There are very few things I’ve held onto for 30 years.
I rarely look at any of the items except one — a poster I had mounted in 1988.
It leans against the wall of what was intended to be the dining room when my house was built in 1953. Near the poster is a Bosu Ball.
It’s a Nike poster of a racing cyclist I paid $9.95 for 32 years ago that some clown on Amazon believes is worth $249.95 today.
Frankly, you can have the image of the cyclist, triathlete Mark Allen who was a six-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion. That’s because you’ll never catch me on a Kestrel composite frame. Steel is real for me with the only exception being titanium.
What made me keep the mounted poster through five moves are the bold words across the bottom: “Eat right. Get lots of sleep. Drink plenty of fluids. Go like hell.”
Those are 13 words to live by.
I bring this up for obvious reasons. We have made it to 2021. Many of us have a tendency to look at the start of a new year as a chance to start anew. Personally I’d argue any day is the ideal day to start making changes to do better.
So why do many of us get off track two to five weeks after we resolve to be healthier whether it is defined by how we eat, our level of exercise, or hopefully both, as one without the other is like Fred Astaire without Ginger Rogers.
Let’s take exercise first.
The problem isn’t a lack of good intentions. Not having the right equipment isn’t the issue as it doesn’t take much to improvise with items around the household or simply walk a lot more. Nor is what derails most people the lack of time.
It’s because exercise can be boring and it can hurt. And that goes for whether it is trying a new muscle movement, going for a jog when the heaviest aerobic exercise you’ve done in years is walk, weaning yourself off caffeine, or cutting back on comfort food, for want of a better term.
I say this not as some who won the DNA sweepstakes, is a natural athlete lecturing to the masses to make a killing, someone who has tons of time on his hands, eats 100 percent pure, or has a killer body, whatever that bizarre phrase means.
We’re talking about me.
And me is the guy that weighed 260 pounds at the end of the seventh grade, dropped down to 190 the next year and then slowly made my way up to 320 pounds on March 31, 1985 when I decided enough was enough.
I’m the guy who needed training wheels on a bicycle until I was 7 years old, whose photo is used in the dictionary as the illustration for the word “klutz”, can’t do a pull up to this day, would be thrilled to be able to throw like a girl even though over the years I’ve been accused of such athletic prowess, is not uncommon to go for two or more days in a row getting only four hours of sleep a day, and has all sorts of interesting pains.
So how can I just months from turning 65 tell you with a straight face that compared to when I was 18 I’m healthier and in better shape?
The reason is simple.
I found a way for it not to be boring and putting the “pain” in perspective.
The smartest thing I did was not do what everyone told me to do. You know the routine. Just start running, join a gym.
If I had started running or working out at a gym as a way to maintain weight when I reached my goal of weighing 190 pounds — what I dropped down to at the start of the eighth grade — before I turned 30, I guarantee I would have been closing in on being eligible for Medi-Cal tipping the scales at 320 pounds instead of the 170 pounds that I’ve weighed for the past decade.
And while I’ve only not gone for a run four days in the last 15 years and manage to work with weights five days a week, I hated running and the weight room in high school.
I loved bicycling after the training wheels came off. Even though it had been 15 years since I had been on a bicycle when I got back down to 190 pounds just before I turned 30 years old, it is something I knew I’d enjoy even if I had a rough time getting restarted.
The reason why finding something that works that you like to do when it comes to exercise is if you have the problem I obviously did — and still do — with food, you need to find ways to burn it off.
Now that we’ve mentioned food again, let’s touch on the real thing that stops people from getting healthier. It takes a heck of a lot longer to improve your eating habits to the point you can come up with a routine that you can adhere to to enhance your health than it takes to come up with an exercise regimen and stick to it.
I am not going to lie. My two big weight drops — including the first that stuck for five years and the current one that dates back 34 years and still are sticking — is the result 100 percent of cutting back on eating and empty soda calories for less than nine months.
This is not what doctors want to hear but it is true. The first time I lost 70 pounds in 2½ months. The second time I dropped 130 pounds in nine months.
The first weight loss went bye-bye because after kicking up my activity level for two years I let high school with two part-time jobs and then college with a full-time job along with my own business on the side and being on a school board become convenient excuses to stop exercising.
My decision on Dec. 26, 1986 to hop on a racing bicycle that I bought for myself for Christmas as a reward for losing weight was the game changer. It was a 28-mile ride that day. I was numb and it was not from the winter chill — guys that do serious cycling will understand the rookie move I made. It also hurt but the next day it felt good and I got back in the saddle. By the time January 1991 rolled around, I’d only been off the bicycle for 12 days total and had racked up just over 40,000 miles
That kind of exercise actually allowed me to return to previous eating levels and then some consuming upwards of 5,000 calories a day and not regain even a pound.
