There are ideals today. People judge people based on physical appearance. Being skinny as a woman and being muscly as a man seems to be the only thing, along with social status, that determines someone’s worth as a person. Young women in particular are being heavily affected by this, developing eating disorders and depression trying to live up to the ideals.
The aim of this article is to encourage you to get fit, but for entirely different reasons. Getting fit is not about living up to society’s norms and expectations. The real reasons why you should get fit are not destructive, nor are they products of societal standards, but rather products of common sense and science.
Being fit – not just ideals
The main reason to be physically active is because that is the way humans were made to be. Our bodies as well as our minds has not yet adapted to modern-day society; biologically, we are still hunters and gatherers. This is a problem. With the aid of technology and cleverness, we no longer need to physically transport our bodies to get food. Because we don’t use up the energy (food) we consume, an excess of calories accumulates in our bodies and is then stored as fat.
All over media, catchphrases like “I am fat and beautiful” spread like wildfire. These slogans are protests against the ideals of society. However, they are harmful.
Side note: By connecting the concepts “fat” and “beautiful” in this way, it is implied that beauty is determined by looks. Yes, you can be fat and beautiful, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder; the perception of beauty is subjective.
There comes a great risk with making a connection between weight and beauty, even though slogans like “fat and beautiful” help overweight people realize that their worth as a person is not diminished because they are overweight. What is this “risk” I talk about? Being fat puts your life in danger. While it is true that on a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero, that timeline will be a lot shorter if you have excess fat accumulated all over and inside of your body.
You can be fat and beautiful, but you can not be fat and healthy. Furthermore, trying to be “beautiful” is just a way for your ego to try to prove its worth by comparison with other people. Being fit should be for the sake of you, not others. Professional boxer Gene Tunney once said:
“Exercise should be regarded as tribute to the heart.”
Exercise to honor the fact that you have body, not to live up to someone else’s expectations.
The benefits of being fit and healthy are many. Not only does it lower the risk of many diseases; it also sharpens your mind and improves your mood.
Studies have shown that physical activity greatly improves your chances of living longer. In a study of physically active and inactive mice, researchers noticed that the mice who were physically active would live longer and keep their youth for a longer period of time, whereas the mice who were physically inactive would not.
Another study was made on 2400 twins, and the results were similar; those who exercised were younger on a molecular level than those who did not.
You may have noticed that physically active people have that “glow” around them. This is what happens. Exercising makes you look younger and more vital. All the skin products or facial lift surgeries in the world are not able to compete with the effects of physical exercise (and good nutrition, of course). Do you still want to look young at 30, 40, 50, 60? Go work out.
2. Joint or back pain
Losing fat and building muscle will reduce the strain on your joints and bones. This does not really need a long explanation or backup studies, because it is just common sense. Excess fat adds unnatural weight to your body which your bones has to carry up, and not having muscle to stabilize your skeleton will cause it to take damage. It is as simple as that.
3. Basic Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Your Basic Metabolic Rate is the rate at which your body uses energy while at rest. Building muscle will increase this rate, allowing you to eat more without adding weight.
Exercise will train your heart, which is a muscle, making it stronger. A stronger heart is able to pump out blood with less effort than a weak heart, improving its durability. Exercise greatly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. This is because the increased power of the heart improves the blood circulation, which keeps the blood vessels open and flexible. Due to this, fat can not accumulate inside the vessels.
Physical activity reduces the risk of getting diabetes. By working out, your body’s ability to use insulin will improve. In addition, working out will use up excess glucose (sugar) which will otherwise build up inside your blood vessels as well as contribute to increasing diabetes risk.
6. Blood pressure
Suffering from high blood pressure is a common health issue in industrialized countries. High blood pressure increases the risk of having a stroke, cardiac arrest, cardiovascular disease and worsened blood circulation. Losing weight helps against this by lowering blood pressure.
A lot of studies have been made on this topic, and results have shown that regular physical activity reduces the risk of getting colon cancer, as well as breast cancer for women. If you want to read more, check this link.
Physical activity will help you sleep better. We have already agreed on the fact that we as humans are supposed to be physically active during the day, from an evolutionary standpoint. To be able to be this, we have to get good and natural sleep. Evolution initially fixed this for us, but the modern-day society we have adopted to does not really support this “lifestyle”.
What do I mean? Natural sleep is always good sleep. But in order to get natural sleep, we have to be “naturally active”, i.e. we must exercise. View this as some kind of “evolutionary logic”; to get natural good sleep, we must live as our biological bodies want us to live, which is living a physically active life. Sleep and physical activity are mutually dependent on each other.
I hope this gets to you. If you’d rather see studies and numbers, Google it. There are a lot of studies on physical activity and sleep.
1. Mood and depression
During exercise, the body produces several chemicals. Two of these are serotonin, which improves mood, and endorphin, which reduces feelings of pain, improves general mood and provides a euphoric feeling, commonly referred to as a “runner’s high”. Those feelings of well-being often lingers for several days after workout, which means that regular exercise will improve your everyday mood.
