Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you have much to be thankful for this year, man. Even while you gratefully make note of all that, this is also a good time to think ahead.
What would you additionally like to be thankful for next Thanksgiving?
What if on Thanksgiving 2018 you could take a personal inventory and conclude:
- I’m staying more motivated for fitness – and avoiding major backslides
- I’m eating better (not perfectly, but better)…and I feel better for it
- I forgive myself for not always following my fitness plans…but I hold myself more accountable to usually do so
- I’ve varied my fitness routine, so I’m in better all-around shape than I was a year ago
- I’m using exercise to better combat stress and make my life feel more spacious
- If needed, I overcame aches-and-pains to do these things – instead of letting 2018 be a year of narrowing possibilities
Dude! That would be an incredible “thanks” list. So enjoy the coming weeks of 2017 wrap-up and holidays, yes. But I invite you to also make this time a springboard into a meaningful 2018. (Don’t wait for the cliched New Year’s Resolution.)
Here’s the why-and-how of six actions you can take, starting now, to add to your “thankful for” list for next year.
SIX ACTIONS YOU’LL BE GRATEFUL FOR ON THANKSGIVING, 2018
1. Get (More) Inspired
Research shows “negative motivations” do less for long-term habit change than “positive” ones. For example, thinking “I have to exercise more so I won’t develop weight-related health problems” is much less powerful than “If I lose some weight and restore my energy level, I can enjoy life so much more, and I’m much more likely to realize my most-important goals.”
So dedicate time and energy soon to this question: What possibilities open up for me if I’m in better physical shape and feel less stressed? For a few thoughts on the opportunity to re-imagine possibilities in the mid-life years, see “Mid-life Crisis? Nah — This is Just the Start of Your Longest Run.”
Thinking this way can be powerful motivation. But the first 90 days of change are still TOUGH. This is because it takes time for our brains’ “reward mechanisms” to kick in for exercise and healthy nutrition – while the less-healthy habits’ rewards and avoidance urges are active now.
So if needed, think about this: a critical part of what you really want for the second half of your life is on the other side of a 90-day hill…and you just need to get yourself there.
“Sucking it up” and “will power” don’t work over the long term. But combined with a positive vision of “why,” they can get you through a few months of new habit formation. Then the motivation cavalry comes over the hill – the intrinsic motivation of feeling new habits working for you!
2. Belly Up to This Fact: Nutrition is At Least Half of the Fitness Equation
Talk to any fit guy over ~35 and they’ll tell you. Burning calories and working muscles can only get you so far on their own. To really elevate your fitness-and-health, you need to redouble attention on strong nutrition.
Otherwise, stuff like this happens:
- You run five miles and burn 500-700 calories, depending on your weight, how hilly your course is, etc. Then you drink a couple of IPA’s with dinner and cancel out the incremental calorie-burn you got from your run.
- You throw some weights around and do some bodyweight exercises. But you didn’t show up with much intensity, since your blood sugar spiked earlier in the day then fell, thanks to the sugary stuff you ate for breakfast.
- Etc. There are so many examples of this. Some are immediate, like the two examples above. Some are longer-term, like when you fail to get adequate fiber, vitamins & minerals, and healthy proteins and fats into your diet, and the machine that is your body is not working at its best.
So (and we both know it, brother), every year we get older we need to more-rigorously manage the quantity and quality of what we put in our mouth.
Good news: a few basic changes go a LONG way toward this goal. Cut down on added sugars. Seek high-quality carbs. Eat vegetables and fruit (or really know you’re supplementing vitamins/minerals and fiber if you avoid these things to follow some very-low-carb diet which some guys swear by, though I’m skeptical). Cut down on alcohol, plain and simple.
Here’s more on a simple approach to nutrition that offers tremendous benefits. You don’t need to do this all at once — just start doing a few of the DO’s and stop a few of the DON’T’s, then build on that progress once you feel it working.
3. Transcend “All or Nothing” Thinking – Doing “OK” is Actually OK!
We tend to turn exercise and nutrition goals into absolutes. “I’ll either workout six times this week, or I’m lazy. I’ll either avoid all bad food this week, or I’m an impulsive pig.”
