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Existential Fitness

It is January 2012, and like so many people in this country, you have made a resolution to get yourself into better shape, lose some weight, join a gym, and get yourself a better diet. These are all laudable goals, and we would be better off as a country if the majority of Americans would follow through and accomplish these goals. We would be healthier, spend less on medical expenses, maybe spend more on new wardrobes for our newer, sleeker selves and just generally feel better about ourselves in ways that could change the way we treat others, bringing about a harmony that has been greatly lacking in the past few years.

But it isn’t going to happen this year, just like it didn’t happen last year or the year before that. Like so many before you, and probably including you, you will trudge off to a gym, sign up for a membership, maybe even go a couple of times but not really know what you want to do or how to do it. You’ll probably have to fight the January crowds of fellow well intentioned exercisers, competing to get onto machines that may or may not be appropriate for your needs and wants. And after a few frustrating attempts to get a new fitness regimen going, you will throw in the towel, stop going to the gym and settling back into the same life patterns that got you the shape you are currently in, with the prospect that it will just continue to get worse. And it probably will and you will find yourself doing the same thing a year from now.

And there will be a lot of voices telling you that it is not your fault. I just had several people point out an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled "The Fat Trap", which talks about a study done in Australia on weight loss through dieting, and states “For years, the advice to the overweight and obese has been that we simply need to eat less and exercise more. While there is truth to this guidance, it fails to take into account that the human body continues to fight against weight loss long after dieting has stopped. This translates into a sobering reality: once we become fat, most of us, despite our best efforts, will probably stay fat.”

Well, after reading the article, I would have to agree. If you take the approach that they did for weight loss, you will, in all probability, fail to lose weight and keep it off.  And you will not be increasing the quality of your health or your life.

I would like to offer up a different approach. I am calling it “existential fitness” because I believe that our actions create the body and the fitness that we have, and changes in our actions can also create changes in our bodies and health. I will be challenging what many of you think about fitness and health, and would like you to consider my arguments and see if they resonate with you. I don’t want to just be a positive coach yelling that “you can do it!” but someone who explains how and why things work (and in some cases don’t work) so that you sit up and go, “hey, I can do this” with conviction based on your own understanding and changes in your beliefs.

So, let’s get started. If you have not already joined a gym, now is the time… to wait. As we have already said, this is the month when everyone heads off to join a gym, so this is not a good time for you to do so. Seriously, joining a gym in January is such a cliché, and we are going to take a different approach to fitness. If you are not already a member of a gym, let’s hold off on that.  Instead, the first thing you should do is make an assessment of where you are, health and fitness-wise, and where you want to go. It stands to reason if you are making fitness resolutions, that there are things about your health and fitness that you would like to change, so now is the time to put them down on paper. Put them all down, as many as you can think of, but do so without having any time goals. Seriously, we are not going to get this done in ten weeks, or 30 days, or some other time frame that will look good on a book cover. This is a lifelong pursuit, or it should be, but I know that might sound too daunting, so let’s try this- let’s give it 2 years to get some substantial long lasting results. Does that sound reasonable? It is half as long as it takes to get a bachelor’s degree in most disciplines at most colleges, and most certainly less time than it took you to get in the condition that you would now like to get out of.  I am not saying that you could not have great changes in a shorter timeframe, but am stressing that you are going to be a lot more successful if you take a longer view of the process. And I am also pretty sure that after you get the results, you are not going to want to stop after two years, but will incorporate the changes into the rest of your life.

OK, still with me? Good, so write down the changes that you would like in your fitness and health. Some examples would be losing weight, getting stronger, improving balance, being able to walk/run further, and so on. The biggest one for most people is to lose weight, which really means to change their body composition so that it has a smaller percentage of body fat, and that will be the first subject we tackle with the next blog. 

Tim BeauchampThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , CSCS, is a fitness consultant and coach.

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