Be prepared for what it takes. Physical fitness doesn't happen overnight, but you'll get there soon enough.
There was a time when I never exercised. Occasionally I’d walk around town or hop on my bike, but mostly I just sat at home—working, studying, parenting— eating a nightly bowl of ice cream with a book open on my lap.
My husband, who is an avid weightlifter, pointed out that I wouldn’t always have age on my side. He was right. Although I looked thin and felt fairly good, I lacked strength, stamina, and conditioning. There would come a time, he delicately pointed out, when my love of food would catch up to me. I was mad for a few days, but then realized I didn’t want to wait around for that to happen.
Four years have passed, and since then I’ve attended the local CrossFit gym twice a week. It has changed my outlook entirely, and made me realize—for the first time in my life—that physical activity can be thrilling and rewarding. Since then, I’ve become intrigued by the psychological changes that must occur in order for previously-sedentary people to learn to like exercise. I came across an article by James Fell, a well-known fitness columnist and writer at Body For Wife, in which he explains the three phases for becoming a workout warrior.
“Fear of the consequences of not changing your behavior is what prompts you to action.” Regardless of what this may be—high cholesterol, obesity or overweight, high alcohol intake, high blood pressure, low muscle mass, fear of weight gain—being fearful can be a good thing because it means you’re acknowledging what could happen if you fail to change your habits. As Fell points out, though, it works best as an initial impetus, but must be followed by other emotions in order to have lasting results.
“Duty is when you feel you must persevere at getting in shape because you owe it not just to yourself, but to others, too.” Do you want to show your kids how a healthy lifestyle should be? Do you want to be a healthier, stronger, more attractive partner in a relationship? Do you want to be a better role model for others?
The concept of duty makes me think of my friend, a successful Beach Body coach, who has lost 150 pounds in recent years. In her efforts to inspire others, she frequently asks on social media, “What is your ‘why’?” — meaning, why do you do this? What drives you to do it? Who do you do it for? Hers is her son—first, to be able to have a healthy pregnancy and baby, and second, to model a healthy lifestyle for him. Everyone has to find their ‘why’.
My 'why' was partly for my kids and partner, but mostly for myself. I wanted to feel good—not just kind of good, but powerfully good.
Fell doesn’t put consistency in his list, but I’d like to add it here. Habits grow from more than just duty; they require stern discipline and the ability to crush all other nagging thoughts that threaten to derail your workout plans, i.e. laundry that needs folding, food that needs cooking, children who need homework help.
Consistent exercise is the key to workout success. You figure out what’s enough to reach your goals, but not too much to overwhelm, and you stick with it, come hell or high water (unless an emergency arises, of course). Maybe you commit to exercising every day. Maybe, like me, you promise yourself to go twice a week at minimum. Maybe you figure out specific ways in which to incorporate healthier habits so they are integral to your lifestyle.
Exercise because it feels good in the moment and you like the satisfaction and rush it give you now, not because of ambiguous long-term goals.
The passion will come, as you build new skills, whatever they may be. Fell writes:
“When you embrace things such as performance accomplishments—becoming faster, stronger, more flexible, more agile, more coordinated, as well as improving your endurance—you get an ego boost from this. That ego boost feels good. It creates what is called ‘positive reinforcement.’ Exercise (stimulus) generates a positive response (feeling good) and so the behavior is reinforced and you keep doing it.”
You might have to try various forms of exercise before finding your groove. For example, I did plenty of yoga and pilates (and one painful Zumba class) before realizing I loved CrossFit for its friendly competitiveness and completely foreign skill set. It was the perfect fit for me, and so I was able to stick with it. Maybe yours is running, swimming, mountain biking, kickboxing, or Olympic lifting.
Once it sets in, passion will never leave you, even you take time away from your sport. You'll always be able to find it again; it will be easily transferable to other physical activities; and you will have done yourself the biggest favor possible, by ensuring a healthy future.