I know this is primarily a family/kids/adoption blog ... but every once in a while I can't help myself but post about something that I'm also very passionate about: fitness and exercise. And what better time of year to do that than at the very beginning, when everybody is making resolutions!
Regardless of whether you're into making resolutions or not, here's a New Year's challenge that I think you'll enjoy: This year, make it your goal to do one thing that is new to you. I'm thinking of a physical challenge, of course, a new activity or sport. Just pick one thing. And then do it. Run a 5k. Heck, walk a 5k! Run a 10k, a half-marathon. A triathlon. A bike race. Whatever is challenging to you. Try a fitness class. Try a fitness class new to you. Get in the pool. Take a swim lesson. Take a tennis lesson. Sign up for a recreational league of a sport you always wanted to try. Do some personal training.
Here's the challenge, though: It needs to be something that scares you a little. Something that you're not so sure, right here, right now, you could actually do.
And this is why this fun little challenge is going to help you conquer 2013: Assuming you're currently doing something (anything!) to exercise, you're body WILL adjust to your fitness routine. I have this conversation occasionally with members who have been coming to my classes for a couple of years and are disappointed because their heart rates don't get as high as they used to or they're not quite burning as many calories as they once did. Even though that might sound discouraging, it is actually exactly what our bodies are supposed to do as you increase your cardio-respiratory fitness and conditioning. Think about it: The whole purpose of getting "in shape" is to condition our bodies to perform more efficiently under the stress of a certain exercise. Your heart starts to pump more blood volume per stroke, so your heart rate can actually slow; your lung volume increases so you can exchange more air per breath, your body becomes more efficient at extracting oxygen from the blood and delivering it to your muscles, and so on. Those are all the cardio-respiratory adaptations your body makes as you exercise - and of course, they are exercise-specific. Which is why NOTHING trains your body as well as doing something completely new and different. If you're trying something new and you feel like a complete fool because you're totally out of your comfort zone: Good! Your body will be working twice as hard to recruit the appropriate muscles, coordinate your movements and so on. You will get fitter and stronger, just by trying something new.
And here's another reason this will make you an all-around stronger person: Assuming you stick with your goal (more about that in your second), and actually compete in your 5k, or get in the pool often enough so you don't feel like you're going to drown anymore, or whatever you're doing, the following thing is going to happen: Your mind is going to subconsciously transfer that success to other areas of life. (This is proven by sport psychology, by the way, not just by me ;)). So next time you come across a task at work that you're a little scared of, or that you may feel inadequate for, your mind is going to subconsciously say: But remember that time you for sure thought you were NEVER ever going to run a 5k? Remember how you were so scared of swimming half a mile in a lake and were convinced the triathlon life-guards were going to have to come and rescue you? (This last one was completely fictional, of course ;)). But you did it anyways! And remember how good that felt? So maybe this challenge at work isn't so out of reach after all?! Again, it is actually proven by studies that those feelings of success you have when accomplishing an exercise goal translate into other areas of your life, and people who exercise regularly tend to be more productive and more successful at their jobs.
Now, one last thought about actually getting there: I just heard again in the news this week that 4 out of 5 new gym memberships will go unused this year. 4 out of 5 people who are committed enough to change their lifestyle as to actually sign up for a gym membership will not reach their goal. So many people fail to reach their well-intentioned fitness goals, as a matter of fact, that in the textbook I used when studying to become a Personal Trainer, a whole chapter was devoted to studying what drives behavioral change. Don't be discouraged by the statistics, though; use that knowledge to your advantage! Expect it to be a little tough for a while. There is some disagreement among experts how long it takes to form a new habit (and it probably varies from person to person) - but some suggest it may take as long as 66 days. So for 2 months, it might be a bit of a struggle. Just expect yourself to not always like it and to want to quit at some point - but just don't. Don't quit for at least 2 months. It took me almost a full year to get from not being able to front crawl the length of a pool (and feeling like I was drowning!) to being able to swim 3/4th of a mile efficiently. I enjoyed the challenge, so it wasn't that hard to stick with it - but the point is: New skills take time. But you can get there. You can be the person who exercises. Who loves to run. Who goes out on a limb and tries something new. And if you still hate whatever you're doing after 2 months, move on to something else and give yourself a huge pat on your back for trying something different and for sticking with it long enough to find out whether you liked it or now. I honestly don't care how "small" your challenge it (even if it's going for a walk after dinner 3 nights a week. If that's a challenge for you, do it!), I want you to stick with it long enough to give it an honest shot, and most importantly, I want you to feel successful. Because that's what's going to make you a stronger, healthier person in 2013. And to that: Cheers!