Physical activity has even shown to help against depression, stress and anxiety. This as well is due to the chemicals which are released in the brain while working out.
2. Energy and performance
Exercising increases the blood flow to the brain as well as increasing brain chemicals that help cognition. This will cause you to feel sharper in the day, helping you focus on work, school, your hobby, etc. You will be much more willing to do things because your are not as tired.
3. Social interaction
Going to the gym, going for a jog in the park, going to a yoga group, and so on, will put you among other people. Different people are affected differently by social interaction, but most people would probably agree that staying inside your home all day makes you feel rather isolated and alone.
This point is a more spiritual one. Physical exercise requires you to focus on what you are doing, which brings you out of automatic thinking patterns. These “automatic thinking patterns” is the main cause of boredom, negativity and bad memory of events and days. Exercising will give you an awareness lasting even while you are not doing it. I won’t go deeper into awareness in this post, but if you’re interested, check out the Awareness category.
5. Self-esteem and confidence
Simply being aware of the fact that you are working against laziness to improve yourself changes the perception of your own worth for the better. It does for me at least; I know that every time I work out, I try to go to the next level, pushing myself outside my comfort zone, to become a healthier and happier person.
The greatest benefit of them all
Other problems auto-correct. What is so amazing about working out regularly is that it motivates you to take care of other issues which directly affect or are affected by your training. Imagine the following: you are exercising four times a week, and you like it. But you eat bad food. In the beginning, you don’t mind, but later you notice that you aren’t getting the results you want. You realize this is due to your bad eating habits. So, to get the results you want, you will probably try to eat better, because you are motivated by your goals.
The same goes with sleep, work, school, hygiene, etc. As already mentioned, working out will help you in all areas of your life, primarily by motivating you to change your habits.
How to do it
All right, so I’ve gone through the reasons why physical activity is good for you. You may be convinced logically, but you don’t know how to motivate yourself to actually get fit. It’s time to get a little more practical.
Find motivation and get inspired
What motivates one person may discourage another. Some people are stimulated by theory, facts and numbers, while others are stimulated by people, stories and real-life examples. I will not be motivating you. Maybe this article is motivating, but that is not the purpose of it. What I want to do is help you motivate yourself.
I can’t tell you to “think like this” or “think like that”; I can only tell you to think for yourself. What stimulates and inspires you? For me personally, watching a good Kung Fu movie makes me want to pack my stuff, jump on plane to China and train with Shaolin monks. I also get inspired by seeing people achieve and do amazing things.
What gets you inspired? Reading a book? Seeing a documentary? Going to a seminar? Think about it, and figure out how to motivate yourself to work out. A word of caution though; don’t overthink it. If you are having a hard time finding motivation, think about Nike’s slogan: Just do it. By simply starting, you will have an easy time finding more inspiration.
Resist the resistance
Let’s say you start working out. There will be an initial “pain period”, because you are not used to physical activity (I assume, since you’re still reading). For each time you work out, you will feel good afterwards; but you will feel resistance before you do it. Your brain will come up with all sorts of excuses not to go for a jog or go to the gym. “I’ve already worked out once this week, it will be fine if I skip it today. It’s probably going to start raining within an hour. I have to check my Facebook first.” And it goes on. Be aware of this resistance when it comes. The brain wants short-term rewards. But you have to think long-term. Don’t listen to your brain when it tries to keep you at home; think of your goals instead.
Start slow and steady
You don’t have to do everything now. But you have to do something now. Many people who decide that they are going to start going to the gym starts doing it five times a week, and they come from a frame of previously doing it zero times a week. Doing this is not impossible, and if you think you can do it, then do it. But it will require a lot of willpower to make such a drastic change.
A lot of people get discouraged just by the thought of exercising five times a week, though. If you feel like that is a bit too extreme, then don’t do it. What’s important though is that you always work toward your goal, even if it means taking baby steps. If you want to, you can start with exercising one time a week. But do it.
The advantage of starting slow but steady – by which i mean regularly) is that you will build a solid ground to keep building your workout-habit on. When you feel that exercising once a week is not enough, just add in another day. Remember: don’t be afraid of change!
How much is enough?
As I mentioned, don’t exercise more times a week than you think you can handle psychologically – and physically. If you are in bad shape, don’t try to lift too much at the gym. If you have any health issues at all, consult with a physician before starting a workout program (wow, that sounded professional).
The recommended amount of physical activity per week is about 150 minutes – two and a half hours. If you exercise at least 150 minutes a week, you will be getting most of the health benefits I wrote about. But this is of course not a maximum; if you want to exercise everyday, you can, as long as you do it correctly. Again, discuss how to do it correctly with someone more knowledgeable than me.
