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Sunday, February 10, 2013

What Fitness Taught Me About Life

In the course of more than 15 years in the fitness profession, one question I get asked not just a few times is what I like most about my work. I suppose it's inevitable for those "outside" the field to ask me that because 15 years is a long time in any industry. I could easily rattle off the physiological benefits - I get to have my daily exercise, my heart is probably better off than a majority of people in my same age range (something that always gets confirmed when I go for my annual checkup), the endorphins that are released through exercise are, in every sense, a feel-good chemical, and so on.

But one thing I would like to talk about here is what I've learned from fitness and how these can translate to the other areas of my life - in short, from fitness 'principles' into life 'lessons'.

The first step is always the hardest.

So often the case with any endeavor that is new, attempting to embark on the road to fitness can be fraught with many questions, uncertainties, excuses and doubts. What if I can't get past the first day? Will people laugh at me for daring to show my uncoordinated body in public? I really wish I paid more attention in gym class when I was in school. Anyone trying to forge a path in order to improve one's fitness level may have these concerns and more - the best advice I can give is go for it.

And the same is true with anything you are planning to do for the first time. Starting up a new business, for example, can be especially tough, and the naysayers - external and internal - won't stop their babble. It has to be a decision on your part. As long as you exercised reasonable caution - in fitness, you told your doctor about your intentions; in business, you have enough liquidity to cover you for at least a year - then take the plunge. Otherwise you will spend your life wondering "what if?' and a life looked back with regret is not anything I would wish on anyone.

Surround yourself with people and things that further your goals.

One convenient excuse I hear from people who falter on their exercise goals is that it wasn't "their" fault - I would often hear how their barkada (gang) went to a beer house, which would "naturally" mean ordering pulutan (bar food) and hard liquor. This may not be a pleasant thing to hear, but you may have to limit your circle of friends if you are serious about achieving your fitness goals.

It is inevitable that we be swayed by influences, especially if you are sociable and given our culture, we are often loathe to possibly offend someone by not going to their aya (invitation). But announcing to everyone in your life that you intend to pursue your fitness goals may have two benefits: (1) they will - hopefully - be more understanding if you refuse to go to certain events for fear of being sidetracked and (2) a pubic announcement makes it more "official", so that even if you are, say, eating out alone, you become conscious of your food choices because acquaintances may see you and it would be hard to justify having a triple cheeseburger with extra large serving of fries.

Similarly, if it's your dream to be a singer, don't be around people who would love nothing more than kill your dream before you've even tried. Make contacts in the recording industry, get professional training, surround yourself with people that will enforce your decision and goals. While your determination (and talent) will ultimately propel you, you cannot discount the effects of your surroundings, which often can be an integral part in building you into the person you are now.

Have measurable goals.

I remember a former boss of mine who used to chuckle at people who would want things but refuse to set deadlines for it - she'd always quip, "ang tawag diyan nangangarap lang" (that's merely daydreaming) and she's right.

The usual goal I hear from people who enter a fitness program is pumayat (to lose weight). That is good for a general goal, but it needs to be broken down into measurable, objective terms: Is there a set weight you are eyeing? How many times a week can you work out? How does this translate to how many pounds you want to lose on a weekly and monthly basis? Can you set aside a specific time everyday for this?

Having goals that can be quantified helps in getting a 'battle plan' in place: the how, in order to achieve the what, and in when. In my observation, humans are procrastinators in general, and they will put things off, as much as they can, until facing it head on becomes the only choice. Forcing clients - gently, of course - to take stock of their goals and how to achieve it also gives the sense of responsibility, and they become accountable for their actions.

How many of us are putting off that visit to the dentist for the teeth cleaning? What about the annual check up, why haven't we done it by now? Are we waiting for a tooth to fall off, or for us to suddenly faint for no known reason before we get to doing things? Like exercise, many things in life are uncomfortable but necessary, and if we set a date, a number, anything that resembles a specific time to achieve it, then we can focus and give proper attention to the other things in life.

There will be setbacks, so just get back on the horse.

In the course of a fitness regimen, you will encounter some kind of plateau: your body's way of "saving" itself, not wanting to lose more calories because it is content with your current state. Or deadlines at work prevent you from proceeding with your fitness regimen. A relative from the USA arrives, and will be needing you to accompany them throughout their month long stay.

There are perfectly valid reasons why you stop from exercising, or falter from your fitness goals, and realizing this is essential because life is never a smooth ride: expect the bumps, curveballs and rude surprises. I would usually hear clients feel so much guilt after going to a party with "sinful" food (like that porcine delicacy, lechon) that they begin to spiral and think that they have "lost" their way.

Nonsense. Everyday is always a chance to do things better, or right. So you were "bad" today - it doesn't mean you have to be the same way tomorrow, or the week after. It may have been a way of coping with stress, or it could also be a "cheat day" - what you should aim for are more good days versus bad ones. No one is going to be perfect, of that much I am 100% certain. Having that knowledge should be your comfort whenever you fall - everyone fails at some point, it's what we do after that which matters more.

Enjoy the journey on the way to your destination.

Fitness should be viewed as a part of your life, and not just something to do because you have to fit into a gown in time for your best friend's wedding. With this frame of mind, it becomes imperative that you make the journey as pleasant as possible - it is the only way to sustain your trajectory into wellness.

Recognize the benefits your fitness decisions give you - lowered heart rate, better sleep, increased oxygen consumption, and inches and pounds lost (or gained, depending on your fitness goal). Find creative ways to sneak in more exercise into your life - park at the farthest slot, challenge yourself to take the stairs instead of the escalator. Don't deprive yourself of foods, things and activities just because of your goal - eventually you will have to come back to the real world, and that means facing all these temptations head on.

Choose activities that resonate with who you are, and you are guaranteed to stick with your fitness regimen for a long time. At the same time, this could be your chance to try out things you were afraid to even consider - your fitness path could very well be the metaphor to your own life: you begin, you learn, you fail and you try again. Life is essentially a series of "Let's try that again/differently" scenarios, and it is up to you to make each and every journey count.

Your journey. Your rules.
(Courtesy of

Do it because you are most definitely worth it.

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