So why do you exercise? Many of us want to look great, feel energetic and agile. So who defines your perception of what looking great, feeling energetic and agile is? Is it characters in movies and TV who have lives that barely resemble our own? Is it members of the your community who might have chosen to live less stressful circumstances than your own and who have better paying jobs than you have? Is it articles written by intellectuals who only know how to phylosophize, but don't even know how to organize their own lives when given a chance? Or do you define who YOU are after you take good, honest inventory of what your qualities and flaws are, where you stand for as a human being, what fulfills you and give you joy... get my drift?
So, liberate yourself! Accept the body that you've got and make it better. The secret to being fit for life is discovering how you can make sense of exercise, how you can savour the fruits of fitness-related activities in other aspects of your life. The truth about FITness is that you need to make it FIT wisely in your life. If you force an exercise regimen to fit, the same activities that can cause you to look and feel better will make you feel worse and bitter about your body.
Learn from my mistake. In the summer of 1998, I achieved my perfect body with my very imperfect genes at the cost of developing a walking pneumonia that impaired 1/3 of my breathing capacity. It all started as an experiment. I wanted to know if I could tame my adipose tissue friendly genes and look like a fitness model. I am not genetically blessed, I look at food and I get fat. My arms are small; my legs are big. I had been a personal trainer, so I knew what to do. I started to lift intensely and ran for 45 mins every day from May to September. Well, I got down to 172 pounds (from 190) of solid muscle in 3 months. My face look cadaveric for my taste, but my body looked model-like. I should have been happy knowing that I had attained my goal. I should have realized that 3 hours a day at the gym was a bit unrealistic for me to keep up.
During my "experiment", I had gotten a promotion at work and I was working more hours than usual. So instead of easing my stress, the exercise routine added to my stress. I was pushing the envelope trying to maintain a body outside of my genetic make-up. Let me tell 3 hours a day at the gym stopped being fun. But I needed the time at the gym to keep seeing gains or even maintain my body to the level I thought I wanted. I had gotten obsessed. Remember how fitness is about balance.
Then one week, I had a hard time running wimpy distances at a wimpy pace. One night, on my way to the kitchen, I felt like I was going to pass out, sat down to avoid injury and spent the night sitting up on a chair too dizzy to get something to bring my sugar level up. When I went to see the doctor, at my insistence, he took a chest radiograph. He looked very worried after examining the X-Ray. I had lost 1/3 of my breathing capacity. He gave me the choice of going to the hospital right away or stay at home taking very potent antibiotics for a couple of weeks.
I had a couple of weeks at home to do a bit of soul searching. During that time, I realized that my immune system had traditionally gotten depressed when I added additional stress in my life without maintaining balance between family life, physical activity, work, entertainment, God etc. In a week, I could see my "love handles" showing up again even when I was not eating much. My cadaveric face started to look normal again. I felt guilty that I spent so much time looking like a model instead of thanking life for who I really was: a very hard-working guy who loved helping his fellow man who happend to be a bit round at waist level with relatively small arms and big legs and a face that didn't look healthy when his fat percentage got too low. The thing is I looked great even before I undertook the let's-look-like-a-model challenge. I was happier. I was just trying to have a perfect body. Little did I know that in the process of having a perfect body, I was becoming more imperfect as a human being. Fitness is about balance.
So after that ordeal, I exercise within the context of my life. I exercise more during down times and less during peak times at work. I have accepted my body the way it is and try to make it stronger within the limits of my genetic make-up. Since I am a personal trainer and a chiropractor, it is a challenge at times not to let the media or client expectations about how I should look to influence my actions. However, I go back to my mantra: I exercise to live, I don't live to exercise. I always assume people in the media are a bit self-centered anyway which is not the way I'd like to be.
The following exercise has helped me define who I am at certain times in my life allowing me to stay focused in what is important.
- Make a list of all the virtues and flaws you think you have.
- How do you enrich the life of others in your life and outside your life?
- Make a list of all your present activities, how long do you spend performing them, why do you do them and how much satisfaction do they give you. How happy are you today? Is there anything you can change today or in the near future to make your life more satifying.
- Make a list of all the activities you have undertaken in life, how long did you spend doing them, why did you do them and how much satisfaction you derived from them. What do these activities have in common.
- Think of your ideal life. What activities would you undertake? What kind of job would you have?
- Look at your list of virtues and flaws, again. Have you learned anything new about yourself? What is the common thread among the things that bring you most satisfaction in life?
- Actions speak louder than words. Look at all those activities (actions) towards which you gravitate. What's the common thread?
- Now who are you? How would you like people to remember you and your accomplishments in the future? Within that context, what can being fit bring into your life that can motivate you to exercise and give your body the importance it deserves. What characteristics can make you fail in your attempt to exercise? What qualities have allowed you to achieve success in life? What would you be willing to sacrifice to allow the benefits that being fit will bring into your life? How can being fit and healthy allow you to achieve your mission in life?
If you want to look at yourself in the mirror and realize you look better than Hugh Jackman or Beyonce, stick to a program that allows you be as healthy as you can be within the context of who you are. You might not become a world celebrity doing this, but you will surely admire the kind of celebrity you will become in your life and the lives of the people you touch.