Why do you want to get fit, stay fit? What is the singular reason driving you? The longer you keep at this, the reasons will multiply and become so splendid and numerous you will wonder how you ever endured a life of lethargy. But now, right at this moment, you need to dig deep and find that one compelling reason that will spring you from bed on the coldest cruelest morning, shatter self doubt, and keep you pushing through another mile, another hill, another speed interval. I’m not even going to suggest a reason or share mine. It is thing one for each of us, at every stage of our fitness journeys, to have that singular big-picture purpose we can haul up in our hearts when the going gets tough and we need to keep going. For tips one to nine, click here.
There is nothing more motivating than setting a massive goal that so scares the lethargy out of you that you WILL NOT MISS A SINGLE TRAINING SESSION and you will THINK TWICE about hauling that extra pizza slice, say, over your first 5K or the 26 miles of a marathon. Preferably put money down on your goal (a race or fitness adventure in an exotic locale?), raise money for a cause so people are COUNTING ON YOU and tell the world your intentions, all the better to reinforce adherence. And if you fall a little short? See tip #8. Hey, you set a big frigging goal! Coming close to achieving it will be success. But given 80 and 90 year olds can increase muscle strength by as much as 40 percent in 12 weeks, prepare to astonish yourself.
We warm up our bodies for a workout so why not the mind? Too often we train with self-critical, negative, angry thoughts, which, research shows, makes training harder. Then we spew that mental debris over our buddies, which makes their workout harder. Lighten the load for everyone. Use your warm up to shift your mind into a positive space. When the going gets tough, tell yourself how awesome you are for toughing it out. After every session, no matter how difficult, find a positive. (Hey, just doing it is better than not). This was perhaps my toughest lesson and I’m still learning it but the pay off is HUGE. Training my running mind to be my biggest supporter has spilled over into everything I do. Thank you, running!
Experts now say that some 70 percent of aging and most chronic disease is preventable, chiefly, by healthy exercise and eating. But what exercise and what eating style is best for you? And how do you know what you don’t know? For years, I plodded along doing the same things and getting the same meager results. Then I supercharged my knowledge by joining a running clinic, getting a coach and a personal trainer and even a sports psychologist. They helped me develop personalized fitness plans that change as I change. So what do I know now? Learning about training is like training itself: Don’t stop ever.
I hate dieting, counting calories, obsessing about what I can and cannot have. Is there a way to eat that does not pack my unfair share of the world’s calories into my middle-aged gut? Alas, there is, and it’s fun, political and tasty too. Cave-mam eating, as I call it, means eating closer to nature, like our hunter and mostly gatherer ancestors. Cave-mam ethics means waging war on Big Food; rather than starving yourself on yo-yo diets, starve companies that make your body a dumping ground for cheap calories. Cut the simple carbs (bread, pasta, processed anything, sugar) and load up on complex carbs (mostly vegetables and some fruit). Give your body two weeks to adjust and you will soon crave healthy foods, with taste buds, brain, digestive system and energy levels perking up. If you need a mantra to help you eat cave-mam clean, try this one: What fattens your bottom fattens the bottom line of Big Food.
Oh delicious are my Fridays when I take my one day a week break from training to let my muscles repair, build, heal, rest and my brain bathe luxuriously in slothful thoughts. Training newbies may want to take two days off each week. But remember this: Rest is best done actively. Think of rest day as treating your body to a day at the spa & choose from the following menu: light walk or cycle or swim, gentle yoga, massage, stretching, wholesome food, hot tub, extra sleep. One of the biggest things I learned from 80+ marathoners? When not training, they’re still moving – gardening, walking, cycling or walking – they hardly sit down.
Just when we get a grip on life in our 30s, they start crapping out, which leads to increased fat and reduced muscle mass, bone density, and heart, lung and brain function. But stress the body – and I mean push the pace; pump up the weights; pour out the sweat – and, at any age, the body gets the signal that you want to live, you need to live. And so it is so because it produces DHEA, which sounds like deity, and so it should, because this far sturdier steroid soldiers on, miraculously preserving our youthful superpowers long after our sex hormones have shot their wad. This evening I’m going for a dose of DHEA at the clinic – my run clinic, that is.
Again on weight-lifting days my brain resists going to the gym yet, once there, my muscles love working to exhaustion and, after, my brain buzzes on a creative endorphin high as depleted muscles suck into fat stores (making me leaner) and youth-enhancing growth hormone (released for up to four hours after!) not only rushes into rebuild muscle (making me stronger) but surges through my entire being — brain, muscle, skin, bone — rebirthing me at a cellular level. Brain know this: body wins, you win.
Same time, same place, same thing: Hello Tuesday morning running group! Yeah, sometimes it’s the first chilly damp day of fall, but there’s the crowd of friends waiting on the bridge, the trail along the river, the sun scratching its way over Lake Ontario (or clawing through fog, rain, snow but always with beautiful long nails of light) and 13 kilometres that makes the rest of the day always right.
For the next 30 days, I am living the fitness tips I’ve learned on my journey to be #OlderFasterStronger, to get ready for the launch of my book on Oct 14. Join me for that celebration!
So thing #1 is, Listen to My Body. That always struck me as frustratingly new agey vague — until I heard it from the fastest 85-year-old marathoner on the planet. World-record holder BJ McHugh does not run according to any pace, Garmin, heart-rate monitor or other external cue but rather by how she feels. I suspect she doesn’t spend much time standing around on the scales either as she’s learned to listen to her cravings for good stuff that helps her body purr along, by many measures, with the fitness of a very fit 20 year old.
But when I wake up on this glorious sunny fall day, my body announces that she wants the impossible: To be 15 and back on the farm I grew up on, moving, hefting straw bales onto a wagon, riding my horse, hauling baskets of tomatoes from my mother’s garden.
Great, my body’s a real jokester. So maybe listening to my body involves some translation.
Clearly, she wants strength-training, a bath of fall sunshine, playful joy and a little utility. So rather than going to the gym or yoga studio, I will literally run my errands during work breaks through the day then take my strength-training outside to an urban park with a stunning view of a valley and downtown. Guided by Christine Felstead’s Yoga For Runners book, I can do a strength-building yoga routine, supplemented with some chin ups and push ups using the kids’ playground equipment.
Kids will laugh at me. It will be fun. Oops, I’ve given away another tip.