Then, when life interferes and we fall short of the goal…the lazy, rationalizing, self-pitying and gluttonous part of ourselves (we all have one; at least I know I do) rears up to make things worse. It says to the rest of you, “We failed anyway…now we may as well just fail harder and regroup later.” (And “later” ever recedes before us).
Instead of falling victim to this pattern, take this alternative view: Achieving any meaningful portion of our goal IS a positive thing. And so much better than the alternative.
I blew nutrition discipline at lunch, with those French Fries? OK, I did. No big deal. I’ll eat a good dinner and move on. I missed a workout or had a lackluster one? OK, maybe this week will wind up being more “maintenance” than “progress.” But I’ll remember, maintenance is part of the game. I should sometimes be accepting of it as “all” I’ve achieved in a given day or week.
4. Get More Variety In Your Fitness Routine
In our 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond, it’s key to mix up our workouts for a few important reasons.
First, maintaining a decent level of endurance, strength, flexibility and balance –all of them – is better than being strong in some areas and weak in others. Most guys tend to be either endurance- or strength-centric in their workout preferences and habits. And almost all of us can do more to stay flexible, and keep those subtle strong areas and mind/body connections that add up to balance. So, this coming year, mix it up – here are some questions to ask yourself about your fitness mix.
Mixing it up is also key to avoiding injuries, as we can rest some body parts while we work out other ones. And/or have some naturally easy days to offset the hard ones.
Finally, mixing it up – including learning new workout types – keeps it mentally more interesting. The Boredom Monster is one of the things always lurking there, waiting to sabotage our health goals. And variety is one way to keep slaying it.
5. Acknowledge and Act on This: Exercise Should Also Help Lighten Your Mind & Spirit
We can burn a bunch of calories on a treadmill or an elliptical. Or get plenty strong at the gym or in a group strength & conditioning class. But those workouts, if they’re all we do, miss something: the opportunity for fitness time to also be “good for the mind and spirit time.”
Being outdoors brings the opportunity to tune out the modern world and let your natural thoughts bubble up as they may – or to just zone out and truly relax. I mean running, cycling, hiking, paddle sports if you have access to them…or just plain walking, dude. Swimming and yoga, while typically lacking the view of sky and trees, also provide some of that “lose yourself” benefit, some mental space.
As a friend once put it, exercise helps clear away the psychic grime that accumulates in our world. For all their benefits, running on a treadmill while watching cable news, or doing an exercise class with blaring (usually non-good) music and the instructor shouting at you…are the opposite of this.
This coming year, use exercise to help clear your mind and soothe your soul. Once you start, I doubt you’ll go back.
6. Take Action to Resolve Injuries (Don’t Just Accept Them)
You might read some of this stuff and think, “I’d love to ______, but I can’t because my _____ is always hurting.” You’ll often see “run” and “knee” in a sentence like that, but “back” and “shoulder” are also common culprits behind a wide range of prevented workouts.
Of course, I can’t make any blanket, always-true assertion here…but I’ll venture this as often true. If you get more serious and dedicated about resolving nagging problems, you’ll re-open possibilities you considered to be closed.
Example: In 2014-15 I had a nagging knee issue that prevented me from doing much leg-strength work, and hampered me with medium-level pain during daily-life movements like squatting down to pick something up, or going up/down stairs. I was starting to despair this was just “how it was” from now onward.
But I consulted a physical therapist (a first for me). She determined my issue stemmed from a quads/hamstrings/glutes imbalance, and recommended several targeted strengthening exercises a few times a week. They seemed like annoying little things I didn’t feel like doing…but I did them anyway…and they’ve totally resolved my issue. I’m back doing squats and lunges, taking stairs two-at-a-time, and feeling like my old self.
A few years before that, I fixed a plantar fasciitis (foot) problem by finally deciding to wear a “boot” while sleeping for several weeks. You gotta do what you gotta do.
So as you contemplate the next 12 months, ask yourself: how sure am I that I CAN’T diagnose and resolve that nagging physical issue? The payback on a successful intervention is so high, man, that it’s worth investing some time and money to figure it out.
So…what if? It would be incredible if you add some or all of these things to your “thankful” list next year. And they ARE within your reach – you just gotta start. You can browse and search OlderBeast for a bunch of friendly advice and inspiration related to all this.
“Thank you for your time, you’ve been so much more than kind.” (Jim Croce, Operator – click to listen).