Health and fitness are usually made to seem too complex. Don’t you feel overwhelmed and confused?
Fitness and healthy eating should not be that complicated, but they are. In fact, if you read a lot of fitness magazines, books and blogs (as I often do), you’re told a confusing variety of complex advice. It makes your head spin and makes you feel defeated because you just don’t know what to do anymore.
One day you’re told that eggs, butter and meat are bad for you, the next you’re told to eat them without restriction. Then you’ll hear running is good for you and then an expert will share his view on CNN telling the world that running is bad for you and doesn’t help you to lose weight.
You’ll hear that lifting weights is the best way to get into shape, and others will laugh at that.
You’ll hear a million variations of the best workouts, diets, list of best foods, list of must-take supplements, tips and tricks to keep you lean. It truly can be very confusing to learn how to stay fit and thin as you age.
All this confusion and overload of information causes many people to feel paralyzed and therefore prevents them from taking action when it comes to their health.
The reality is that fitness doesn’t have to be that complex and boils down to two simple rules
Eat a moderate amount of real, whole foods (with occasional indulgences); and
Get your body moving on a regular basis
In my experience, if you stick to those two rules, and stick with them for the rest of your life, you’ll get and stay fit.
You cannot do one without for maximum results. Yes, you’ll see some improvement your health, but it would be an incomplete health. Now, do both most days of the week and you’re on your way to health and fitness.
You can make weight loss and staying fit very complicated (and feel like you need to read everything ever written on the subject or you can stick to some pretty easy rules that have worked for a lot of people: if you want to lose fat or weight, you must have a calorie deficit, and if you want to build muscle, you’ve got to use exercise to get stronger. The other stuff is mostly guesswork, and while these complicated programs probably work, they usually work because they promote one or more of the principles in this post, not because of their complexities.
Now before I share this list, I want to make sure that you do check with your doctor before you make any chances.
1. Get moving … even if it’s walking at first. Try to do some kind of physical activity most days of the week (4 or more days if possible). If you have an aversion to exercise, find a fun activity you like that will get your body moving. It can be dance, yard work, hiking, a nature walk, a swim, basketball, rugby, cycling, even housework if you do it vigorously enough. And it doesn’t have to be the same thing each day (change it up to avoid boredom). If you really want to succeed at staying fit, you should schedule a regular time slot where you commit to making fitness a priority.
2. Enjoy yourself (or find something you like). Whatever activity you choose, it HAS to be fun or else you will never stick to it for a long time. If you are unsure what you will like, sign up for trial classes or buy day passes to try new activities before committing long term. It won’t be long before you know if you find a certain activity to be fun or not! If it’s not fun … just move on.
3. Don’t push too hard too fast. Once you’ve been doing an activity for a little while, and you’re in decent shape, it’s good to add some intensity. You never want to start hard because you need to give your body time to adjust to a new exercise and you can add more intensity as time passes. Here are some specific examples on how you can gradually add intensity to your workouts: if you’ve been running, try some faster-paced intervals (take it easy at first) or hill workouts. If you’ve been strength training, be sure to add weights (safely) or decrease rest time or add more reps or sets. If you’re playing a sport, really speed things up, or focus on explosive movements. Intensity is a great way to get yourself in shape and have an effective workout in only 20-30 minutes (this is particularly practical on those days when you don’t have more than 30 minutes to work out, but you are looking for maximum benefits).
4. Don’t go overboard with exercise equipment. There are a zillion different exercise equipment out there, from ab machines to elliptical trainers to a whole slew of weight machines at the gym. It’s best to keep it simple. You can do amazing things with bodyweight exercises — in fact, if you are a relative beginner, you should start with bodyweight exercises for at least 6 months before progressing to weights. You don’t need cardio machines — just go outside and walk, run, bike, do hills, climb stairs (this alone will get your lower body in great shape), sprint. Even if you do weights, a barbell, exercise cables or dumbbells are all you need — stay away from the machines that work your body at angles it’s not meant to use.
5. Just a few exercises will change your body. Bodybuilding routines will have you doing 3-4 different exercises per body part. I can tell you how effective that is at keeping your body lean. That said, that’s often way too complicated for most people. The best strategy is to hire a personal trainer for a few sessions so he/she can create a simple workout routine for you and then you want to keep it simple in the weight room by doing exercises that workout multiple body parts at the same time: squats, deadlifts, presses, chinups, planks (those work your abs and core so effectively) or pullups, rows.
6. Eat real foods. I don’t have to tell you how important it is to eat healthy and real foods if you plan on losing weight and keeping the weight off. If you exercise and eat junk food all the time, you are pretty much working against your goals. You should aim to eat real and whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. That means stay away from processed, refined, fatty, sugary foods. Vegetables, fruits, lean meats, dairy, nuts, beans, whole grains, eggs, seeds. Prepare them yourself if possible — always keep in mind that convenience foods often have added ingredients, as well as extra salt, fat, sugar and preservatives. If you cut out completely of seriously reduce the amount of junk food you eat, you’ll drop the weight and keep it off for life.
7. Eat less food (you should stop when you feel full). Most North Americans eat too much, and eventually it shows up as belly fat. To lose that fat, we need to eat less — it’s really that simple. Of course, if you eat the real foods mentioned in point #6, you’ll probably consume fewer calories, but even so, it’s smart to reduce how much you eat overall, at least until you reach a healthy level of body fat (and even then, you shouldn’t let it all go). One way to do that is by eating slowly and mindfully until you’re just satiated (that means you stop eating when you feel full rather than stopped when you feel stuffed). Another way is to eat smaller meals and watch the portions.
8. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself: This is the downfall for so many people — they expect to see results immediately, within the first few weeks or month or so, because the magazines they read make it seem so instantaneous. But real fitness rarely happens this way — it’s a process and a lifestyle change. Remember that you didn’t gain the fat overnight, and you won’t lose it that way either.
The best way to ensure your weight loss success is to learn to enjoy the process, enjoy the activities (pick a fitness activity that you’ll actually enjoy), embrace healthy and real food, and you’ll get healthy and fit almost as an afterthought and in the process you’ll an amazing lifestyle for you and your family.
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