time for more
*Enthusiastic regular exercisers who’d like to be stronger, but are already stressing their joints to the max
*If you fall into one of these three categories, you’re already at least somewhat knowledgeable about exercising, so you’ll easily be able to figure out which body part needs the most work and can tailor Mini-Workouts to focus on strengthening or stretching one or two targeted areas.
Students have to sit for much of the day; many jobs require being at a desk for hours at a stretch; and commutes typically entail being stuck in a small seat for a block of time as you get from home to school or work and back. Once home, you might need to spend time at your desk doing homework or sorting mail, or you may relax with your feet up while you read the news, catch up on social media, or maybe do some online shopping. Out of habit, you might just plop down in your favorite chair to unwind with a drink at the end of the day, whether it was a stressful day or not. All this (in)activity is usually followed by a short move to the kitchen or dining room where you are seated for dinner and then, worn out from a long day of mostly sitting, you collapse on the sofa to read or watch television... because all that sitting really and truly is exhausting!
The human body is not designed to sit still for hours and hours without moving, so even if you can’t change your work or commute, if you want to feel well and be healthy, you must resolve to interrupt your chair-time and sofa-lounging at regular intervals; with a little organization and a bit of inspiration, you can easily accomplish this. Present-day technologies simultaneously allow and force us to save energy in almost all facets of our lives and though the benefits are many—I personally have no desire to hand-grind my own corn, nor does hauling water from the well hold any appeal—there’s a physical cost to pay for modern conveniences as we become increasingly sedentary. For a fee, someone else will collect and deliver groceries to your doorstep, or even take your dog out for a poopertunity. Spurred on by COVID-19, internet shopping increased exponentially in 2020 and, though all pandemics eventually subside, online shopping is here to stay. Robots are moving in, time- and energy-saving appliances are commonplace, and drone deliveries will soon be ho-hum. Even little things like listening to music or switching lights on and off can now be accomplished by doing nothing more than speaking Alexa’s name. With enough remote controls and voice-activated gizmos, we’ll soon be able to run our entire households and accomplish all our chores while barely moving a muscle.
Until about a hundred years ago, people had to walk, run, bike, or ride a horse to get from one place to another, but now we mostly just sit in whatever conveyance is most convenient, and as self-driving cars become a reality, soon we won’t even have to make the minimal effort required to drive. Common tasks such as typing have gotten so easy you barely have to do more than flutter your fingers, whereas a few generations ago at least you had to hit the carriage return lever and turn the platen, and it probably won’t be long before artificial intelligence enables us to just speak to our computers and QWERTY will be as quaintly old-fashioned as a rotary-dial phone. In the past, you had to move at least some to manage the various aspects of everyday living, and even though many tasks hardly required what you’d call a big effort (like crossing the room to change the TV channel or walking down the hall to answer the phone), these thousands of little movements kept your muscles fired up all day. This is no longer true and if we’re not careful, we can easily get to the point where we can’t do things, because we don’t do them on a regular basis.
Once, when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Costa Rica, I was helping host a group of visitors from the US who were touring our local agricultural high school. The program started around 9:00 a.m. and then we took a break at 10:30. Our guests assumed we were taking a coffee and donuts kind of break and were rather shocked to realize we were breaking for lunch and that lunch consisted of a giant plate of rice and beans with an egg and vegetables and chicken and salad, followed by cake. One of the visitors whispered her surprise that everyone was chowing down like that at such an early hour and asked if this was normal. I replied that, yes, all but the cake was typical; the cake was in their honor as a special treat. Before I could say more, she wondered aloud how they could all be so trim and fit if they ate like that all the time...because it wasn’t in her frame of reference to think that everyone else had already put in two or three hours of physical labor before the program started and would put in three more before taking an afternoon siesta and then four or five more before heading home for dinner, and that on the weekend, they’d play soccer for fun and if there was a wedding, they’d play music and dance until the wee hours.
There’s an excellent book by Daniel Lieberman, Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding, that explains how and why humans aren’t inclined to spend calories needlessly, aka exercising, because just doing what’s required to survive in a non-modern society takes all the calorie input that most people can get. Given the option, the campesinos in my Costa Rican town would lie in bed or slouch in a chair, too—a torrential downpour was often viewed with immense pleasure—but in their world, a day of inactivity is a rarity. In other words, if you dislike exerting yourself unless there’s a concrete reward attached, you’re not alone. If there’s a choice between expending energy and taking advantage of an opportunity to rest, it is easy—and so tempting—and utterly rational—and completely normal—to want to veg out in a comfy chair. Back in the good old/bad old days, if you wanted to eat you had to work—whatever you wanted to accomplish, from the largest to the smallest activity, required you to move.
