When I hit my 40th birthday one year ago, I wasn’t thrilled at first. I had been through the wringer with my health and part of me mused: is this as good as it gets? Have I peaked? Am I past my prime? Many of us can get hung up by a milestone birthday. Then I realized that I have gained some wisdom over the years, and am truly grateful for my journey.
I certainly haven’t arrived at my destination, but I’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way. I spent too many years trying to cram myself into a fitness mold that was just…wrong. If I could take my 20 or 30-something self by the shoulders, I would gently (or perhaps rather emphatically) share these pearls of wisdom:
Stretching, yoga, and recovery days are not optional. All of these aspects provide valuable pieces to the fitness puzzle. Yoga is beneficial for stress relief, flexibility, strength, balance, weight loss, metabolism, injury prevention, athletic performance…the list goes on and on. Recovery days (and weeks) are essential to help our muscles recover and for the metabolism to reset. Pushing the body day in, day out with little rest WILL result in injury, and the metabolism will respond by slowing down. If God rested on the 7th day, why shouldn’t we?
You don’t have to kill yourself in the gym every day. I used to think that the only way that I could be fit was to spend at least 1-2 hours, working as hard as I can, drenched in sweat every day. This mentality will lead to exhaustion and a broken metabolism. Our bodies weren’t designed for a constant barrage of intense exercise. More of a good thing is actually, well, bad. True fitness comes from the right mix of endurance (cardio), strength, flexibility, and balance for YOUR BODY. Read more about avoiding a one-dimensional approach to fitness here.
It doesn’t pay to use exercise as an insurance policy against poor food choices. We’ve all done it, haven’t we? A pizza and a brownie sundae get the best of us and we vow to work it off by doing an extra-long session in the gym or tacking on more miles to our run. There is no way to work off all of those extra calories in a single session, and psychologically it sets you up to view exercise as punishment. Before you know it, exercise becomes a dreaded, rather than celebrated, activity. To cultivate a healthier relationship with food and exercise, strive for eating whole foods at least 80% of the time, and learn to view exercise as a tool to achieve overall health and to age gracefully.
Comparing your body to others is like buying clothing off of the rack without looking at the tag. Most people would never purchase clothes until they have some key information: size, cost, brand, fabric, how it looks when tried on, etc. Yet we often ignore critical factors (i.e., genetics, individual health status, strengths, struggles, and life circumstances) when comparing ourselves to others.
Each person is unique, with their own strengths and challenges. When we compare ourselves to others, we are taking away from our own potential and giftedness. God created you to be you, so strive to be the healthiest version of yourself that you can be. Just. Stop. Comparing.
Don’t miss out on life because you are afraid to: put on a swimsuit, learn something new, or get out of your comfort zone. Life is too short. Enough said.
God doesn’t care if you have a 6-pack. There are no “best abs” awards being given out at the end of our lives, but there are rewards that matter more. True fitness isn’t about achieving a certain “look.” Constantly focusing on this piece will leave you frustrated and unfulfilled…and possibly extremely bored with eating broccoli and salmon for every meal. Rather, ask yourself what you will be able to do in life if you are healthy and fit. This is your “why.” It’s a goal that is more than yourself: playing/keeping up with children and grandchildren, energy to live life to its fullest with our loved ones, being able to go on mission trips, serving others, to name a few. Personally, my favorite motto is being “fit to serve.” When I am fit and healthy, it enables me to love and serve those in need around me (my family included). The eternal rewards from this philosophy are far greater than sporting some killer abs.
Surround yourself with people who encourage and inspire, and then pay it forward: I have the privilege of spending time with people in all stages of their fitness journeys. One thing that is crucial to achieving personal goals is having the following people in your life: those who are ahead of you, who teach and inspire you; those who are in the trenches doing life with you; and those who you can encourage. Being fit is hard to achieve and sustain alone; the journey is far sweeter when you share it with others.
I don’t know where you are today, but maybe you need permission to redefine fitness for yourself. I encourage you to do so! Life is too short. Are there any points mentioned above that resonate with you? Perhaps you have been prompted to consider some of your own. Please feel free to share below!