Get a structure – but be flexible
Make a schedule, where you have set days and times when you are going to exercise. This way, it will be much harder to procrastinate. But be flexible. If you miss one day, try to exercise the next day instead. To to have your workout days spread out evenly across the week. This way, you will develop the habit of exercising more quickly and more easily.
Make it fun
You might get bored doing your activity sometimes. You are aware of the fact that your lifestyle is healthy, and you are working toward your goals, but your are not having fun while doing it. How can you change this? Variation. Bring a friend to the gym. Learn the history of your martial art. Listen to a podcast while jogging. Do different routines. Take some time to sit down and think about how you can make workout fun and interesting.
It is of crucial importance that you always keep in mind an objective point of view on what is healthy. Do not starve yourself to lose fat. Don’t take steroids to build muscle. Don’t get cocky and unfriendly towards those who don’t work out; you were one of those once. Don’t compare yourself with others. Be focused on your own journey. “Am I working toward my goals? Good.”
Always be aware of every step you take in your journey, or you might fall over – figuratively speaking.
What are your aims?
If you are overweight, your probably want to lose fat (and you should!). If you are very thin, you probably want to build some muscle. Or maybe you don’t really care too much about any of those, but rather just be healthy in general. All of this can be achieved doing different kind of physical activity. See the list below.
In order to lose body fat, you will have to some vigorous activities like jogging, swimming, cycling or stepping up on the cross-trainer. Football, tennis, ice-hockey, basket, martial arts and other physically intense sports will also help you lose fat. The reasons these activities are effective for fat loss is that they make your body burn more calories than activities such as yoga or tai chi. Losing fat is actually only about burning more calories than you eat/drink.
Building muscles is not so much about sweating, but more about pushing your muscles to the limit in order to break them down, so they are rebuilt stronger later (which is a natural process that happens when you eat and rest). This can be achieved by lifting weights, swimming, doing sports etc.
Good overall health
You maybe just want to be healthy in general. This means that you will try to attain a balance between losing fat (to lower the risk of diseases) and building muscle (to increase your Basic Metabolic Rate).
Remember that even if your goal is to either lose fat or gain muscle mass, the prior makes the latter easier to achieve, and vice versa. With less excess fat on your body, you will have more energy to lift weights; and with more muscle mass, you will burn fat more quickly. Balance is everything.
I will not write an entire section dedicated to diet in this article, but I will bring it up, because your diet plays an important role in your journey.
A good book on this which I can recommend is The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth by Johnny Bowden.
Stay away from junk food
This does not really need an explanation. Don’t drink soda. Don’t eat pizza. Don’t eat McDonald’s or KFC. If you’re going to eat chocolate, pick dark chocolate, with like 75+ % cocoa.
You already know all this. When shopping for food, instead of picking the high-sugar food, pick some fruits instead. Any fruit is good.
Don’t starve yourself
Many people think that to lose fat, you should stop eating. This is not true. The trick is to eat food with fewer calories but more nutrients. Potato chips, for example, does not contain any nutrients; the only things you’ll find inside potato chips are empty calories, fat and salt.
What I’m trying to say is that you should not quit eating; eat until you are content, but make sure that it is healthy food that you eat. There are tons of healthy food out there; you just have to start looking.
Don’t try a “quick fix” diet
One of the most popular trends in the world today is the “quick fix” diets. Seeing advertisements with phrases like “I lost 15 kg in one month!” is not uncommon while browsing the web or reading a newspaper.
Don’t get fooled. These quick fix-methods don’t work long-term. Why? Because they will not create a habit of eating healthy. Although there are some people who change their lives long-term by starting out with a quick fix-method, most people revert to their previous way of living and eating after the intense weight loss period.
Quick fix-methods encourage instant rewards; to gain “success” now. Success is a long road which has to be travelled slowly and steadily. I advice you to read my article on habit and success, where I discuss why wanting things now does not work out in the long run.
This article may have helped you motivate yourself to get fit. So what happens now?
Circumstances vs. Opportunities
Don’t wait for “the perfect circumstances” to start exercising. I quote Bruce Lee:
To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.
Create your own opportunities. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t wait for the next week, next month, New Years Resolution time, spring, better weather, more time, or anything else that lies in the future, to start working out. Start this week, tomorrow, or even better: start today. As I already mentioned, you don’t have to go hardcore from the beginning; the important thing is that you actually do something.
“I don’t have time”
But you have time to watch all episodes of How I Met Your Mother or watch two movies a week? Maybe you don’t do that, but there are for sure activities (or rather non-activities) you do which are totally unnecessary. Think about it. How do you spend your day? How many hours of the day are you actually doing something productive? Time management, my friend. Set your priorities right. I am sure you can spare 20-30 minutes every day. More is not required.
Do it now
Now don’t just click down this article and go watch TV. Do something. NOW. One last quote;
Action is the foundational key to all success.
- Pablo Picasso
You are the master of your own decisions. Act now.