As our opportunities to be sedentary have increased, as a nation we have become flabbier, weaker, and generally less healthy, and inadequate movement coupled with the constant availability of low-nutrition/high-calorie foods, has brought us to the point where there is an epidemic of obesity with the attendant ailments of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, gout, breathing problems, etc. Most of us are fully aware which of our body parts need work, and the desire to be healthier, stronger, more energetic, and to feel more attractive drives a continuing search for self-improvement (and/or constant self-recrimination, even though that’s not especially helpful unless it spurs us to action). It’s not surprising that there’s a steady supply of new programs, ideas, gadgets, and pills to help us achieve these goals, and many offer the promise of miraculous quick-fixes because, yes, it would certainly be nice to achieve instant good health and fitness without making any effort.
When embarking on your new “I’ve really, really, really gotta get in shape” program, start with a modest goal for minor improvement. You can’t make up for years of inactivity with a few intense sessions of crazy, go-for-broke, exhausting exercise, as that will surely lead to pain or injury and leave you feeling frustrated. Instead, aim for a reachable target of making a few small changes every week that will steadily produce slow but noticeable, measurable, sustainable benefits (specific tips on how you can do this are what follows in the rest of this book). Recognize that the human body is not designed for sitting undisturbed for numerous hours in a row and that if you force yours to do something so unnatural, it will cease to function properly.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR BODY...FOR LIFE
Remind yourself every day that your body is not your enemy, but the cherished house in which your spirit resides. Make a conscious effort to nurture a sense of gratitude for the way it responds to requests (pick up the fork/kick the ball/roll over) and all the things it does without you even having to ask (pump blood/expand and contract the lungs/ grow fingernails). Do you hate your house just because it has a stair that creaks? Of course not, you just recognize that as one of its quirks. If your roof leaks, you don’t despise the house for the leak—you do what you can to fix it, right? Can you show the same acceptance and consideration toward your body that you show toward your house? Despite relentless cultural pressure to spend your money to meet someone else’s ideal of beauty, give yourself permission to love and cherish yourself. If you think your thighs are too flabby, instead of hating them, just ask yourself what you can do to make them stronger (walk more, do leg lifts) and thank them for being able to take you from Point A to Point B which is, after all, their primary purpose.
Do you have a body part that’s broken, like maybe an arm that doesn’t function right? Strengthen it if you can. Thank it for what it can do. Forgive it for what it can’t. Treat yourself with at least as much kindness and sympathy as you would show to a complete stranger.
Does the idea of self-love seem too touchy-feely for you to even contemplate or have you hated some body part for so long you can’t quite shift your thinking? Start by finding one or two things to love about your body and then next week, find another. Start a sentence with the words “I love...” and then finish it with something affirming. Several years ago, I was at a conference where we did this exercise and here’s the list I started with: I love having the red hair that runs in our family, because it connects us to each other and our Scottish ancestors. I love my hands, despite the wrinkles, because I have great manual dexterity. I love having the same gray-blue-green eyes that my grandfather had. I love the high arches of my beautiful feet that look great in sandals!
Start your own list today and if you usually say something like, “I hate my thighs,” instead say something like, “I love my: strong hands / freckled nose / infectious laugh / curly hair / excellent eye-sight / keen sense of smell / long neck / and beautiful smile.”
Show yourself some compassion. Forgive your body for its imperfections (perceived or real) and hold it in the high esteem that it deserves...it’s the only one you’ll ever have.
Forget the pie-in-the-sky images that are so often dangled before your eyes—usually with the “promise” that if you’d only do one secret thing or send someone a wad of your hard-earned money, you’ll miraculously lose weight and look like Venus or Adonis—and recognize that you won’t be a Lycra-clad model with six-pack abs or be showing off a tight size two bum in stretchy white jeans any time soon unless you’re currently a size four. If you’re hoping for dramatic weight loss like you might see on a TV show like The Biggest Loser, keep in mind that many of the contestants on the show took diet pills that made them ill, vomited on a regular basis, and—despite all this—regained most of the weight lost during the show in the months that followed, mainly because they hadn’t developed healthy and sustainable eating and exercising habits, and/or ate so few calories that they completely screwed up their metabolisms so that their body went into starvation mode protecting its stored fat. You won’t achieve a perfect “pre-baby weight” body three months after giving birth unless, like the celebrities featured in magazine articles, you have a private trainer and personal chef at your beck and call. I suggest you ignore or throw away anything that uses the word “skinny” to define your ultimate goal... healthy people are not skinny, they are medium-sized (I almost called this book The Happy Medium until I realized it sounded like a book about a jolly psychic). Envision yourself just a little bit stronger and a little bit healthier and a little bit slimmer. Hold a picture in your mind of a slightly healthier version of who you are right now, and let that picture be target number one. Remember, comparing yourself to a supermodel or professional athlete is just setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.
Your goal is to be the best possible you...everyone else is already taken.
Irish poet, playwright, novelist, and internationally famous wit