Developing a healthier and more fulfilling life
Through my life I have had numerous attempts at developing a healthy lifestyle. Most plans were met with limited success that soon became cumbersome and unattainable for various reasons. A typical plan would start with a nebulous goal of something like “I want to look buff” or “I want to be in shape”. Of course neither of these goals are quantifiable and as such progress is difficult to measure or observe. It becomes easy to get discouraged with any attempt to be healthy because the goal seems unattainable. A sickness or a disruption to the routine quickly becomes the excuse for the loss of motivation to turn into a resumption of the prior unhealthy routine.
Similarly, many of these goals (weight loss, physical prowess and definition, etc.) are centered around obtaining the undefinable and fickle approvals of other people. As soon as that approval is given it seems to trigger a “stop” mechanism that says “Goal reached. You can stop now.” While this behavior is actually self-defeating, it seems to be pretty common. Conversely, the opposite effect could occur. If living healthy or attempting to get in shape does not cause people to suddenly start liking the dieting person, the person might abandon the healthy living attempt because the true unspoken goal wasn’t really healthy living, it was “change my diet or appearance and get someone to like me”. Not only is this unrealistic, it is impossible to control the thoughts or opinions of other people. It results in living life with the unstated intention of abandoning one’s self to conform to the perceived thoughts, opinions, and desires of another. Even if it works initially, eventually the dieter will likely get tired of the façade and will abandon the lifestyle.
The best plan for a healthy lifestyle is one that embraces exercise and eating right for the benefit of how it makes you feel and for how it improves health and feelings of well-being. When one embraces healthy living because it’s something that a person wants to do for themselves, then reasonable goals can be established towards a lifestyle of health and well-being. The exercises don’t have to be exercises that push the limits of your abilities and stretch you to get better and better. They simply have to be exercises that can regularly be done within the confines of a reasonably assumed schedule and budget, and within the resources that one has at their disposal. Growth will often come naturally and effortlessly over time simply because the body can more easily handle the old exercises that it was given, and to avoid boredom will want to expand the weight or distance it was being told to get used to.
Last year I started such a plan that involved me exercising for me. I set small and obtainable goals like running a mile with good form. When that became easy, I would increase that amount slowly to the point where I was running a 5k with little effort. Sometimes I would try to increase my speed and sometimes I would push to run a bit further - but when time was short, it was better to run 2 miles than no miles. I was able to buy some free weights and a used weight machine for cheap. Rather than trying to “buff up” overnight, I have been focusing on sustainable exercise. Start with low weights, low reps. As those become easy, increase the reps. If that becomes too easy, increase the weight and drop the number of reps. Rinse and repeat. I try to do this at least two times a week, if not three. For me, trying to work out every day is an unreasonable goal because life gets in the way. I would not be able to keep this goal up for long and it would be easy to abandon it because I was not achieving it.
So for now I try to run 2-3 times a week as time allows. When time doesn’t allow, I try to make allowances in other parts of my life, like I will purposefully work outside more or will vigorously walk more. Anything to keep moving. Additionally I try to work out on weights or use body resistance exercises (pushups, lunges and squats, planking, sit-ups) at least 2 times a week. My workouts are not usually long - 25-35 minutes is pretty standard. This at least keeps my body from moving backward and it also strengthens my body enough to help protect it from injury. I definitely do not want to push myself too hard because it could lead to long-term injury – which would jeopardize the whole program. It also could cause me to burnout by taking the joy out of exercise and turning it into a task.
My biggest exercise breakthrough has come from me learning to exercise because I want to exercise and have good health…not because I want to impress someone else. Seeing the benefits of this lifestyle in my own life begin to emerge have been icing on the cake. Seeing the negative health consequences in others that do not practice good health are reinforcement to my resolve. At this point, I could care less whether anyone else ever encourages me to do it or not, I’m doing it for me (not that I mind being encouraged, it's nice...but no longer necessary).
Good health and well-being comes also from being spiritually centered, nutritionally balanced, and emotionally aware. It is important to me to continue to seek God and his direction for my life. That means a continual evaluation of who I am, where my value comes from, and what motivations I have for doing whatever I’m doing. I don’t ever want to become arrogant – though I will strive for growth, I realize that I need humility to achieve any. I want to place appropriate value on the things that have eternal consequence rather than temporal benefit. I want my meditations (things I spend my time and energy dwelling on) to be about things that will benefit and uplift rather than on things that will tear down and discourage. While not being a Pollyanna in my outlook, neither do I want to be Eor. Where my treasure is, there my heart will be also.
Nutrition is more difficult in our modern and fast-paced society. It is increasingly difficult to settle down to a nice, balanced and home cooked meal 7 times a week for a variety of reasons. I try, therefore, to keep a daily mental tab of what I’m eating to avoid an imbalance of carbs or proteins. Since I don’t like plain water, I try to keep lime or lemon juice handy to spritz in a water bottle so that I don’t end up relying too heavily on soft drinks or coffee for my hydration. As much as possible I try to buy organic/natural foods and I do garden as a stress relief hobby so I often have a good supply of fresh foods to can and cook with. Since I’ve now been gardening for the better part of the last ten years, I hope this will continue all my life.
Emotionally I want to make sure that I’m getting the right amount of rest and relaxation. Keep getting and giving massage. Listen to lots of varied types of music, try new experiences, talk to lots of stimulating people, watch the storm clouds roll in and the sunsets roll out, and surround myself with people who have a desire to grow and uplift. I want to never stop being curious, never stop learning and never stop appreciating the little things in life. Enjoy my friends and my family. Be generous with my time and resources. Laugh a lot, and never be ashamed of who I am.
While I know that there will be setbacks along the way, the path outlined above is one that I hope to stay on my entire life. I can’t think of a better way to live a healthy and fulfilled life and end my life with minimal regret.