Back in high school, I was a terrible athlete. I couldn’t run a block without gasping for air and I was almost always the last person picked on the team. I couldn’t do sit-ups if my life depended on it and Physical Education always brought my GPA down. I would consistently be an A or B student with all my other subjects, but when it came to PE, the best I ever got was a C+.
When I went to University, exercising was the last thing on my mind. I was in my late teens, early 20’s and I was a scrawny young man with no desire to look like any one of those guys on the Men’s Health magazine cover. I played video games, hung out at the mall, drove around downtown people-watching with my buddies and ate a lot of junk food.
By the time I was about 28 years old (after I got married) my metabolism started to slow down. I couldn’t devour an entire pizza or bucket of chicken to myself without paying the price afterwards. At the time, I lived with my in-laws and they were terrific cooks. They loved their Chinese food and so did I! I packed on some pounds and well into my mid thirties I was probably around 220 lbs which is considerably heavy for my 5’9″ frame. I felt sluggish after work, napped a lot and had very little energy to do much else except sit in a movie theatre devouring popcorn and soda pop.
It was in my late 30’s when I met a friend at work who introduced me to running, hiking and doing physical activities. I’m thankful for knowing her and to this day she continues to encourage me and my achievements. She inspired me because she started running despite the fact that she’s not a strong runner to begin with. She made things attainable for me because she wasn’t fast and wasn’t a fierce competitor. She just started doing it as a lifestyle which made me think, “hmm, I can do that too! She makes it sound kinda fun and interesting!”
After my first ever 10 km run at the Vancouver Sun Run, I was gasping for air. It’s a huge event and perhaps the largest in Canada that hosts about 40 000 participants. When I crossed the finish line, one of my buddies who ran it as well called me on the phone to see where I was. He and my other friends had finished long before me and were already celebrating at a pub halfway across town. However, the friend who encouraged me to run was ever so kind and positive and expressed how proud she was of my achievement despite my slow time. Because of her I ran a couple of half marathons with her, countless 10 kms runs, a couple of mini-triathlons and many other great events that I would never have imagined I’d do.
Presently, I exercise regularly and am a healthy 180 lbs. Although I still consider myself slower than most guys around my age bracket, I feel extremely proud of what I can do considering where I started from.
- It Relieves Stress. I wake up sometimes feeling…blah. I can feel depressed, anxious, unmotivated or just numb about getting up. I attend a boot-camp class at the community gym every weekday morning at 6 am (which means that I’m up shortly after 5). Within 5 minutes into the class, my heart is racing and my mind automatically clears up and it then becomes the kind of day that I want. If nothing else is achieved throughout the rest of the day, at the very least, I got an excellent workout!
- Connecting with Others. It probably took me about 6 months before I felt connected with any of the 20 others in the class. One of the curses of being an introvert is that it takes us a little longer to reach out to people. Eventually, I became good friends with Rob, Candice and Marie and now it just feels lonelier for me if they happen to miss a class! I didn’t join boot-camp expecting to make new friends, so knowing them is simply a bonus.
- It’s a Conversation Piece. Whenever we do something, whether it’s cooking, watching TV or exercising, it becomes a conversation piece. All of a sudden, I can relate and converse with others who exercise as well! I can talk about burpees and running in the rain or pulling a hamstring because I’ve now broadened my portfolio of things that I do! And not to mention, exercising now gives me a bigger window of activities that I can do as well such as hiking, swimming, bike-riding and snowboarding.
- You can get away with Eating Poorly and not Feel so Badly. OK, disclaimer on this! Just because you exercise, it doesn’t mean you can eat poorly regularly! I enjoy my burgers, hot dogs, beer and Chinese food…and man, don’t ever throw me in front of a buffet because buffets = feeding trough for me! However, because I exercise regularly, I can eat some of my favorite foods sometimes and not feel guilty about it. Remember, workout so that you can get away with eating poorly sometimes, but don’t workout so that you can eat poorly all the time.
- It’s Fun! I admit it didn’t feel like this when I first started. I struggled immensely to peel myself out of bed at 5 am in the dark and on rainy days. I complained that my neck hurt when I did sit-ups and I was terrified of running up a flight a stairs fearing that I would break my Achilles tendon again. I started off lifting only 5 lb weights and got sore arms after doing a few bicep curls. But once I got into that rhythm of a habit and lifestyle, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed it because I knew I was doing something different than what most people would be doing at 5 am in the morning. I also enjoyed it because I knew that I would eventually see some physical changes in me and also inside my head. Being around like minded people in the morning, laughing, joking, sweating and grunting is kind of fun. The boot-camp class also doesn’t take itself too seriously with such knowledgeable and encouraging instructors.
In addition to boot-camp, I enjoy playing one-on-one basketball with my teenage son who really keeps me going. I hike, swim and go for walks regularly and hope to keep it up as long as my body allows it.
It goes without saying that exercising is simply good for you. It doesn’t have to be intense exercise at all, but just being active regularly will eventually give you the 5 benefits that I listed above. So often people go on diets to try to fit into a wedding dress or try to look good for a big event months down the road…all great intentions, but how about shifting that mindset and making exercise a lifestyle rather than a means to reach a short-lived goal?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll have a juicy cheeseburger for dinner tonight 😉