It bought me the time I needed to rethink what I was eating without having to deny or starve myself. And boy did it let me eat. When I decided to do a “staycation” by having five back-to-back days of 100-mile plus bicycle rides in all four directions out of Lincoln I actually polished off three gallons of ice cream on top of my usual 4,000 to 5,000 calories.
Looking back I can only imagine what I’d been able to do then if I was eating better.
But given the fact I had 30 years of eating habits to reassess, unwind, and to adopt a new approach I needed the time that “going like hell” as the Nike poster implores bought me.
No one gave me this advice. Nor did I plan it. And I’m sure there are nutritionists, trainers, and medical professionals that might read this and shudder.
But at the end of the day it worked for me by default only because kicking up my exercise like a borderline maniac in the eyes of some people allowed me to make a series of decisions over the course of 12 years to substantially change how I approached eating and the food I ate.
What I have ended up doing when it comes to food doesn’t matter as much as what I learned.
Once you wean yourself away from as much processed food as humanely possible — I’ll never qualify as an eating pure fanatic — you will learn new things.
The best examples I can offer you are apples and almonds. Even though there are two dozen readily available apples at commercial outlets if you look hard enough, it wasn’t until I started eating as much fresh fruit as possible that the difference between apple tastes not only became sharper but more pleasing.
The almonds are the clincher.
When I was a kid and mom bought the mixed cans of Planters nuts, I’d devour the cashews and peanuts and avoid almond and Brazilian nuts like the plague.
In my early 20s, I tried almonds again. I wasn’t thrilled with the taste even though they had the prerequisite salt that I seemed to crave almost as much as sugar. But when I tried honey roasted almonds as was as barbecue flavored almonds, I was hooked. Blue Diamond was happy as well as I developed a two-pack a day habit for a time.
I now have an equivalent of a three can a week habit of eating raw almonds. That is actually a lot lower than at one point when I was closing in on a can a day.
Even so almond growers reading this will know I am eating the equivalent annual production of 1¼ of mature almond trees. I also have tasted my way through 8 of the 30 varieties.
But it wasn’t until I had the luxury exercise afforded me to get serious about what I was shoveling in my mouth, that I finally saw the light.
Exercise bought me time and allowed me to leave most of the food I once loved that made me almost twice the man I am now.
Take care of your car,
it takes care of you; the
same is true of your body
You can’t get healthier and you can’t lose weight and keep it off if you don’t realize food is fuel and your body is the engine that moves you through life. Getting them to purr in sync is optimum. Let one go to the wayside in terms of what you put into it and you are struggling. Even a high performances sports car can become a clunker before its time if you don’t use the right fuel and fail to put it through its paces as was intended.
And speaking of time, you will find once you have gotten far enough into an exercise routine you enjoy that you can’t afford not to spend the time doing it.
That’s because when you find the level of exercise that is just right you will likely end up sleeping better, being healthier, have less pains and aches, get sick less often, and being mentally sharper.
Did I say pains and aches?
Yes you can get pains and aches from exercise. But when you exercise and tie it into diet you can diminish pains, aches, and inflictions that once hobbled you. Strengthening your heart, lungs, and muscles can and does improve your physical well-being. And yes, you can get different pains with exercise but they are more often not much more than growing pains as when your muscles are pushed to the limit, your heart reaches a new threshold, and your lungs increase capacity.
The endorphins that kick in are not a myth. And they make your body and mind feel better than any caffeinated drink or candy bar on the market.
For whatever reason, most of us treated our physical well-being different than we do our jobs or a pastime we are passionate about such as fishing, gaming, or gardening.
If you want better health
& to feel better it takes work
Growing roses, as an example, takes a lot of patience. It takes trial and error as well as listening to the advice of others and using what makes sense for you.
It isn’t all fun and games. There is a lot of work. You have to weed them. You need to water and fertilize them. You need to get rid of beetles and aphids. You have to be on guard for fungus and gophers. They need to be pruned and they need to be dead-headed.
In the end you get beautiful, healthy roses that lift your spirit.
The work of what you put into something — whether it is gaming, fishing, or growing roses — is directly proportional to how successful you are.
If you want better health and feel better, it takes work.
And to reach whatever health-related goal you set, even if it is to lose 10 pounds or simply feel better, it takes two to tango — exercise and nutrition.