I’m no authority on exercise, but I’d still like to share some techniques based on experience and training as a medical doctor. Keep in mind: there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to exercise. There are though a few basic edicts one must consider. The biggest one? Motivation. I’ve been running (along with weight-lifting) nearly my entire life. Whenever people hear about this, they’re often impressed by the “motivation” to do what I do. I’ve heard that term used gazillion times before, more as a reason for not doing something. “If only I had the motivation, then I could…” What I do is not impressive. It just become a habit. And as you know, habits are hard to break.
The problem with motivation is that it’s fleeting. It’s there one moment and gone the next. And if you wait for motivation to do something that’s good for you, you’ll probably wait forever until you die. The key is to not overthink and just act. Thinking and motivating yourself takes more time and energy than simple, purposeful action.
Motivation arises from action. Once you see results from your action, motivation soon follows. I’ve tried to simplify this concept with the following steps in this article. Running is familiar to me, so I’ll use it as an example, but you can substitute whatever exercise you deem fit for yourself (biking, rowing, scootering, skate-boarding, unicycling, whatever). Running happens to the simplest of actions; it requires no inborn talent; it is literally a natural process we humans were born to do. It costs very little compared to other forms of exercise. The most expensive piece of equipment are the shoes. Or you can do what I’ve done—run barefoot. I’ve been running without shoes on all kinds of surfaces for the last 7-8 years. I’ve saved a ton of money on shoes. But that’s a different matter altogether.
So here are the simple steps to get you hooked on a regular exercise program. Again, I’ll use running as an example.
Get up. You might be lying on the couch or the floor, with the remote in one hand and a snack in the other (or in the case of the dog picture, his Milk Bone under his right paw and his Wiener-Monkey squeaky toy under the other, enjoying a nice nap).
“No think, just do,” Master Yoda said in Star Wars. It’s a very Zen thing. Don’t dwell about the future and how it might hurt or how you’ll look in public. No one really cares, so why should you? Likewise, don’t think about the past, when you were humiliated because someone said you ran like a duck, or you recall a race way back in high school where you puked at the finish line and came in last place. Don’t think about the present and how tired you feel, how hard it is to get out the door or how you can postpone this until tomorrow. Sometimes the brain gets in the way of what the body must do. Don’t complicate matters by overthinking.
Get off your butt. Once you’re mobile immediately put on your exercise clothes. Even if you don’t feel motivated to exercise and haven’t yet decided to do it, get those shorts (and optional shirt) on. Believe me, once you’re suited up, even if you do a few other chores or tasks first, you’ll be more primed to get out the door and start exercising.
Get out the door pronto. Face the beauty of Mother Nature. Don’t dwell on the weather. “It’s too hot. It’s too cold. It’s too windy. It’s snowing. There’s people out their who’ll make fun of me.” If you wait for the most ideal moment to act, you will NEVER act. There is no perfect moment. Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s the heard reality of life. Just get out the damn door and lock it behind you.
Take the first steps. Remind yourself that the first few minutes are not always the most comfortable. This may be the hardest part. But once you’re in motion, it’s hard to turn back too soon since you feel you’ve invested the time and committed yourself. This is the motivation to move on.
Start slow. One step at a time. Get used to the feel of being outside. Breathe in the fresh air. Be mindful of your surroundings. Feel your feet on the ground.
Once you're warmed up, settle into a nice, relaxing pace. Your body will adjust and you’ll find yourself in a nice rhythm. Your heart beats at a fast but steady rate. Your breathing adapts and the farther you go (keeping it relaxed) the less laborious your respirations become, until your breathing hits a natural rhythm much like your footsteps. You wonder all along why this degree of heart-pounding exertion is not really exertion at all, but a paradoxical and pleasurable experience.
Endorphins really kick in and engulf your system with a sense of good-feeling. You never want to stop. The number of miles matters little, whether it’s one or twenty. Enjoy the moment. Absorb the simple beauty that is all around you. Be content in the present. Feel, see, listen, smell the world around you. You can hear the voice of God in this moment and feel His presence with all your five senses. Enjoy it while it lasts. This is life at its best.
Slow down, jog to warm down, as you head for home. Feel the cooling and satisfying sweat pour out.
Feels good to stop and walk and then sit and relax in the moment. Drink water or fluid with electrolytes, eat some food.
The feel-good sensation lasts the entire day. Great sense of accomplishment. Your day looks brighter. Your attitude changes, your mind sharpens and you appreciate the little things in life. You are ultimately much happier. This is the key that will get you out again. Running becomes routine, a habit and a very good one at that. This form of exercise becomes a necessity, much like water, food and shelter. And invariably you will find that no matter how you feel before a run, you will always feel better afterwards. This is the motivation!
©Randall S. Fong, M.D.
For more topics on medicine, health and the weirdness of life in general, check out the rest of the blog site at randallfong.blogspot.com