[By Nic Lindh on Thursday, 16 February 2012]
NOTE: Nic is not a medical professional, not a licensed dietician and not a personal trainer. Nic is just a fat, middle-aged guy with a blog who’s trying to get himself into shape. Don’t take medical advice from random blogs, OK? /NOTE
Middle-age sucks: New parts of your body start hurting every day, parts you didn’t even know you had; you have to get up in the middle of the night to visit the bathroom only to then lie awake and worry about things; you groan when getting up from a chair; foods you used to enjoy all of a sudden give you heart burn. And you get fatter and fatter.
(Apart from the obvious win that you didn’t die yet, of course. And the blessed relief from caring a lot less about things you used to care way too much about. Those are good.)
But it’s not all hopeless. The current wisdom is that the best way to counter the effects of aging is to work out. That’s right, get your sweat on. And yes, it works.
Regular exercise makes you feel better. Duh. Everybody knows that. What’s amazing is how easy it is to construct reasons why today is definitely not a good day to work out. Noper. Negatory. Not today. Tomorrow. Definitely tomorrow.
We are supposed to move a lot in our daily lives—being sedentary makes all kinds of stuff in your body prematurely break, especially as you hit middle age. Anthropologists estimate our hunter/gatherer ancestors walked an average of 10 miles per day—obviously some days more and some days less, but on average 10 miles per day. Try it. How do you feel if you walk 10 miles per day for a week straight? Our ancestors did it their entire lives.
(This is how we Homo Sapien evolved as a species: Plenty of everyday movement interspersed with intermittent “Aaaaaah the tiger is coming for me!” type movement. Millions of years, people. Cheetos on the couch are sure nice, but they are most certainly not what you evolved for.)
Exercise, though, is hard. Yes—duh—by definition, but not just the sweaty, panty bit. The getting yourself to the gym bit and the tearing yourself away from the couch bit are more difficult than the exercising itself. Once you’re at the gym, you’ll probably work out; it’s the dragging your ass to the gym that’s hard. Everything around you tells you it’s OK, hell, more than preferred, it’s great to skip the gym today. You have better things to do!
Except of course you don’t. Getting regular exercise is the single most important thing you can do today. Really.
To use one of the few sports clichés at my disposal (take a deep breath and sing it with me), it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you go to the gym religiously for a month, absolutely crushing it, but then wake up one day and hear your brain whisper, “Screw that noise. It hurts. Behold! The couch! There’s a DVR shock full of entertainment to attend!” and you listen to your brain—because it’s your brain so it tells you it knows best—all you’ve done is hurt yourself for a month for no reason.
You’ve probably been there. I sure have. Finally, no more pain. Instead it’s sweet, sweet relaxation. Which you’ve earned, right? You went to the gym. You suffered. Damn straight. So now you can get with the Cheetos and the XBox without guilt. You’ve done your part. (Incidentally, I haven’t had a single Cheeto since I read the Wikipedia entry about how they’re made. Yikes.)
I’ve heard that voice. I’ve listened to that voice. Why suffer more?
Rambo never hears that voice. That’s why he’s Rambo. Rambo can take way more punishment than you can. Rambo doesn’t quit.
But you do. Sooner or later you quit.
If you believe that exercise is something you need for the rest of your life, throwing your hands up like that—as I’ve done, as you’ve done—is one of the dumbest things you can do.
It doesn’t have to be like that. There’s a fine line to be walked: You need to exercise hard enough to make a difference, but not so hard it sucks so bad you go all Pavlov on yourself and make yourself come up with any reason—any reason—to not go. Not today. Your sessions have to be strenuous enough, but not so strenuous you can’t keep it up for the rest of your life.
A side note here about personal trainers. They have a hard job—motivating people, keeping up to date on developments in physical fitness and diet, providing personalized programs for their clients. That’s not easy. I respect their work. At the same time, most personal trainers have either always been in shape or managed to get themselves into shape through a truly heroic amount of will power and pain.
Personal trainers are not normal people and sometimes it seems have a hard time understanding how normal people think and act. It’s a lot like having a nerd tell you how to use your computer. The nerd has a way different outlook and relationship with the machine than a normal person does. Which doesn’t mean the nerd is wrong, it just means the nerd operates very differently from a normal person. So it is with the personal trainer and the body.
If you’re the kind of person who needs a kick in the behind to get going, or you’ve never worked out and need some guidance to what you should be doing in the gym, a personal trainer is great. A personal trainer can absolutely help you. Just remember that a personal trainer is different from your fat ass.
Don’t believe me? OK. Here’s a fool-proof way to lose weight and get in fantastic shape in a very short period of time. Are you ready? Here it is: Do burpees till you faint or puke. Then the next day do it again. And again. Run up a hill if you happen to have any energy left over.
Congratulations! This will work. Guaranteed. You will get massively fit. If you can keep it up. Which you can’t unless there’s somebody literally holding a gun to your head to make you. Because it will hurt so much and be so boring. Unless you’re Rambo. For him it’s a good time.
I’m talking about sustained exercise, something you can and will do for the rest of your life. Picture an exercise routine, then picture yourself doing it several times each week until you die. That’s what I’m all about here. Long-effing-term. Which doesn’t mean you can’t level up. If you’re the kind of person who needs excitement in your life, leveling up is great. Do P90X! Train for a marathon! That’s great. It means seriously increasing your levels for a while and that’s great as long as you have in the back of your mind that it’s a temporary thing. And after that temporary thing you will drop back down to your usual level of exercise—which you can’t stop because stopping after you level up is a stupid, stupid thing to do.
Despite what Tyler Durden says, we’re all beautiful and unique snowflakes and we all like different things. And that’s OK. Our bodies are all different as well. An infinity of variation in what works and doesn’t work.
Which means you have to find something—or preferably several things—that work for you, things you can legitimately see yourself doing for the rest of your life.
I’ll post a follow-up with some things that work for me in a while, but in the meantime, the best way to get started and undo some of the damage time has wrought is to follow in the path of your ancestors and get walking. One foot in front of the other.