We humans have come a long way. We've invented fantastic technology to simplify and aid our lives. We've invented the Internet -- an unprecedented leap in human innovation. The Internet has given us access to information and communication capabilities that simply have never existed. We've got so much technological assistance that our lives would have sounded like a fairy tale to people in the early 1900s. Moreover, yet, we are the busiest people to walk the earth. Our shifts are longer, a lot of us have to work overnight, and some of us even work for two or three days on the trot. When we are so swamped with work and other responsibilities, can we truly get ourselves in shape?
If you've been an athlete or were in shape at some point of your life, you might mourn the lack of time you face now that you've got a job and or a family. You might look at old pictures of yourself and think "If only I had more time, I could start looking like that again." If you've never been in good shape, you might have resigned yourself to the fact that you probably never will, especially now that your schedule is so jam-packed. However, guess what, it does not have to be this way.
We've all met people who are successful at their careers, but are woefully out of shape. There's a way to work around this problem. You cannot quote your busy schedule as an excuse for not being in shape. There are tons of entrepreneurs, CEOs, managers, mothers, fathers and professionals who manage to keep their health and fitness at optimal levels while they are excelling at their jobs. If you think this is not possible for you, you are wrong.
Consider this -- even if you managed to get yourself into decent shape at some point in your teens because you went to the gym a few hours a week, do you think yours was the optimal approach? Would you advise other people your age just to go the gym and lift a set of weights in random order and hope for the best? No, you would not. Because when you are young, your metabolism is working perfectly and any kind of resistance training you put your muscles through produces results. As a matter of fact, you succeeded at the gym during your teens despite yourself. Yes, most of the niggling pains and aches that you feel today are probably a result of the haphazard training you did when you were young.
You do not have to bemoan the fact that you cannot train the way you did when you were young, because you do not have to. There's a smarter, more efficient way to train, and you can adopt it even if you are really busy. Let us take a look at how you would go about creating such a training program for yourself.
• Draw up a routine for yourself that is uncomplicated and doesn't take too much time.
If you are reading muscle magazines, throw them away. You do not need to train 12 hours every week to get results. Instead of looking at your schedule and going "Oh, I cannot workout for 2 hours 6 days a week, so I will not do anything at all," choose something simpler.
Aim for two half-hour sessions of weight training every week, supplemented by two cardio sessions lasting 15-20 minutes. If traveling to and from your gym to get on the treadmill is taking too much time, don't do it. There are plenty of calisthenic exercises you can do that will exercise your muscles sufficiently. Go online and look for bodyweight exercise programs. Choose one that you feel is simple enough for you, and get started.
Here's another idea -- if your workout often gets neglected because you are too held up at work, do it in the morning. As soon as the alarm goes off, do some warmup drills, and then put in a few sets of pull-ups, pushups and bodyweight squats. It should not take you more than 30 minutes. Once you have complete your workout, you can get on with the rest of your day.
On alternate days, fit in a simple cardio routine, or just simple stretching or yoga. Do some jumping jacks, follow along with a Yoga video from YouTube or just go for a brisk walk with your loved ones on the weekends. Keep it simple.
• Contact an expert for nutrition advice.
You know that protein shake and chicken breast diet that got you big biceps when you were young? That is not the best, or even the healthiest way to approach your eating. When you've got a job and/or a family to consider, you cannot be walking around with shakers and food container filled with chicken breasts.
The key to not falling off the wagon is to keep it simple. Start with one simple, almost indiscernible change to your diet. For example, you can add a fish oil supplement and a multivitamin tablet to your diet for the first couple of weeks. Sounds simple, right? After you've become sufficiently used to having those two things added to your diet, then you can add another small element to your diet and follow along for two weeks. For example, for weeks 3 and 4, you may choose to add one serving of greens to your breakfast along with your fish oil and multivitamins. Of course supplements should never replace a well balance nutrition plan.
These small changes, compounded over time, have incredible transformative power. If you integrate these small changes into your diet over the course of 12 months, you will not believe how far you've come when you look back at Day 1.
• Spend less time researching, and more time doing.
When you were younger, you could afford to spend hours discussing the best exercise for building your triceps with other users on internet forums. It was OK to read a bunch of fitness blogs every morning, and try different stuff every week.
However, when you get older and busier, you do not have time. With your career, family and your financial responsibilities, you've already got enough on your plate. Do you really want to be spending hours every week debating which protein shake is the best or which supplement brand gets you the fastest results? The short answer is -- no, you do not.
Leave the research to the experts. Find a coach or a nutritionist or an online health and fitness program that combines both training and nutrition. Pick someone who has a proven track record and is easy to work with like a personal trainer. Now that you have some money to spare, you can afford to consult an expert. Once you've found someone you like, just do what they tell you. Even if their advice goes against that one article you read five years ago on your favorite blog, just follow along.
Even if you are busy with work, family or other social commitments, you can still make time for your health. With a simple exercise routine, a progressive nutritional plan and a great coach to help you along the way, you can get in shape faster than you thought was possible. Every single minute you spend procrastinating makes it more difficult to regain control of your fitness. If you've got the beginnings of a paunch now, don't wait until you've got a full-blown gut before you take action. If you step on the scale and are 5 kilos above where you'd like to be, don't wait before that figure reaches 50. Your body and your health are not secondary to the other goals in your life. The best time to get started was yesterday. The second best time is now. Here is to a fitter and healthier you!
Yours in health and fitness,
This article first appeared in ARFS Fitness Newsletter Issue 11 September