Twelve things I know for sure about being fit and healthy after 20 years

Just like your taxes or getting your car fixed, you get help from an expert

1: Why is bigger than ‘what’ or ‘how’. I was lucky, because a health scare sent me straight to a gym in fear of my life. So I had a big ‘why’ right away…. But as I got fit, and then drifted away from optimal again, I realized that I was spending too much time focusing on ‘what’ to do or ‘how’ to do it, and the biggest question was ‘why’ do it at all. You need to find your own reason why to be fit and healthy or everything you do is temporary. You will fade back to old habits. Focusing on ‘why’ you want to be fit will drive you to always find ‘how’ to do what works.

2. Protein is really important. People under appreciate protein and how much it is needed to let your body build healthy tissue. Carbohydrates and fats are also critical, but it is stunning how easy it is to over-eat cheap, unhealthy carbs. Protein should be around a third or more of your daily intake. That said, there is no limits on vegetables, we really do need to eat lots of those. More is better.

3. Get Help. Stumbling around lost, or doing things poorly makes no sense, yet I see it all the time. Just like your taxes or getting your car fixed, you get help from an expert. Fitness is the same. There are people that are absolutely passionate about fitness, and that is all they study and focus on. Let the certified experts help – it is a shortcut to excellence. When I started in 1998 I knew absolutely nothing, so I started working with a trainer that had been at it for much of his life. It was the fastest way to success. You cannot see your bad form, even with mirrors, the way a trainer can. It is what they are trained to look for.

4. Sugar is bad…. really bad. I always hated this fact, being a sugar-a-holic, but the facts are everywhere. Sugar slows the immune system, taxes the insulin system, causes inflammation and maximizes fat storage. The less sugar you eat, the better for general health. That said, as an endurance athlete, sugar is my primary fuel source for racing and major training. I avoid it unless I am training for a long duration set, so unless you join me on a six hour high output bike ride, cut it back.

5. It needs to be fun. I hated the gym for a long time. I hated walking around wondering what to do, then lifting heavy things repeatedly while secretly being bored and wondering when I could leave. After a while, I started seeing results and that became motivating to a point, but honestly, classes and groups are SO much more fun! Maybe you like being alone, that’s cool, I didn’t. Groups are more fun. Walking in to a class where the workout is on the board and I read it and weep a little, is awesome! It is exciting, challenging and keeps me engaged. Keep it fresh, and surround yourself with awesome people.

6. Good Nutrition is 90%, exercise is the other 90% and motivation trumps both. No, I am not that bad at math… nutrition is absolutely important, and at the same time, working out with intensity, purpose and good form consistently is just as important. Miss either one of those and you will not succeed.

7. Rest is as important as working out hard. I have been guilty of crushing my body so hard, so many times I fell into overtraining, where I did not recover, could not sleep and fought injuries constantly. Yes, you need to challenge yourself, but then you need to rest. You need to rest as much as you need to work out hard. Your body is a stimulus response device, it needs rest time to respond to the exercise.

8. A blend of cardio and resistance training works best. I train for triathlon, and if I just do cardio and no strength training, I get fat and my speed drops in my cardio. You need both. When you stop doing cardio, fat burning stops at nearly the same time. When you strength train, your muscles repair and consume calories for days after, making you leaner and leaner.

9. Drinking water is critical. Yes, we have heard it a lot, but the range for healthy people is 45 to 70% hydration, with 70% being a darn good idea! Most people I see are in their 40’s, and that leads to cramps, weak muscles and injuries. Water flushes out toxins and makes everything work better. Drink water. Nothing else. Except coffee. Coffee is good.

10. Sometimes you really won’t want to, but you need to. (Unless you are exhausted, see point 7). I could never tell you how many times I did not want to train, but that is why I have a coach, or an accountability partner, to make sure I am on track with doing what I said. That is also why I enter races, to keep pulling me forward. Going back to bed will always seem like a better idea, but that leads to pudginess and misery in my world. Form a habit and act from the habit, instead of your mood. Get up early and move. Every day.

11. Form Matters. Doing things with weights (especially if you go fast) will lead to injury if your form is off. It’s like a car with a wobbly tire. It’s sort of okay to amble around town, but if you take it out on the highway and go 120, things will break catastrophically. Bad squats lead to bad backs. Bad bench press leads to bad shoulders and on and on. Perform the movement properly to avoid injury and get better results faster, see point #3 about getting help.

12. Everything in moderation, especially moderation. Once in a while, give’er! Cheat meal, a week off, sleep in, indulge, etc. It will keep you sane. Work hard and earn a break, then enjoy that break. When I eat Christmas dinner, I have no regrets and I go hard! I eat and enjoy and smile and laugh. Then I get back to work to keep my body healthy. There is always room for ice cream, or chocolate or wine if you like…. just not every day.

Happy Training!

Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake.

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